At the movies last weekend to see a newly released, highly anticipated Hindi film called Om Shanti Om (recently reviewed at Filmi Geek), we saw the usual handful of previews that one sees before a movie; this time, all previews for upcoming Hindi films. One of these is apparently an animated feature called Roadside Romeo; the preview showed a slickly animated anthropomorphic dog - the titular Romeo - having a screen test for his part in the movie. In his screen test Romeo undertakes a rapid-fire succession of impressions from famous films, reciting famous lines from beloved Indian films like Sholay, Deewaar, and Dilwale dulhania le jayenge. (You can see the spot, without subtitles, here.)
What interested me most about these was not Romeo's renditions, not the choice of films (nor the fact that I recognized so many of them) - it was the way they were rendered in the subtitles. The subtitles looked like approximately this:
"You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender."
"You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"
"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
That is to say, instead of literally rendering the famous lines from the Hindi films ("How many men were there?" &c.) the subtitler chose a conceptual translation that slipped the category of "famous lines from Hindi films" to "famous lines from Hollywood films." This rendition conveys the force of what is happening on the screen - the dog is reenacting famous movie scenes - much better than could have been done by a literal translation.
I have read essays by Douglas Hofstadter about this kind of translation; the concept comes up a lot in different permutations throughout his work, especially in his book Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies. The subtitling in the Roadside Romeo trailer is perhaps more precisely viewed as an analogy than as a translation. And yet, if the purpose of a translation is to convey the meaning and intent of the original to speakers of a different language, then the Roadside Romeo trailer is perfectly rendered; it is not a linguistic translation only, but also a cultural translation.
(A separate question is raised as to whether the cultural translation is required; arguably, even the non-Hindi-speaking members of the audience for both the trailer and the movie are likely to be well-enough versed in Hindi films to recognize that famous films are being referenced in the screen test. I think the conceptual translation was the right choice, as it is the most inclusive and expansive. I know that a lot of people who are relatively new to Hindi films saw Om Shanti Om and the Roadside Romeo trailer. There is interest among some in the Hindi film industry in expanding the overseas markets for their films. The fact that Roadside Romeo is being produced by the Hindi film production company Yash Raj Films in partnership with Walt Disney Studios adds some more data to the equation.)