Pan-India projects make dubbing directors, language trainers an integral part of entertainment business

Dubbing is more than just translating a language. The goal is to make the content relatable
Voice artiste RP Bala (centre) with Mohanlal and Priyadarshan
Voice artiste RP Bala (centre) with Mohanlal and Priyadarshan

During the mid-2000s, a rather strange trend was picking up on Hindi television channels. Dubbed versions of Tamil and Telugu films—both hits and flops—found a dedicated audience, and stars such as Mahesh Babu, Suriya and Vijay began capturing the attention of audiences in north India. That was perhaps the earliest sign of the ‘pan-Indian cinema’ trend that is all the rage now.

What was merely a form of entertainment back then has now evolved into an art form with stars being trained by language experts to dub for their films in multiple languages. Take, for instance, SS Rajamouli’s RRR, the Hindi version of which continues to be on Netflix’s Top 10 list seven months after its release. The film’s Telugu superstars—Jr NTR and Ram Charan—were dubbed in Hindi, Tamil and Kannada.

Madhan Karky, who trained the actors in the Tamil version of RRR, says, “I initially thought that having voice artists comfortable in different languages would save time, but the actors’ commitment was overwhelming.” It helped that Jr NTR and Ram Charan both were familiar with Tamil, having grown up in Chennai.

Dubbing is more than just translating a language. The goal is to make the content relatable. “The idea is to translate the right mood, emotion and expression of the characters. Our job is to train them in dialect and pronunciation,” says Madhan, who also worked on the Tamil dubbing for the Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Sita Ramam.

To capture the authenticity of the emotion, he reinterpreted some straightforward Telugu dialogues from the original film as poetry in the Tamil version.

Voice artiste RP Bala, known for dubbing big-ticket films like Mohanlal’s National Award-winning Marakkar, observes that even non-local audiences are familiar with the voices of such stars, due to social media.

“Mohanlal found it quite easy to dub in Tamil for films such as Pulimurugan and Lucifer, as he had to speak modern-day Tamil. He, however, took more time when dubbing Marakkar, but never complained about multiple takes. Actor Manju Warrier was also dubbed for the first time in Tamil in this film.”

Bala calls Marakkar one of his most challenging projects. He recalls that training the actors to speak in old Tamil was particularly difficult. Madhan too faced similar challenges with RRR, as the film is set in the 1920s and traverses through varied regions.

“We chose a particular meter for the Tamil spoken in RRR, and included minor variations by bringing in a Tribal accent, and sparingly using Hindi and English words to lend authenticity,” Madhan says.

At a time when cinema from across the globe is consumed in subtitles, one may question the need for dubbing to begin with.

Madhan asserts that watching a film with subtitles is largely an urban phenomenon. “Dubbed films also ensure you don’t miss out on visual grammar, which could happen when you are concentrating on subtitles,” he adds.

Bala, who also helped Dulquer with the Tamil and Telugu versions of Kurup, attributes the blockbuster success of the film to its multilingual release. “For the Telugu voice-over, Dulquer wrote the dialogues in Malayalam to get the pronunciation right,” he says.

Dubbed releases are no longer limited to big-ticket films. The Kannada, Tamil and Telugu versions of the relatively smaller Gargi, starring Sai Pallavi, too were successes.

“We didn’t want the emotions to get diluted. There were compelling dialogues in Tamil that hit the right chords and I wanted to give the same experience to Kannada viewers,” says AR Shaan, the film’s dubbing director.

Given all the work that goes behind creating a natural-sounding dubbed film, validation for the job isn’t exactly forthcoming. Shaan’s response, however, sums it up succinctly. “When actors receive plaudits for their dubbing, it feels like our achievement. It motivates us to do better.”

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