Meenakshi Shedde: Pop went my voice
My friend Bishakha Datta, executive director of the non-profit Point of View, that amplifies women's voices - I'm on their board - invited me to dub a few voices for an inspiring feature-length documentary, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe
So, out of the blue, I found myself dubbing last week. My friend Bishakha Datta, executive director of the non-profit Point of View, that amplifies women's voices - I'm on their board - invited me to dub a few voices for an inspiring feature-length documentary, The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe. In other words, I was dubbing from English into Hindi, the voices of African women in Australia. Don't ask. I just learnt as I went along.
Theatre director Ros Horin had worked with four traumatised African women immigrants to Australia, shaping their experiences into a cathartic experience as a play, with the women playing themselves. Then, she made a documentary on the making of the play. Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe grew up in Kenya, and was abused by her own family for years. Aminata Conteh-Biger was kidnapped at 16, and turned into a sex slave during the Sierra Leone civil war of the 1990s. Yarrie Bangura grew up in a refugee camp in Guinea, a victim of the same war. Yordanos Haile-Michael watched her father kill her mother, and at five, was forced to be a child soldier by the Eritrean army, suffering violence and sexual abuse for 15 years. Haile-Michael later told the press, that to be able to talk about her life openly in the play was amazing. "I got my life back. I got me back," she said.
While dubbing in Hindi, I tried to 'match' my voice to the tone and body language of the African women. "Kitni sundar ho, baby," became the more Bambaiyya: "Ay, kya jhakaas lag rahi hai, re!" And it was hilarious how the four in the studio - Bishakha, a Bengali, audio expert Abhishek Nair, a Malayali; Sameera Iyengar, a Tamilian, and me, a Konkani speaker, both dubbing - tried to tease out the nuances of the text in Hindi, not a first language for any of us. For lines referring to Aminata's degradation, instead of being emotional, Nair suggested I try a dreamy, whispery voice, irony giving it dramatic power. He was right. Bishakha said I was a natural, and made my day.
There was a circular mesh before the microphone, a 'pop filter' that removes natural 'pops' while you speak. "What you hear of your voice is not what others hear," Nair explained. "Your voice resonates in your chest and head, so you hear it as more bass. What others hear, your recorded or 'true' voice, tends to be a few pitches higher." All this was a revelation to me. It was like the other seminal revelation, made by sound recordist and sound designer PM Satheesh, who had recorded the sound for my first film, Looking for Amitabh, in which blind people evoked Amitabh Bachchan through sound, hearing and touch: he told me there are many kinds of silences. It took me a while to wrap my head around that one. As they say at Avid Learning, "Learning never stops."
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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