They make us smile, they move us to tears. Our children are growing up with them. These men and women have become an integral part of our lives. Such is the power of their voice. Yet, we’ve never seen them.
The voice is the identity
“A voice can evoke emotions beautifully,” says Rishi Kapoor, a radio jockey with 93.5 Red FM, who enthralls listeners on his show, Mumbai Local.
Interestingly, Kapoor is a professional dentist. He got his second career when he won an RJ hunt during college in 2005. But Dr Kapoor can’t choose between the two. “It’s like having two wives; you have to be with both of them,” he jokes.
Once, he had to directly go from the radio station to an emergency surgery. At the clinic, a man stopped him, thinking he was a patient. “When I told him I was a doctor, he said in Gujarati: Aa jo, laal joota perine aapo tane doctor boleche (Look at him, he’s wearing red shoes and calls himself a doctor),”
While his voice reaches lakhs, the RJ feels the lack of visual recognition. “At functions, people are excited to see some no-good talentless actor. But when I tell them who I am, they’re amazed. It feels great to see people’s response then,” adds the 29-year-old.
But there are also benefits. “I have privacy. If I was a famous face, I wouldn’t have been able to take the train or bus.” This visual anonymity leads to funny incidents.
Once, he got into a tussle with a rash driver. “I was shouting at him but from his speakers, I could hear my own show that I had just recorded. It was funny; I couldn’t tell him it was me, because he would think I was mad,” says the man, who doesn’t want to be in the movies, unlike everyone else in radio.
Playing someone else
While Kapoor’s voice is attached to his own name, there are some who lend their voices to others. Switch on the TV and you can hear Sneha Suresh. The voice-over (VO) artiste and singer has worked with the biggest brands in the world — KFC, Pepsi, Unilever, Airtel — to name a few.
“I enrolled at Suresh Wadkar’s music academy when I was nine. We used to be sent as chorus singers for films. One day, in 2001, I was called to dub for a Santosh Sivan documentary. That’s how I started,” recalls the 23-year-old MCom graduate, who has completed eight levels in Spanish and volunteers
as a teacher with Make A Difference, a program that empowers youth to become change leaders to drive a positive social imapct on the
Of the current crop of commercials, Suresh has dubbed for Idea 121, Vodafone ‘Made for the young’, the Alto 800 Diya spot and has sung jingles for Pears, 7UP and Kellogg’s. She wants to grow further in music. Her biggest milestone, she says, has been singing for the Tamil and Telugu version of the
lovely Navrai maajhi laadachi from English Vinglish.
She also featured on MTV Coke Studio with veteran Indian band Orange Street.
It doesn’t bother her that her name is not seen in her work. She explains, “It’s okay; I love playing someone else. Sometimes, we record for an hour just to get the perfect voice and pitch for that one line.”
But Shashank Vaity, another VO artiste, feels that voice actors tend to lose out on credit. “I absolutely love my job, but sometimes I wish we were given more credit. I was the only voice in a recent commercial. I could see everyone’s name — director, copywriter, post-production etc — in the credits online, except for mine.”
The character is the hero
Some artistes feel the character is the hero, not them. Take 28-year-old Pooja Punjabi, for instance. For the last three years, she has been the voice of Chhota Bheem, the hugely watched show on Pogo TV.
“I love the character. The kids in my building make me do his voice every day,” she says. The show is extremely popular. “Parents tell kids that if they do well in their exams, as a reward, Chhota Bheem will call them,” she says. She is made to talk to the children on the phone in little Bheem’s voice.
Once, while travelling on the train, she heard two mothers complain that their kids just wouldn’t study, because they were glued to the show. “I didn’t know what to say,” she exclaims.
While the lack of face time doesn’t bother her, it does get to her parents. “My mum wants to see my face in the media so that she can tell her relatives.
Otherwise, my voice in the cartoon is so different, that they can’t even recognise it’s me.”
Punjabi, who has her own radio production firm, has also dubbed for Kid Krrish, the Hindi versions of Smurfs 2, Tangled and The Hunger Games etc.
Untrained as she was, the mass-media graduate quit a plum corporate job for the love of VOs and feels voicing is a dedicated career. “You keep learning every day, and you have to maintain your voice and its consistency. That’s how you will keep doing good work in the industry,” she opines.
Sometimes, good work takes time to be accepted in the industry. Ask Chandan Oza, the creator of the 9XM show Bakwaas Bandh Kar. Bade and Chote, the bacteria duo (for those who always had the question), are a refreshing change from expletive-laden reality shows.
Surprisingly, it was originally written for radio. “I had written it when I worked as a radio producer. Everyone thought it was bakwaas. Eventually, 9XM took it on,” says the 30-year-old Oza, who is also the voice of Chote, the green germ with its nonsensical questions and funny answers.
Bade is voiced by his colleague Devesh Parihar.
Oza used his own voice because there were no budgets to hire VO artistes, but says he is apt for Chote. “I’ve always been like him, cracking jokes around friends. When it first came on air (it’s been seven years), my friends recognised my laughter and called me up.” But Oza doesn’t want the limelight. “I love the surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I am Chote. If my face is seen, I wouldn’t get that reaction,” he elaborates.
Oza doesn’t ever want to voice another character. “I am Chote. Some people say he even looks like me,” he declares.
How artistes record
The recording process differs with the product. RJs generally go on-air (deferred by a few minutes) with minimal editing.
For ads, VO artistes use the video of the spot (sans a voice, but with the background score) for reference and record in sync with the lip movements of the actor on screen, giving the apt pitch and tone. The sound engineer then synchronises, edits and mixes the sound to produce the final piece.
Animation dubbing is a different ball game. When it comes to Chhota Bheem, Punjabi says she has to record the entire script first, in order to give the animators an audio reference to draw the cartoon frames. After the visuals are done, the voices are recorded again, in sync with the visuals.
In Oza’s case, there are no scripts. Based on a one-line plot, Parihar and Oza record the lines on-the-fly.
Punjabi says she doesn’t do anything in particular to maintain her voice. She just avoids eating fried and cold food just before a dubbing session.
Sneha, a foodie, eats everything under the sun. But she avoids staying up late, as it affects the throat. “It depends on your body. You can indulge, but don’t go overboard. I always carry a bottle of warm water with me,” she says.
The voice that started it all
Millions tuned in to Ameen Sayani on Radio Ceylon and then on Vividh Bharti. His programme, Geetmala, was on air for 44 years and had a dedicated listenership of 20 crore people from all over Asia.
Excerpts from an interview with the legend:
Radio has no visuals, and yet you achieved tremendous popularity only through sound. How did that happen?
The world’s first experiences are audio — a child’s whimper, a mother’s lullaby and so on. A good radio programme is one that can be seen. Radio can also be felt — from whatever we play, the listener builds a beautiful picture in his heart, of which he is a part. If it’s a song, one imagines oneself singing it to a loved one. If it’s commentary, one is a part of the event being described. Not many people knew what I looked like. After I did television, they found out. When they met me, people say, “Ameen bhai, how are you? How’s the family? When are you coming over for lunch?” Radio built a oneness between the broadcaster and the listeners.
How is the radio of today different from radio of your early days?
Radio was a very dedicated target medium then. We tried to bring out the beauty of the medium, and present programmes in a simple language that everybody would understand. The radio of today is fast, as the speed of life has increased. The announcers speak rapidly and in the commercials, very often, you can’t understand what is being sold. Even the music has more vigour and energy, as today’s youngsters like it. The advantage of this is that they exercise to this bang-bang music and are perhaps healthier than us. But, we must never let go of one’s tradition and past. The useless things must be discarded, but what is beautiful must be preserved.