She may not look like a 16-year-old American vampire slayer, but once Manisha Dubey wears her headphones, her voice is unmistakably Buffy’s, in the Hindi version of Bindaas’s Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. “She has a certain maturity, despite her age, and my voice worked,”says Dubey. But it could be embarrassing. “During Buffy’s kissing scene, I’d throw everyone else out of the studio and hide my face so that I didn’t have to look at the dubbing director.”
Akshat Chopra, child actor and the voice of Salim in Slumdog Crorepati, says dubbing is tougher than acting. “I had to study the other guy’s mannerisms and voice accordingly. It demands more modulation and control,” he says.
Ever since 1998, when Cartoon Network launched its Hindi channel, the industry for translating and dubbing foreign cinema into Hindi and other regional languages has grown exponentially. Channels like Bindaas, UTV Movies, History Channel, Discovery, National Geographic and Firangi localise original content from across the world. The dubbing industry in India is growing at 10-15 per cent a year, although it is still worth only around Rs 150 million - 200 million (as at the end of 2008).
For most voice artists, the journey begins with radio or theatre. Dubey, a voice artist for 16 years, is an RJ with AIR, while 27-year-old Gautum Mehra from Delhi, who has voiced for popular shows such as Sesame Street, was into theatre. Voice artist, Irfan, an RJ, has even started a blog called artofreading.blogspot.com with colleague Munish Sharma where they read out book excerpts.
However, dubbing for films is not lucrative. The Indian dubbing market is saturated and people get “as little as Rs 500 for one character”, says Mehra. Also, with more channels and artists, less attention goes into the details, he adds. “I try and internalise the character and desify it… dubbing is an extension of acting.”
Like Vineet Prabhu, a dubbing director freelancing with UTV Movies, many work as freelancers. Insiders claim that an artist can get Rs 3,000-6,000 for a lead character, and even less for a cartoon character.
Shammi Narang, who runs Studio Pin Drop, says there’s a lot of money in dubbing for corporate films, audio guidebooks, planetariums, or recording automated voice responses for phone companies. Narang, the voice heard on the Delhi Metro, says, “Once you are established you can earn as much Rs 10,000 for a 10- minute recording. In fact, there are college students who get Rs 500 for saying ‘Okay ma, I’m going’. Some carry home Rs 30,000 per day.”
Indian viewers don’t think highly of dubbed versions of films, says Rajeev Chakraborti, business head of Firangi and Filmy, citing extensive market research. “So we pay strict attention to the quality of dubbing and to match voices with the character’s overall personality.”
As for Indianising content, Rupak Chaudhuri, sound engineer at Miditech Studios in Gurgaon, explains, “In some cases, we do change the character. So a character based on a popular celebrity could be given Mithun Chakravorty’s style of talking. Or model smaller characters after, say, PC Sorcar or Rajnikant.”