Cinema

When voices do the acting

Deepa Venkat

Deepa Venkat  

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Dubbing artists add that extra spark to a film with their voices

When Seenu Ramaswamy was taking Neerparavai to the floors, he wanted Deepa Venkat to do the voice-overs for both Sunaina and Nandita Das. “He booked me two months in advance, without a voice test,” says Deepa. “I dubbed for Sunaina and Nandita Das, using a cracked, bass timbre,” she adds.

For Jayageetha (voice of Shriya in Thimuru) dubbing is a “jolly picnic, a hobby and a career.” It is “filling up for voice, fitting words to lip movements and infusing them with emotion.” One needs to be subtle at times, and improvise often. “I can’t forget Bala sir’s ‘very good, that was a good job’ about my outburst in Pithamagan for Sangeetha, or the pat for my evil cackle in Uliyin Oli”. Savitha is Simran’s voice; Priya, who has lent voice to Sonia in 7G-Rainbow Colony, Madura, and Pudupettai, has been Pooja’s voice in all her films. Anu has dubbed for a host of Hindi stars.

After 25 years and a thousand movies, Anuradha (voice of Ambika, Radha, Silk Smitha in Moondram Pirai) speaks authoritatively on dubbing in Tamil films. “We started dubbing only those portions that weren’t clear, but went on to dub all the lines.” She has worked in Raajaparvai, the first film to use computer technology for dubbing. “I worked through surgery, delivery, my mom’s passing away... It was hectic in the 80s and 90s. I’ve dubbed for a kid, and for character artists. I can’t think of a day without going to work.”

afterVoice-lending is now a parallel industry, with artist-numbers running into hundreds. Artists are unionised (membership is mandatory to dub for movies), screen credits carry their name, State governments honour them with titles/awards, and a few have achieved star status. And audiences recognise their voices on screen.

While movies remain male-centric, it’s women who are swelling the ranks of voice artists. “Opportunities have grown with TV channels and serials,” says Deepa, whose success in movies and serials has encouraged girls to join in. “Hollywood and foreign language films are now screened in local languages. Harry Potter speaks in Tamil,” she adds.

And ad jingles proliferate. Dubbing works better when the actor’s voice plays an important role in the movie, says Anuradha. Voices are outsourced due to the actors’ lack of fluency and proficiency in the film’s language and call-sheet problems. “I voice-acted for two heroines in nearly a hundred films,” she says.

These days, singers and actors are dubbing as well. Director Rajiv Menon feels there are several interesting voices at present. Chinmayi has dubbed for Bhumika and Tanisha, Surendar for Mohan, SPB and Mano for Rajinikanth, Suhasini for Shobana, Surya for Junior Bachchan, and Rohini for Jyotika.

Not all of today’s young actors are fluent in the film’s language. “Plus, if you are moved by a voice on the FM radio, you want to use that special quality in your film,” adds actor/voice-artist Chetan, who lends his voice to character artistes and villains, “Most of our villains are imported, and Chennai happens to be a dubbing centre.”

There are exceptions. Tamil heroes prefer to speak their lines, points out Chetan. Of course, no one can dub for actors with distinctive voices and modulation. Comedians voice-act for themselves, and fill tracks during dubbing.

Daily soaps push this trade, say artists. “TV-artists have no time for dubbing, so there’s no threat to our jobs from them,” says Deepa. And young movie directors want everyday speech and fresh sounds. Besides, actors can’t shoot for 15 days and dub for the rest of the month, feels Chetan. “New entrants act in many languages simultaneously. And serials are shot, dubbed, mixed, and telecast in 24-hour cycles. Hence, the demand for us. ‘ Ellam dubbing-la pathukallam-pa,’ is the mantra,” says Anuradha.

The key areas for a dubbing artist? He/she has to have a grasp of the director’s expectation, learn about the plot, watch before-after scenes, assess the personality of the character, and prime themselves for “performance”. If syncing perfectly is crucial, so is not overdoing it.

“In Kalyana Samayal Sadam, I had to be very natural, no artificial expressions, no stereo-typed laughter,” says Deepa. “In Raja Rani, I had to sob, whimper, wail, and use slurred speech when Nayantara broke down in the car. It took me four hours to do that scene to perfection.” When acting is fabulous, it’s a challenge to match that effect, enhance the emotion in blink-of-the-eye shots.

“I research my character, internalise the dialogues and give the director options,” says Anuradha. “Luckily, my voice suited most of the heroines of the 80s and 90s. Balu Mahendra taught me every line in Moondram Pirai.” If there is a change in the way actors speak or emote, you go with the trend.

Make modulation attractive, learn rapid-fire repartee.

“Expressing emotions well is the key,” says Chetan. It is important that one doesn’t sound phony, says Anuradha.

More recognition will help dubbing artists. Dubbing is a category in State Awards, but “we are waiting for recognition by the central government,” say the artists.

It’s a freelancing job, with all its insecurities. Testimonials spread word-of-mouth, and work is unpredictable. But the job is not without its rewards. Your on-screen life may be short, but dubbing is forever. Actors move to dubbing to extend their career. “Our generation demands better compensation,” says Jayageetha.

Menon feels dubbing may have reached its peak. Hollywood films are increasingly getting recorded on the spot, informs Chetan. “I did analogue dubbing in 1992. Rewinding ran at normal speed, and if you made a mistake or needed reference, you waited endlessly to reach that spot. In a few years, re-winding speeded up, and in 2000, the digital era dawned. We are reaching zero-waiting time.” “Most heroines don’t dub now, but soon will,” says Menon. “With digital cameras and sensitive mics, the scenario is changing in Mumbai. In Chennai, sets are noisy, but we’re moving towards live speech.”

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2019 10:47:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/dubbing-artistes-of-tamil-cinema-when-voices-do-the-acting/article6291877.ece

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