For some, a great voice is a natural gift, and putting it to use is a talent in itself. Clad in a bright red saree, she sits gracefully with a small, yet charming smile. With her girl-next-door looks, one wouldn’t recognise her until she starts talking. And once she does, your brain gets teased, trying to identify the oh-so-recognisable voice of dubbing artist Savitha Reddy.
The talented artist shot to fame after lending her voice to none other than former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s character in the 1998 blockbuster Jeans. What started as a hobby and a way to earn some quick money changed her life as she went on to dub for heroines in the Tamil and Telugu film industries.
“I was in high school when I started dubbing. It used to be for small-time movies and I used to earn enough money to buy my favourite clothes and treat my friends. I was a happy teen,” says the artist who has dubbed for Simran in Panchathantiram (2002), Jyothika in 36 Vayadhinile (2015), Trisha in Varsham (2004) and Tamannah in Veeram (2014) among the 1,000 movies she has worked on.
Known for her adaptable voice, she was recognised by director Shankar and bagged her first major dubbing project. “I didn’t tell anyone that I was dubbing for Aishwarya Rai. I was so excited. All I could think was, I am dubbing for Miss World herself!” she reminisces.
Not knowing what could happen in the industry, she kept her first assignment a secret till the film was released. “It was my first assignment and I didn’t want to take any chances until I heard my voice in the movie. I didn’t tell anyone. But I went for the preview show with my friends and had a blast watching it,” she shares.
She had a thin voice as a teenager, and says it was a challenge to dub for people older than her. “My voice hadn’t matured yet. I had to practice a lot for my voice to suit Aishwarya. It was a great experience and after the movie was released, she called and thanked me,” Savitha recalls.
Enjoying her success, Savitha then went on to dub for top actors including Jyothika and Simran. “My voice was perfect for Jyothika and Simran. I ended up dubbing for them in almost all their films. After Simran did Vaali (1999), she took a break, and that was a break for me too,” laughs the MBA graduate who adores Jyothika.
“My parents were apprehensive at first. But since I didn’t have anything to do on screen, they were fine; I am happy being off screen as well. It gives me privacy and I get to enjoy my personal life. For a long time, even people who live on the same street as me didn’t know I was a dubbing artist,” quips Savitha, who also dubbed for Deepika Padukone in Kochadaiiyan (2014).
Talking about incidents that happen when she goes out, she giggles, “When I go shopping or step outside, I avoid talking much. Some people recognise my voice and even asked me to talk just so they can recall where they heard it!”
What is her favourite dialogue? “Loosa paa nee?” (Are you mad?), she says, referring to the famous dialogue from Pithamagan (2003), in which she dubbed for Laila. “The experience of dubbing for the movie is unforgettable. Director Bala wants exactly what he desires and we cannot intervene,” she says, and goes on to narrate, “A scene in which Laila pulls the chain in a train required me to shriek loudly. Sounds fun? Well, I was pregnant and thought I would deliver in the dubbing studio. I was panting, but managed to do the whole part and that is one of the best scenes in the movie.”
A recent trend in dubbing is the use of colloquial terms and accents. What’s her take on the trend? “When I started dubbing, directors wanted dialogues to be crystal clear. The Tamil and Telugu words had to be pronounced properly. But, now, it’s very ‘chill’. They want me to be casual, use ‘Tanglish’ words, and talk like I would at home, or to a friend. I like both, it’s my job and I enjoy doing it,” says Savitha.
Improvising and delivering impromptu dialogues while dubbing makes her versatile. “Dubbing with artists like Santhanam is a riot. Known for his comic timing, he sometimes changes dialogues and says entirely different things, which is funny. I don’t give up…I give it back and the director loves it,” she shares while talking about her experience dubbing for Hansika Motwani in Oru Kal Oru Kannadi (2012).
Savitha says she enjoys adding her own words when necessary. “Sometimes I add my own words while dubbing. Sometimes non-Tamil/Telugu speaking actors have trouble delivering dialogues, so I have to make sure the lip-sync and dub is accurate,” she explains and goes on to discuss how people have a wrong notion about dubbing artists. “People think dubbing is just talking. That’s not true. Dubbing involves improvisation, voice modulation, adaptation and other technicalities,” she says.
In an industry where there were hardly 20 dubbing artists in the 90’s, Savitha says the number of artists has grown to over 2,000 now. “When I entered the industry, there were very few dubbing artists. Now, singers, VJs and RJs have started becoming dubbing artists. Some dub for small-time movies, commercials and serials. The growth and exposure for this field is a good thing, but the quality of work shouldn’t be affected.”
The talented artist has a long list of movies and projects lined up. She says, “I was like clay when I stepped into the industry. I used to just follow instructions and observe. That has moulded me, and after 19 years, my growth has been heartwarming and I am happy.”