One of the early and successful voiceover artistes, Meena Gokuldas quit the profession last year. The work was challenging but little recognition and remuneration came her way. “The industry has grown but the remuneration has not increased to match budget spends or profits,” she says.
Gokuldas’s concerns are reiterated by Amitabh Bachchan’s character in the weekend release, Shamitabh, where he lends voice to a mute wannabe actor essayed by Dhanush. When the latter becomes a superstar, it leads to ego clashes between the two, where Amitabh Bachchan demands a share in the fame.
Most voiceover artistes second Gokuldas and believe that the craft has still not got its due in the film industry. “Few know that Deepika Padukone’s voice was dubbed in her blockbuster debut Om Shanti Om,” says Mona Ghosh Shetty, a seasoned artiste who was the voice of the actor. She also did voiceovers for Jacqueline Fernandez in Aladin and Race 2 and for Katrina Kaif in Sarkar and Hum Ko Deewana Kar Gaye. Another case in point is Naaz. While she went on to become a star, few know that Naaz dubbed for Sridevi when the popular actor was starting her career.
Viraj Adhav, who has lent his voice to John Abraham and Dino Morea, among many others, explains that most stars today have had their voices dubbed in their first few films. “An actor may be a good screen performer, but may take time to adjust to dialogue delivery. Sometimes, he or she may find it difficult to repeat the performance in the dubbing studio, causing a mismatch between the voice and the visual. Voiceover artistes step in at such times,” says the 37-year-old, who has been in the industry for 20 years and has dubbed for John Abraham in his first four films.
Dubbing is a complex and challenging job. Apart from having a good voice and the ability to modulate it, a voiceover artist needs to have a natural flair for acting, says Shetty as “one is performing the character and attempting to emulate the emotional graph he goes through”. They also need to have great timing and strong observation skills to imbibe the natural pauses and mannerisms of an actor so it can be reproduced through their voice. Artistes have to audition for roles too because the voice needs to match the actor’s physical attributes. Looking at Shamitabh for instance, the idea of a lanky Dhanush with Bachchan’s booming voice seemed absurd early on. But it didn’t seem out of place once the promo released.
“If the character is six-foot tall, you have to sound six-foot tall, you cannot sound short,” explains Malvika Shivpuri. Shetty adds that her act for Bipasha Basu in Jism was different from Raaz. “She was the victim in the first and the perpetrator in the latter, so I lent her a raspy, husky tone for Raaz,” says 40-year-old Shetty, who started her career as a child artiste.
Most importantly, voiceover artistes need to undo their instinctive reactions, says Adhav. “An actor gets time to prepare for a role and get under the character’s skin. This adds spontaneity lending another dimension to a performance. But we have to suppress our instinct and not only match the actor but also better it,” he says.
However, the industry has set no minimum remuneration for such artistes. “The negotiations vary from Rs 5,000 to Rs 5 lakh sometimes,” says Shivpuri. “Also for the most part, our work is not even credited in a film as the makers and actors feel insecure about the audience finding out that the star’s voice in a film isn’t his or her own. Only recently has the trend changed and we stand a chance to negotiate a credit.”