Hollywood seems to have taken a subtler but effective route by using Indian talent to promote its films. Disney has been roping in regional and Bollywood celebrities to dub for its characters. Rana Daggubati was brought on board to voice Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. The Tamil version, apart from having the lines by director AR Murugadoss, also featured voice acting by Vijay Sethupathi (Iron Man) and Andrea Jeremiah (Black Widow). They even got AR Rahman to compose an anthem for the film.
For the latest release, The Lion King, the filmmakers have taken their game up by a few notches. For all the dubbed versions of the film (Hindi, Tamil and Telugu), the makers roped in known faces to dub for the characters. The Hindi version features voice of Shah Rukh Khan, his son Aryan, and others like Ashish Vidyarthi, Sanjay Mishra and Shreyas Talpade. The Telugu version features Nani, Jagapathi Babu, Brahmanandam and Ali, while the Tamil version has Siddharth, Arvind Swami, Aishwarya Rajesh, Rohini, Robo Shankar, Manobala and Singam Puli. South actor P Ravishankar has lent his voice to both the Tamil and Telugu versions.
Disney’s studio manager Prathap Aadhikesavan and his team are the minds behind these casting choices. “Disney has creative regional directors for each language, and takes the final call for the artists. We had planned a different comedy duo to dub for Timon and Pumba, but at the last minute, we felt Singampuli and Robo Shankar would be interesting,” says Prathap, who is also credited as an Assistant Director in the dubbed versions of The Lion King. “We were keen on roping in Arvind Swami to voice Mufasa, but he chose Scar,” he adds.
All the effort seems to have paid off, given the rich appreciation that the dubbed films have garnered. Actor Manobala, who voiced Zazu in Tamil, says he didn’t expect such a welcome. “The viewers connect with the characters better when it is voiced by someone they know. Roping in such known faces increases the film’s reach. When Arvind Swami and Siddharth attend a press meet, it’s an additional promotion from a business perspective,” he points out.
Ravishankar, who has dubbed for Mufasa in both Tamil and Telugu, echoes the thoughts of Manobala. “It’s not possible to get a large audience for an animated film. When names such as Shah Rukh Khan, Arvind Swami, and Jagapathi Babu get involved, the hype gets bigger. For the voice of a lion, serious depth and baritone is required—something only the likes of Sivaji Ganesan sir or Amitabh Bachchan sir have. However, we have brought in Shah Rukh Khan voicing Mufasa, and the idea has worked wonders,” he adds.But the idea of bringing in local talent to dub for films from other language is not exactly new in India. “As far back as in the 90s, Telugu actors have worked on dubbed films from Tamil. Kota Srinivasa Rao and Brahmanandam have dubbed for actors Goundamani and Vadivelu respectively for films like Gentleman and Kadhalan,” he says. Prathap says Disney’s restrictions make the voice-acting challenging. “The characters cannot be shown swearing at each other. We were told that we could just use words such as muttal and loosu (stupid). Despite these restrictions, Shankar, Manobala sir and Singampuli sir elevated the film with their improvisation. In Hollywood, voice artists stick to the script and don’t experiment. Here, we had to connect with the audience.”
The dubbing artists believe that the trend of bringing in local talent for Hollywood films is here to stay. According to reports, The Lion King has made four times its budget of $250–260 million, and secured the biggest opening for an animated film. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe moving into Phase Four ( a new line-up of movies and shows) and more live-action adaptations of classics in the pipeline such as Lady and the Tramp and Mulan, Disney and other production houses are only expected to expand their voicebank with more faces from our neighbourhood.
VOICES FROM INDIA
Arshad Warsi as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)
Tiger Shroff as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Kajol as Elastigirl in Incredibles 2 (2018)
Ranveer Singh as Deadpool (Wade Wilson) in Deadpool 2 (2018)
Siddhant Chaturvedi as Agent H and Sanya Malhotra as Agent M in Men in Black: International (2019)
Venkatesh as Genie and Varun Tej Konidela as Aladdin in Aladdin (Telugu; 2019)