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Pitch perfect: the voice behind your favourite Kollywood stars

Endhuku naanu mosam chesave? How could you do it Sakthi... how could you do it? Enna kadhalikira, antha ponna kalyaanam pannikira, nee yaara than nejama kaadhalikkira?”

Guessed it already? Yes, this tear-jerking dialogue featured in the cult classic Thevar Magan, and was mouthed by actor Gautami Tadimalla. But what you may not know is that the lines were actually spoken by voice artiste Anuraatha Rajkrishna, a pioneer in the field of dubbing.

Pitch perfect: the voice behind your favourite Kollywood stars

An Ethiraj College alumnus, Anuraatha had a fascination for anything related to sound, and was, at a point of time, considering turning an on-air announcer. But a career in dubbing happened by accident, as she admits, when she visited a dubbing studio only to discover that the person who was supposed to dub did not turn up. The movie was Seetha Rama Vanavasam (1977), a Telugu film starring Jaya Prada, which was being dubbed into Tamil. “Getting to dub for a lead actress, and that too in your first film, was a big deal back then,” says Anuraatha. However, it was the Kamal Haasan-starrer Salangai Oli (1983) that cemented her position as a highly competent voice artiste in the Tamil film industry.

The golden era

Thanks to that film, Anuraatha became a sought after name, and remained so through much of the 1980s and 1990s, going on to voice for actors such as Jaya Prada, Ambika, Radha, Khushbu Sundar, Gautami, Revathi and Simran to name a few. However, she is quick to confess the thankless nature of her job. “I may have received phone calls from actresses, but none of them openly acknowledged my contribution. Archana is the only exception,” she shrugs.

It is important for Anuraatha to internalise the character to identify with it. Once she digs deep into the character, it is difficult for her to come out, especially if the scene/movie is “devastating”, she says, adding that there were days when she ended up carrying the film’s impact as baggage. It is also partly because Anuraatha was relatively young when she started her dubbing career, and the characters that came her way were anything but simple. She remembers one bittersweet experience when she had to rework her voice for over a month for Uthiri Pookkal, directed by J Mahendran. “The impact lingered with me, as was the case with Salangai Oli. He [Mahendran] was a taskmaster and it was quite challenging to dub for Ashwini (the female lead in Uthiri Pookkal). In retrospect, I’m fortunate that I got these films,” she smiles.

The voice of passion
  • During the peak of her career, she was paid a maximum sum of ₹5000 per film. If an actress had a reasonably good market, then her remuneration would go up to ₹6000. Today, dubbing artistes earn anywhere between ₹25,000-₹50,000 per film.
  • Anuraatha dubbed for three heroines in Suyamvaram (1999), which holds the Guinness Record for the quickest feature film ever made. She recently dubbed for Jayam Ravi’s mother in Comali.
  • She won the Tamil Nadu State Award for Best Female Dubbing Artist in 2002 for Roja Kootam. She’s also a recipient of the Kalaimamani award.
  • Her daughter Mahalakshmi is also a dubbing artiste, who has dubbed for actors Nayanthara, Trisha, Kajal Aggarwal and Chaya Singh.

While voice artistes have the liberty to improvise during dubbing, they do not have a say in how the character should emote. That is still the director’s call, says Anuraatha, adding, “At the same time, they would trust us more than the heroines. Once, a director told me that he couldn’t get the desired performance from an actress; he asked me to ‘amp up the emotional quotient’.”

She upped the game when she was signed for Moondram Pirai, where she dubbed for Silk Smitha. There’s an interesting backstory as to how she got the offer. The post-production work for the late Balu Mahendra’s Moodu Pani (1980) came to a halt after its lead actor Shoba’s unfortunate death. Mahendra was on the lookout for someone who could match Shoba’s voice since it was a peculiar one to master, as it was neither silky nor feeble. Anuraatha says she spent days on an empty stomach hoping to get it right. And it paid off, when the movie released. “He [Balu Mahendra] was so impressed with it that he said, ‘If you could crack Shoba’s voice, you’ll go places’,” she gushes, adding that Mahendra, subsequently, gave her two more projects — Veedu (1988) and Sandhya Raagam (1989).

Wielding the microphone

There are several factors involved in finding a suitable voice artist. The prerequisite is — a good voice with a decent pitch. “Directors evaluate your voice output to see if you could dub for the heroine. Sometimes, the voice may match the character, but the artiste wouldn’t get the emotions right and vice versa,” she says, adding, “Whatever drawback the heroine had, we had to fine-tune it during dubbing.”

Pitch perfect: the voice behind your favourite Kollywood stars

When dealing with complex human emotions, is it necessary for voice artistes to get into the character’s psyche, or do they take cues from the proceedings on screen? Anuraatha says there is no thumb rule when it comes to dubbing, as different artistes employ different techniques. “Ultimately, it’s our job to understand what is required for a scene. We have to make sure that we get everything, from the underlying emotion, to the appropriate pitch, right.”

Today, 42 years since her début, Anuraatha goes on, even as the heroines she once voiced have now been relegated to playing character actors. What explains her longevity? “Even after all these years, my passion for dubbing hasn’t dropped,” she says, adding in conclusion, “I’ve received compliments that my voice is still young, but I don’t get called to dub for young heroines. If I do, I’m game.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 5:56:41 PM |

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