Meet the woman behind the gravelly voice on Indian TV ads

Sep 13, 2015, 02:28 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

You’d recognise her if you heard her. Richa Nigam is the woman with the endearingly gravelly voice that sells you washing powder and childhood memories

Since 2007, her voice has sold you a range of products. She has told our subconscious mind “daag achche hain” and that packaged aam panna is a combination of “drinks and memories”. Yet, she looks incredulous when we say most television viewers can recognise her voice when they hear it. “When someone tells me that, I wonder if it’s grating to the viewer’s ears,” says Richa Nigam as she orders a cappuccino at the BKC outlet of an international bakery chain. The voice, she says, has been the bane of her life.

“I studied in a girl’s school and everyone else around me had a mellifluous voice. They’d be able to scream. I, on the other hand, had short hair, and this voice. I’d often be cast in the male role,” she laughs.

Pic/ Datta Kumbhar

That her family is full of singers doesn’t help. “They are trained in classical music, and don’t need an excuse to sing. They each have a favourite song and no one else in the family is allowed to sing the same,” says the 37-year-old. And that makes her “the frog of the family”. Not that she doesn’t like to sing.

As a kid she enrolled for a singing class but stopped when the teacher asked her to get a medical test done for her voice. “Sometimes, vocal chords touch each other and that interferes with your voice,” she explains. However, a check with the ENT revealed that that was not the case with her. “I wasn’t disappointed, I was never trying to be ‘normal’. I am happy being who I am,” she says, flashing a smile that disappears only when she faces the camera.

Having been behind the camera for most of her career — she was an assistant director in Bollywood for four years and worked on Shimit Amin’s 'Chake De!' in 2007 before she took on copywriting — Nigam has an aversion to being photographed. “I have only taken three selfies in all my life. Why photograph? Can I send you a picture, instead?” she pleads.

Her turnaround as a voice-over artiste, she says, came from the left-field. And then, looking at this writer’s perplexed expression, she explains it’s a cricket term for when the ball comes at you from the left while you’re holding your bat on the right. She seems to have hit it across the boundary.

Among her first voice-overs for a television commercial was an ad for an airhostess training institute, while she was still working on Chak De! “I had to give the voice for a girl from a small town with dreams. It was a beautifully written ad with a music-video feel.” Not that that the ad catapulted her into a new career. A chronology is not forthcoming. “It’s not been linear,” she says, adding however that the new role helped when she had to take a break from a regular 9-5 job to juggle family time and work. “Even now, I do just a couple of ads a month.”

Preparation for each ‘role’, she says, differs. “Most times, we are handed the script when we enter the studio.” It helps that by the time she has to speak her lines, she’s got to watch the rest of the ad, along with the background score. “I am very mouldable,” says the St Xaxier’s alumni, who while in college, dabbled in theatre with Rehaan Engineer and Abbas Tyrewala. It’s the writing and words, she says, that really makes or breaks an ad. “When the writing is good, feelings arrive automatically.”

TV time in her home is limited. Her two children — aged six and four — get only half an hour every day. “I can be strict,” she says with pride. And then when her children do hear her voice on TV, they go “Mummy ki awaaz”. “And to make sure that my husband and family don’t feel bad, they yell at the next ad, “Daddy ki awaaz, nani ki awaaz,” she laughs.

Besides good words, the other thing that captures her imagination is sound. Peering out of the glass walls of the bakery, into the sterilised roads of BKC, the Bandra East resident says, “I miss Bombay. Earlier, you could hear someone on the road sharpening knives. Where we lived, you’d hear kingfishers and orioles. Most of that is now lost. All you hear is the monolithic sound of a drill machine. I would love to take a recorder and capture the last few sounds of Mumbai.”

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