Three voiceover artistes throw light on the requisites of the job, which is in high demand these days

They are the faceless voices; their soothing, friendly, intimate words tell you a lot of things — what products to buy, about phone networks being busy, callers out of range, among so many other things. They are total strangers to you, unknown faces, men and women, young and old. But without their voices, many modes of entertainment and customer services just can’t function today.

Since they are not visible to people, they have to make that extra effort to sound interesting and believable at the same time. So who are they? The answer is simple: voiceover artistes. Bright and cheerful, these voices are indeed faceless yet infuse deeper meaning into words they say. Be it in advertisements, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), e-learning tools, mobile applications, e-books, their presence is ever expanding and more and more people are entering the voiceover field to fill the gap.

Underlines Harish Bhimani, the man with a golden voice and one of India’s most sought after voiceover artistes, “Communication is about telling and not speaking. A voiceover artiste needs to make the audience hear the emotion, defining the difference between tone and words, altering the meaning behind the same set of words.” Bhimani, the voice behind the famous opening lines of B.R. Chopra’s mega serial “Mahabharata” in the 1990s — “Main Samay Hoon”,started as an announcer with the popular programme “Yuva Vani” on All India Radio, then moved to “Vividh Bharti” and then gave voice to “Newsreel” of Films Division in the 1970s. By the mid 1980s, Bhimani had entered the league of famous voiceover artistes like Barclay Hill, Melvin D’ Mello, Pratap Sharma, Vinod Sharma and Ameen Sayani, all whom had roots in the radio.

A chemical engineer and an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute, Mumbai, Bhimani lent his voice to many documentaries, corporate films and hosted public events and ceremonies over the years. He has to his credit about 18,000 recordings.

So how did this happen? Says Bhimani, “It was not sudden. It happened slowly and slowly. I was interested in radio and used to listen to All India Radio, Radio Pakistan, Radio Tokyo, BBC, and found more and more. My job as a chemical engineer was not my cup of tea. I started broadcasting on All India Radio and slowly did commentaries and narrations, etc. and moved on.” Bhimani also wrote dialogues for the highly-acclaimed TV serial “Khandaan” directed by Shridhar Kshirsagar in 1985.

Today, the veteran artiste trains prospective voiceover artistes. The demand is ever growing and he conducts classes via Skype and group teaching. Voice rendering, he says, “is a conjunction of a lot of things — timbre, clarity, comprehension, rhythm and grandeur.”

Yet another well-known voiceover artiste, Anil Mani, also says he got into the field without much planning. Mani, whose voice in the award-winning filmmaker Mohan Hari’s documentary “Lest The Legacy Be Lost”, had severe speech impairment as a child.

“I was the most unlikely candidate to become a voiceover artiste. Because as a child, I had severe speech defect, which means I could never form words and speak coherently. Till the age of eight, I had severe difficulty in making myself understood and after that things eased up and I managed to get over it,” relates Mani.

So what made him take a plunge into voiceovers from a well paid job in the Merchant Navy? “I was on leave from Merchant Navy and saw this advertisement for a workshop by Pratap Sharma, a legend in voiceover. I told myself, I need to do something to keep myself occupied. So I joined it and after I finished the course I felt I have it in me do voiceovers.”

“While having a good voice is certainly an asset, being able to use it effectively is far more important. Modulation, appropriate inflection, the right words, stressing on the right words, timely pauses and uniform speed are very important,” underlines Mani.

With the need for voiceover artistes growing, Mani does voice coaching in Mumbai under the banner of Voice Bazaar and conducts classes every Mondays and Thursdays. There are 10 sessions and every session is hands-on, behind the mike. Only four participants are taken per batch in order to give personal attention.

“Coaching will save you a lot of groping in the dark. Workshops are of a general nature for a larger group, this (voice coaching) needs a one-on-one,” explains Mani. He also conducts classes through online facilities like the Skype.

Mani said there is a misconception that a person must have an extraordinary voice to be a successful voiceover artiste. “A deep voice has its uses and a not-so-deep voice has its uses too. There are times when in a product like an ice cream, a teenage voice is much more suitable but if you are talking about diamonds or expensive cars, you will either need an older woman or older man,” he says.

The voice is generated by a group of muscles and like all muscles, they can be strengthened and conditioned and there are exercises for vocal chords where a person will develop timbre and resonance, he points out.

Another voiceover artiste, Neeraj Mehra, adds to the conversation on what makes a voice tick, “Voice is God gifted but it can be trained. Nobody is a born singer or a narrator or a voice artiste. He or she may have a sweet, melodious voice by birth but still he needs to be trained enough to modulate, variate and be able to perform professionally.”

Mehra conducts workshops every month in Gurgaon and Delhi in studios where a batch of five or six is given lectures about modulation, pitching, script reading and other aspects of voice and a demo is prepared at the end of the workshop.

“Voice is a blind medium and there is no substitute for a human voice,” says Bhimani. How true!

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