The next voice you hear...

The next time you see a celebrity in a TV commercial, listen carefully. Is that really the way she or he sounds? Or could you be hearing a ‘voice impressionist’?
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Updated on Oct 16, 2011 02:46 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByAmrah Ashraf

Imagine entering a room blindfolded. You can hear the creak of a chair, but your groping hands can’t seem to find one. Then suddenly Amjad Khan taps you on the shoulder and bellows, ‘Kitne aadmi the?’

As you almost jump out of your skin in fright, you hear Amitabh Bachchan’s reassuring baritone. ‘Aye saala kya bolta hai,’ he says. And as you turn towards him, Saif Ali Khan offers you potato chips while Deepika Padukone explains how it is healthy to chew gum after eating.

What a nightmare! But it’s for real and you snatch off your blindfold, expecting to be surrounded by film stars. But all you see are four very regular, very normal people. Huh? Who are they?

They are some of the country’s best voice impressionists All the voices you heard were theirs. ‘Voicing’, as their profession is called, is a talent, and voice impressionists are much in demand in the ad industry, dubbing for celebs who don’t have the time to do more than shoot for a commercial. So that isn’t Saif Ali Khan talking to you in the Lays commercials. A voice artist dubbed for him. Shah Rukh Khan in the Sunfeast ad? That too was dubbed. And do you claim you could recognise Amitabh Bachchan’s voice in your sleep? Listen again. Before live sound recordings came in, the Big B’s baritone belonged to... somebody else.

So what’s it like to be, say, the voice of Amitabh Bachchan? Or Sachin Tendulkar? Or Kareena Kapoor? Four voice impressionists tell us.

ChetanChetan Sashital: The voice of Sachin Tendulkar

Looks are truly deceptive! If you bumped into Chetan Sashital, you would never imagine that the six-foot-tall burly man is the voice of willow master Sachin Tendulkar. But Sachin’s voice comes naturally to him. "Sachin has a very high-pitched voice but somehow, I don’t have to think for even a second before modulating my voice to suit his," says Sashital. "I just have to change the pressure centre of my voice." He has dubbed for Sachin in many Pepsi and Visa Power commercials.

Chetan Sashital has been in the industry for over two decades. He started his career with feature films and dubbed for a range of personalities – Salman Khan in Biwi No 1, Sunny Deol in Aag Ka Gola, Sanjay Dutt in Andolan and Dharmendra in Zulm Ki Hukumat. Then he moved to commercials, in which he ‘did’ a perfect Shah Rukh Khan for Pepsi and Sunfeast. Apart from SRK, he has also dubbed for Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar, and sport stars like Sachin, Vinod Kambli, Mohd. Azharuddin, Kapil Dev, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh.

"When Sehwag shot for ‘Sehwag ke thande funde’, he had a very strong Jat accent. That needed to be polished and cleared while keeping the character of his voice the same. So I removed the accent and dubbed it in his voice. This is what you call voice cosmetics in the ad world," says Sashital.

A man of many voices, Sashital also dubs for animated characters, such as Baloo the bear in Tailspin and the genie in Aladdin, working purely on instinct. The result, he beams, has always been bang on.

But he doesn’t mind being a ‘voice’, not a ‘face’. Fame, he feels, is not important. "I felt I needed to be a known face when I had just started out. But with maturity you realise that it’s not important. People like me were always destined to be just the voice of a known face."

Voicing, for Sashital, is more than work. It is his passion, his moment of ‘complete nirvana.’ Perfection and complete concentration are paramount. "Before you mimic someone, you need to catch the natural frequency of their voice," he explains. "For that you need great concentration. Voicing, according to me, is the greatest fine art. A good voice impressionist is like an actor. He needs to act and emote while dubbing for someone else."

Sashital is also an actor, musician, painter, and photographer. He truly believes in the power of speech: he claims to have taught his dog to recite a poem and says he can converse with crows. Is he for real? We may question this, but for Sashital, voicing is his life, his gift from god and his prayer.HrishikeshHrishikesh Kannan: the Voice of Amitabh Bachchan

It’s quite something to be told that your voice is better than Amitabh Bachchan’s. Especially when that compliment comes from Amitabh Bachchan himself. Naturally, Hrishikesh Kannan can’t stop beaming when he tells you that story.

"I once emceed an event organised by the Bachchans where I had to read a poem," he says. "I decided to read it in Amitji’s voice and after I was done, Amitji came up to me and said that I sounded as good, if not better, than him. I was completely blown!"

Voicing came easy to Kannan, who was just another Delhi University lad moonlighting in theatre before he became a hot jock with a popular radio channel. Before he knew it, the ad industry came calling. First there were voiceovers for commercials. Next, he was a full time voice artist. "I didn’t have to peddle my work at all," says Kannan.

So how did he start dubbing for Amitabh Bachchan? "It happened purely by accident," he grins. "Amitji was shooting abroad and didn’t have dates to dub the ad film. The agency needed to roll with the ad and so they contacted me." It sounds so simple, but it’s true.

Now, however, things are changing in the industry. Since the advent of live sound recording, Bachchan and a host of other stars prefer to use their own voices in their commercials. "Amitji and Aamir Khan make it a point to dub most of their ads," says Kannan. "They believe they can emote better than a voice artist and are very conscious of the quality of product they roll out. For instance, Aamir dubbed all the Tata Sky ads himself. Now other actors have started dubbing their own spots too."

This means that Kannan can no longer call himself the voice of Amitabh Bachchan, but that doesn’t bother him. Well, not a lot. Work comes in steadily – he does voiceovers for channels like Channel V and shows like Khatron Ke Khiladi, not to mention ads. Fame is not important, he feels. But recognition is significant.

"I have a RAPA (Radio and TV Advertising Practitioners Association) award for my radio work, but there are no awards for voicing," says Kannan. "Voice artists should also be given their due. Often, our work goes completely unnoticed. I understand that it is impossible to have credit rolls in commercials, but what about TV programmes? They, too, have stopped running end credit rolls so there is no way that viewers can know who we are."

RahulRahul Mulani: The voice of Saif Ali Khan

I f you’re a Mumbaikar, you probably know Rahul Mulani. He was the voice of Times FM in the mid-’90s and boy, did he have a fan following! But Mulani wanted to challenge himself and break out of his comfort zone. So he quit radio in ’98 to become a voiceover artist.

"Even while I was a radio jock, I enjoyed voicing," he says. "I quit radio because I knew there was a lot more scope in voicing. I faced hard days initially, but I made it."

Mimicking is almost second nature for Mulani who used to ‘do’ his teachers and friends all the time. A ‘voice cosmetician’ if you will, he can change the timbre and tone of his voice faster than you can wink. But it’s Saif Ali Khan who really fascinates him. So much so that Mulani has become Saif’s voice in many Lays and Colgate Max Fresh Gel advertisements.

But how did it all start?

"I was very fascinated by Saif’s performance in Dil Chahta Hai and I started copying this one dialogue from the film where he talks to his girlfriend over the phone," explains Mulani. "I kept practicing it and one day I cracked the code. The first time I dubbed for Saif was about nine years ago for a Lays ad. Now I study and observe Saif’s mannerisms, facial expressions and body language. It’s almost like living a character."

But Mulani is quick to point out that Saif and a lot of other actors insist on dubbing for themselves too. "It’s a matter of availability for the stars. Sometimes they are out of town for work and cannot make it for recordings. That is when we do the job for them," he says. "Obviously, the commercials in regional languages are dubbed by us. But whenever the option of sync sound is available, the stars insist on doing it themselves."

Unfazed by the lack of recognition and fame, Mulani doesn’t understand why voice artists fuss about it so much. "I am there to do a job and I get paid for it. Dubbing for Saif does not mean that I should be as famous as he is. But there is a difference between ad films and feature or animated films. If I dub a movie, I want to see my name in the credit roll. Sadly, a lot of times voice artists are ignored."

Still, he’s excited by the changes that have been taking place in the field of voicing. "The industry has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last five years, and now the younger generation is challenging the older brigade," he explains. "That makes things fun and competitive."

The kind of involvement that people put into projects today is also exciting, says Mulani. They are more involved today, he explains, which adds an extra dimension to the work. "What excites me most about my job, though, is when I am challenged to produce different kinds of voices for an ad film," he says. "That breaks the monotony of daily work."Soniya NairSoniya Nair: The voice of Juhi, Kajol, Kareena, Preity, Vidya

One moment she’ll babble like an eight-year-old and the next, talk like an 80-year-old. Meet Soniya Nair, one of the busiest voice artists in the industry. Shuttling between studios in the maddening Mumbai traffic, working late into the night, recording voiceovers for commercials and dubbing for actresses for commercials, Nair loves every minute of her job. Ask her what she would be if not a voiceover artist and she says, "I really don’t know."

We are not surprised. Nair started dubbing at the age of four which she jokingly calls "child labour." Introduced to voicing by her father, the first ad she dubbed for was the Rasna girl. Now, whenever she sees a kid dubbing, she makes it a point to wait till the end and encourage the kid.

"Recordings are hard enough for grown-ups, think how intimidating it could be for a kid," she says.

A veteran in her own right, she is the voice behind many TV commercials featuring Aishwarya Rai, Vidya Balan, Kajol, Kareena Kapoor, Shilpa Shetty, Preity Zinta and Juhi Chawla. "Juhi is the most fun to work with. I dubbed the Catch masala ads for her. Her energy levels are infectious. Apart from her I enjoy dubbing for Vidya. She has a very nice base to her voice. In fact, the latest Good Knight ad is running with my voice," says Nair.

A queen of intonation, Nair can switch from a cartoon character to Hema Malini in under a second. "Dubbing for actresses is harder because most of them don’t have a specific style of talking unlike say, a Shah Rukh Khan," she says. "Actresses don’t have a punch-line that you can mimic. So you have to work extra hard to catch their natural frequency. Take Rani’s voice for instance. It is very husky and I find it extremely hard to get the exact texture."

Not one to mince her words, Soniya feels that voice artists are usually not given their due credit. "It is a tough and highly specialised job. Even within the industry, there are so many awards for different genres of post production, but voicing is completely ignored."

What irks her more is when a technical category award like the ‘Voice of the Year’ is given to a celebrity. "Voice artists are completely ignored."

Having said that, she is quick to point out that it is not fame she is looking for. "I don’t care about being famous. I don’t even tell my friends and family that I have dubbed for celebrities," says Nair.

Known as ‘Miss Fabulous’ amongst her contemporaries, Soniya Nair is definitely going places. Loaded with great attitude and oodles of versatility, she is the voice which will stick around for a long time.

From HT Brunch, October 16

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