Making herself heard

Athira M.
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Interview The battle for recognition hasn’t been fully won, says dubbing artiste Bhagyalakshmi. Athira M.

Bhagyalakshmi is not just a voice for many Malayalis. Nor is she the face of dubbing for avid cine viewers. She is much more than that. She is an inspiration for many women, having braved many a problem in her personal life and having fought for the rights of dubbing artistes in Kerala. With an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades, the three-time state award winner, takes pride in that her one-man – rather one-woman, battle has not been in vain.

“Dubbing artistes weren’t even treated as artistes. We’ve records showing the pioneers in various fields in the film industry. But, nobody knows who was the first dubbing artiste. No dubbing artiste’s name featured in the credits of films till we demanded it. When a film completed 100 days, no dubbing artiste was invited to the celebrations. No awards, no association to take up our cause. And the sad part was that no dubbing artiste complained. Today, people know about dubbing and the hard work put in by each artiste. We now have an association (FEFKA Dubbing Union) to voice our concerns and problems. And I’m happy that I’ve played an important role in bringing about these changes,” she says.

It was never an easy task, though. Each of the achievements had to be won in the face of stiff resistance from within the film industry.

“Actors, especially men, feared that if a dubbing artiste came into the limelight, that would badly affect their career. So most of them started dubbing in their own voice. But the female actors, including those who dubbed in their own voice, were not bothered much. In the Malayalam film industry, female actors have been more dependent on dubbing artistes than the men,” she says.

The association has 120 members. A new member has to go through the skill test to get membership. “That doesn’t happen in any other dubbing association in India. Dubbing artistes in other states, especially Bollywood, are better paid than us. But they never ask for their rights like we do,” she says.

She points out how jury committees tend to treat a character and his/her voice as different entities, a reason why the awards for the best actor award and the best dubbing artiste award often go to two different people. “It has happened in my case as well. But I always respect the decision of a jury and that’s why I refuse to be part of the controversy surrounding the jury’s decision not to give the best dubbing artiste (male) award this year,” she adds.

Stressing on the hard work put in by an artiste in the dubbing studio, she explains that the work in the dubbing studio is acting itself.

“If you were to ask me what I’ve done as a dubbing artiste, my answer would be that I was the one who brought the activities that a heroine did before the camera into the dubbing studio,” she says. She tried it first while dubbing for Nadia Moidu in Vannu Kandu Keezhadakki. Be it eating, walking, jogging, lifting something… that is done in the studio itself. “If I don’t get anything to eat for a particular scene, I chew paper to get the effect. Dubbing can actually make or break a character or an actor, something I learnt from director Fazil and Devadas (sound recordist) while working in Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu.”

She feels that dubbing has become more easy now. Old Malayalam films had sync sound because most of the shoots were done inside the studio. But once outdoor shoots and non-Malayali actors (especially females) came into the picture, dubbing became a necessity. However, there is a challenge as well. “Now filmmakers insist on different voice tones for the actors. That is a good trend because there was a time when I dubbed for 12 heroines and naturally all of them sounded the same. I’m not good at changing my voice texture and I am not comfortable in giving voice to teenage characters. But there are artistes such as Anandavalli who has given voice for eight characters in a movie.”

Talking about nurturing a new generation of dubbing artistes, she says: “It is good that many want to take up dubbing as a profession. Some say I inspire them. But it took 25 years for me to get an identity, which included my struggle to get recognised as an artiste. Not all of them are passionate about cinema and only very few are careful about clarity in diction.”

So, is she game for more fights? “No! I’m tired. I’ve done the best I can. Even then, many in the film industry had their reservations about us dubbing artistes. I blame my fellow professionals also for this. Most of them are content with their income. They never express their opinions. Also, many of them still criticise me for supporting sync sound, encouraging newcomers and insisting that every actor should dub in his/her own voice. But I tell them that I’m committed to this cinema industry first,” she says.

Time for elation

Bhagyalakshmi is elated with the response to her autobiography, Swarabhedangal (DC Books, Rs. 175). “The best compliment I got was from M.T.Vasudevan Nair. Also, the book has found a place in the Nielsen Data best seller list,” she says. The book, a documentation of her tumultuous personal life and career, comes with an audio CD in which Bhagyalakshmi has read extracts from the book.



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