Malayalam cinema has taken to English titles in a really big way. More than half of the 250 or so Malayalam feature films made since the beginning of 2013 have English names. The catalogue includes Bachelor Party, Celluloid, Red Wine, Honey Bee and recent hit Bangalore Days.

But the trend has some in the industry perturbed. The Adoor Gopalakrishnan panel constituted earlier this year "to reform" Malayalam cinema expressed its disapproval last week at the flood of English titles. According to news reports, the panel initially considered recommending that subsidies be given to films only with Malayalam names. Eventually, the committee suggested that a new award of Rs 25 lakh is given to the top ten films of the year, but that only those with Malayalam titles should be eligible for this prize.

The reason for the increasing use of English, say obsevers, is simple. The burst of English titles comes at a time when Malayalam filmmakers are looking to attract non-Malayali audiences across the country and even outside it. B Unnikrishnan’s 2012 movie Grandmaster, for instance, was the first commercial Malayalam film with English subtitles. Unnikrishnan says his film has a universal storyline and appeal and it shouldn’t matter what language the name of the film is in. “I can’t think of a better title for my film Grandmaster,” he said. “The whole story is about a grandmaster. He is a great chess enthusiast; he is also a great detective. It is the most appropriate title.”

Binu Narayan, who has worked as an assistant director on films like Left, Right, Left and 1 By Two, says he prefers Malayalam names for films as they help preserve the state’s linguistic culture. But he also acknowledges why directors opt for English titles. “If it’s in Malayalam, it might be difficult to write or pronounce, especially if you want to take it out of the country,” said Narayan.

The disease is everywhere

While English names have caught on in other centres of Indian cinema – recent offerings from Bollywood include Kick, Ready, Heroine, Fashion, It’s Entertainment and more – the backlash against English titles has been most visible in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu government announced as early as 2008 that up to 70 Tamil films would get a subsidy of Rs 7 lakh each, provided they did not have English names. This policy has ensured that all Tamil films since then have Tamil names, with a few exceptions like Ego and Pizza.

Karnataka has seen it’s fair share of protests against English titles as well. Kannada Development Authority chairman Mukhyamantri Chandru is a strong critic of the trend, repeatedly urging the state government to disqualify all but Kannada titled films for subsidies.

Yet director-producer Arun Kumer Aravind says that having English titles for Malayalam films is not really a problem. “In the present age I don’t think having an English title is a big crime,” he said. “People nowadays use English in many ways.”

Innovative marketing strategy

“Malayalam as a language has so many foreign words,” said director Shambhu Purushothaman. “It has got some English, Hindi, Urdu. I don’t see a problem having English titles.” He believes that with many stories now about the lives of young technology workers and call center employees – with the same young people comprising the target audience – an English title is actually an innovative marketing strategy.

While the debate over English crops up every so often, there might be louder furore over the next trend in cinema titles for South Indian films: using Hindi. Telugu film Maine Pyar Kiya hit screens in June, while Kannada filmmaker Neenasam Satish has announced an upcoming film called Parde Ke Peeche.