Not every superhero wears a cape, some just need a microphone to create magic… Sounak Mukhopadhyay explores the world of the dubbing in film industry
With Ranveer Singh becoming the voice of Deadpool, Hindi-dubbed Hollywood movies have suddenly become the talk of the town. As Bollywood shines like the sun, it makes it impossible for us to see numerous other stars lighting up the sky. When Mowgli slams Sher Khan in Hindi and we enjoy every word of it, there are some people who sit behind the curtains and watch their hard work making people happy. It’s the backstage heroes that nobody talks about…
It started with India being an open economy in the early 90s. Along with every other unknown and half-known wonders, there came Hollywood with all its charm. But, in a country like India where the vast majority of people consider English as an alien language, it was impossible to crack the market with American actors talking in English. They had to speak in the local language, say things that Indians understand, that too without losing the original flavour.
Veteran voice artiste, Meena Nahta, fondly remembers the time when it fell into her lap. Before being a part of thousands of projects, she did not know she could become a voice actor, because she had no idea such a thing existed.
“People used to compliment me on my voice. Even when I said hello to them over the phone, they would get excited about it,” reminisces Nahta, who has completed 25 years in this industry. “When I really had the chance to perform in front of the mic, I realised I was pathetic at it. A good voice is what you’re born with. But, to become a successful voice artist, you need a lot of practice to acquire the specific skills required for this job,” she adds.
Getting behind the mike
Shiney Prakash who is relatively new in this field believes that merely having a great voice does not make you a successful voice actor, emotions are important too. “You need to recreate the emotion that’s on the screen and sync it with the actor’s lip movements at the same time,” the voice actor says. “We not only have to match their expressions with our voice, but also have to enhance the intensity at times merely through our voice acting. Over the years, the style of movie acting has become more realistic. Voice actors have evolved accordingly, Prakash adds.
It’s not just voice, but experience matters too in this profession, explains Recordist Paul Cardoz. “If we have a seasoned performer, everything will be done smoothly. We don’t have to tell the voice actor how to do it,” Cardoz says. “But, if it’s a newcomer, they may take more time to deliver the expected outcome. The performer must know how to use the mic effectively,” he adds.
Some of us have the misconception that it’s merely a translated version of the original movie that we are watching. Various writers work hard to transcreate the original version into something that the Hindi-speaking audience will identify with.
Veteran writer Gautam Verma believes that the most important job is to make it relatable for local viewers. “There are a lot of foreign elements in Hollywood movies, and not everyone in India can understand them. Our job is to write it in such a way that the character references remain in tact, but it still feels like any other regular Hindi movie. Remember we have to do all that while matching the metre of every line,” Verma explains.
Dubbing director Kalpesh Parekh, whose most recent project is Deadpool 2, believes that the most critical part of the job is to feel the pulse of Indian viewers. “When you watch the English version of Deadpool 2, you’ll find a lot of Hollywood references in it that a common man in India cannot understand,” Parekh, who has more than 500 movies in his kitty, explains. “That’s why we made it an Indianised version. Our core job is to entertain people. That motto should not get lost in translation. Producers give us enough liberty to recreate something even more entertaining than the original version,” he adds.
It will be unfair to restrict the Hindi dubbing industry only with Hollywood. There are lot of other languages that are in the picture. In addition to Southern languages like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, many other Indian languages are involved, too.
Swati Ramakrishnan’s latest projects include creating Hindi versions of movies from Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. “We choose the voice actors according to the character on screen,” says the dubbing producer, who has spent 18 years in the industry. “Over time, it has become easier for me to quickly identify the most suitable voice for a particular character in the movie,” she adds.
Several Hindi-dubbed movies are available on YouTube for free viewing, with some been watched by millions of people around the world.
Voice actor Faran Patel is the voice of the male lead in Descendants of the Sun, arguably the most popular Korean TV show in history. “I’m an actor. I started doing voice acting for pocket money,” Patel says. “I started as a crowd voice and gradually became the lead voice. As a voice artist, I’m exposed to new cultures around the world. Plus, it makes me a better actor in the process,” he adds.
Ms Prakash did a Ukranian project recently, and she can’t hide her excitement while talking about it. “It was exciting when the original actors messaged me saying they loved my work,” she exclaims in joy.
Always the unknown
Nahta is proud to have made a lot of money during her career in the industry. The ownership of a flat in Bandra explains it all. But, something pinches the heart at times. “People hardly know about us,” reflects the seasoned artiste, who once stunned a foreign producer by doing seven different voices in a TV series. “Nobody knows about our contribution to the movie industry,” she avers.
As the plot demanded, Verma recreated four different versions of the same dialogues in the Hindi version of Vantage Point. Ramakrishnan has dubbed popular Hindi films like Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahaani into English. But, despite their extraordinary contribution to the industry, they don’t get the limelight. “Everyone talks about Deadpool, Avengers and all,” Parekh says. “But, how many people know about the team of unknown faces that work really hard behind the scene!” he adds.
The regret resides deep inside the heart, as they go for work tomorrow again to give their best to entertain us.