Growing up in the late ’90s, 6pm would mean a platter of snacks in time for the lively soundtrack of Doraemon on television. The line, “Zindagi Sawar Du, Ek Nayi Bahar Du… Mai Hu Ek Udta Robo Doraemon”, would flag off a magical journey and is the gateway to my earliest memories of the show.
Doraemon was one of the best loved cartoons of kids in the late ’90s and early 2000s. While the generations before them grew up on the adventures of Chacha Chaudhary, Gen Z has been captivated by this Japanese manga, which began to broadcast in India from February 2005. Once a fixture on Hungama TV, Doraemon now airs on Disney Channel India, continuing to weave its animated charm. The Indian dubs are available in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and English. As Doraemon completes 19 years in India this month, TMS reached out to the ‘Hindi voice’ behind the famous cartoon character—voice actor and Delhi girl Sonal Kaushal.
“I remember when I first saw the visuals of Doraemon during auditions in a studio, I was not impressed. I thought the show would never work among Indian kids but I was clearly very wrong. It became a cult classic, and I feel honoured to have been associated with it,” says Kaushal, 32, who voiced Doraemon for 13 years till 2018.
As a child, Kaushal was shy. She, therefore, never disclosed to her school friends that she was a voice artist in a show rapidly gaining popularity. One day, her father informed her principal, and the very next day, when it was made public, Kaushal became the most popular child in Rohini’s Ryan International School.
Kaushal’s initial salary from the show was Rs 250 per episode. “Doraemon will forever be a milestone in my career for three significant reasons: it was my very first cartoon; I have connected with many kids, and, of course, the popularity it got me,” she adds. Since Doraemon, Kaushal has lent her voice to Pikachu from Pokemon, Nene Sakurada and Musae Koyama from ShinChan, Bubbles in Powerpuff Girls, Dora in Dora The Explorer, Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, among others. Some of her recent projects include Bhuvan Bam’s Takeshi’s Castle, Netflix’s Summer in Leo and Disney+ Hotstar’s Alice in Wonderland.
Kaushal, who started dubbing at eight for All India Radio’s kids’ audio dramas, had, however, always aspired to become a teacher. She completed her BEd from Amity University to secure a stable job and income. However, fate had other plans. In 2013, Kaushal moved to Mumbai, and her career soared. Work opportunities started pouring in. So far, she has voiced over 100 characters, spanning television, films, advertisements, and OTT shows.
Taking us on a journey through a recording studio, Kaushal describes the experience thus: “It’s a dimly lit room with a single screen displaying our scenes and a focused light on the script. The setup is intentionally designed to minimise distractions.” Although the recording process may seem isolating, Kaushal perceives her studio as a blank canvas where she artfully shapes characters and weaves stories.
Kaushal’s journey has not been without its challenges. “Securing work and creating a place for yourself in the industry is a challenge,” she asserts. Occasionally, the demanding nature of characters also takes its toll. In 2018, Sonal encountered a vocal challenge while dubbing for Johnny Test, resulting in a swelling of her vocal cords. This resulted in a crucial period of voice rest. According to her, the dubbing process “requires precision and emotional synchronisation with characters, intense concentration and creativity…. Diversity and adaptability are key.” While diversity opens new doors of work opportunities, adaptability helps you survive and voice multiple characters.
After completing 24 years in the industry, what is her recipe for success? “My passion and 100 per cent hard work. There is no shortcut or escape from that,” she says. Kaushal also has valuable advice for aspiring artists, “Do your homework; there’s a wealth of information in the form of masterclasses and workshops available. Broaden your horizons and learn.” Emphasising the importance of building a unique artistic language, she suggests mastering voice modulation and acting to infuse a spectrum of emotions into one’s voice.
She is currently working towards creating “a right kind of balance” between her personal and professional life.As a working mother, Kaushal acknowledges the unique challenges it presents. “I firmly believe that severing ties with your career can breed regret and frustration in the long run,” she says.
In 2020, Kaushal married Utkarsh Bali, a line producer in filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s team. Last year, the couple welcomed a baby girl. “I make sure that she hears rhymes only in my voice, though she remains blissfully unaware that it’s me. I hope she grows up with Doraemon as her favourite character,” she says with a laugh.