Voice over artistes are everywhere, yet nobody knows us, says Darrpan Mehta
With the first convention for voice-over and dubbing artistes this month, Darrpan Mehta hopes to bring visibility to the community
Two minutes into the conversation with Darrpan Mehta, and our mind is racing to pin down the source of his uncannily familiar, well-modulated voice. Was it on television? Radio? Or, a documentary? "That's the irony of voice-over artistes," he laughs. "We are everywhere, yet nobody knows us." The 44-year-old happens to be one of the most sought-after voice talents in the country.
With a two-decade long career behind him, including on-air promos for Filmfare Awards, Indian Idol, Amul Star Voice of India and Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge, Mehta has been there and said it all. "But, I feel there's a lot more that needs to be said and done for our ilk. Bringing visibility is one of them," adds Mehta, who also runs Sugar Mediaz, an audio production services company.
After two years of mulling the concept and bouncing ideas off fellow artistes and writers, Mehta is set to host Voice India Fest, the first convention for voice-over and dubbing artistes on November 18 at the Lilavati Hospital auditorium in Bandra. The event will see workshops by industry heavyweights such as Ameen Sayani, Mona Ghosh Shetty and Chetan Sashital, panel discussions, a session on voice care, and felicitation of senior talent across languages, among other things.
The fact that it's the first of its kind comes as a surprise, considering there are close to 15 conventions that take place related to Bollywood content every year. But, Mehta is aware of what it takes to pull off even a single one. During his stint as the head of Association of Voice Artistes - the only 'governing' body for the community - he tried to organise a similar event, but it never materialised. "We are an unregulated, fragmented industry with no entry barrier. So, it becomes difficult to get people together. What I learnt, though, was that it needs to be packaged in an aspirational way. It can't be a staid, trade union-like gathering."
A question of royalty
According to the Andheri resident, the voice-over and dubbing community includes 5,000 people in Mumbai alone, with work being churned out in 18 languages. The digital boom has only helped open more avenues for aspiring artistes. Sadly, that hasn't translated into more rights. It's the question of royalty and licensing rights that tops their list of demands, which will be one of the topics at the event. "If an artiste gives his voice for any show in India, the broadcaster can use the voice any number of times. But, it is not the same in other countries. Here, voice actors receive only a one-time payment. While the producers become multi-millionaires making money off the ad, the poor artiste gets nothing," he says.
Chetan Sashital, a legend in the business, who dubbed for Amjad Khan after he passed away; Salman Khan in Biwi No 1 when he was in the US; and Darth Vader and Yoda's voices in Hindi for Star Wars, concurs, "While I may put my foot down and demand royalty for my work, not everybody might find themselves in a position to do so. Producers arm-twist the artiste, threatening to hire somebody for a much lower pay scale. This makes many of them relent." Naturally, this has made the industry prey to exploitation.
Some rallying by the Association of Voice Artistes has resulted in helping a few artistes receive due credit for their work. But, its achievement pretty much ends there. "The problem is that it's a toothless body. It doesn't have any binding with the producers. For instance, a federation for actors is also the body that governs producers. So, if an actor is not paid and I complain to the body, they can blacklist the producer. He feels bound to not play foul. In our case, our clients are not bound by any such association," says Mehta.
For now, Mehta is hopeful that industrywallahs will take note. After all, voice acting is a complex art. "It's the theatre of the mind. For instance, we have joked about how sensuous the Vodafone voice is, but would you know that the sultry, sensuous-sounding girl is not [even] remotely like what she sounds? She's a regular, middle-aged lady."
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