Famous Australian author Michael Gerard Bauer wrote, ‘The voice is a second face.’ You can see this, especially in a medium like cinema. The actors are aided by their voices, often gift-wrapped to them by dubbing artists, who many don’t know much about.
Raveena Ravi, daughter of senior voice actor Sreeja Ravi, is among the rare few who straddle both acting and voice-acting. Not only is she one of the most sought-after voice actors in the industry, she is also known for making her acting debut in the critically acclaimed Oru Kidayin Karunai Manu (2017).
A regular for actors like Raashi Khanna and Amy Jackson, the young voice actor has dubbed for several top projects in both Tamil and Malayalam, with her latest project being Master, in which she has voiced a character played by Malavika Mohanan. Dubbing announcements usually don’t create a flutter on social media, but Vijay films are an exception. Raveena does not make much of the hype.
“Whether it is a star project or a small budget film, my work is the same. My process is the same too. The difference is only in the logistics.” Bigger projects mean that her dubbing schedules happen on a piece-meal basis, sometimes based on the star’s availability, while the smaller-budget projects get finished in a day, or a few days at most.
“Of course, the reach and reception is different. Master hasn’t released, but the news that I had dubbed for Malavika was trending on Twitter for some time,” says Raveena, laughing. She finds the general lack of public recognition to be blissful.
“People might connect the dots, saying it’s the same person who has spoken for this actor and that actor. If that happens, then it might hamper the way they consume the performance/character.” However, she believes that dubbing as a craft deserves more recognition. “We can definitely have more awards that acknowledge dubbing artistes. There are so many award shows, but only very few ones that recognise dubbing as an art.”
The joy for Raveena is in being witness to a film’s transformation to its final version. “I love watching films in general. The version we get is raw, without a background score, without final edits. I see what has transpired on the sets. So to see the transformed scene in the final output, is gratifying. I consider myself lucky.“ Master isn’t the first Vijay film that Raveena has been part of. She had earlier dubbed for Samantha in Kaththi and Amy Jackson in Theri. But Master is special, she says. “The film itself is different, and not the usual ‘mass’ entertainer. I was even wondering how Vijay sir accepted some scenes,” she exclaims.
The work of most dubbing artists occurs impromptu. After the voice gets approved, voice actors are given a brief of their character and their arc, and later a scene brief, before they dub. Raveena believes that spontaneity helps her create the magic. “I don’t use scripts as I can’t read Malayalam and Tamil, even though I am fluent in both languages. Even if I could, I can’t use it because I need to watch the scene and dub according to their timing.” The best way, she believes, is to follow the director’s vision. “The film has a vision, and I go along. The key is concentration,” she says. This is paramount as there are days where she shuttles between theatres, dubbing for different projects on the same day. “I remember once when I had to dub for I, Anegan, and another movie at the same time.”
This meant that she had to complete the session for I in the morning, and move to another theatre for Anegan in the afternoon. “Even though she is a model, the character in I is a soft girl. The dialogues were in the same meter. However, Anegan had so many moods and variations.” She had difficulties with Anegan, but a strict word from a stern recording engineer helped her to focus. “Sometimes, there are carryovers but concentration is key. We just rewatch the scene and get it right.” But how does one maintain continuity, especially when you are juggling different projects? “I don’t think of anything apart from what there’s on the screen.
Even though the actors are different, each emotion has a meter. That’s what I go by.” She acknowledges that for actors she dubs for regularly, like Raashi or Amy Jackson, she can bring in some individuality. “But it all comes down to the character. If you do what the character has done, it works.” She is also an actor, and recounts when one of her directors mentioned on set that they could have wrapped up the film had they had the budget for sync-sound.
“The emotion one delivers on spot is a hundred percent — the costume, sets, supporting actors, make-up, there are so many things that help you keep in the mood of the character. It is very tough to recreate that in a dubbing suite where there is just a mike and a screen.” Even though she has dubbed for both her upcoming films, it wasn’t without a few good-natured jokes tossed in her way. “Amy Jackson tone varudhu, andha heroine tone varudhu nu sollluvanga.
But it’s just my voice. What can I do if my voice doesn’t suit my face?”Her dubbing career has influenced her choices as an actor. “I am not interested in becoming a star, and I love dubbing. I work on several commercial films as a dubbing artist. But when it comes to acting, I have a different responsibility. I am choosy about my acting projects.“ Raveena believes that she is a much better fit for films that are script-oriented, and you can see this in her choices. The coronavirus outbreak has pushed two of her releases, Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban and Rocky. The actor is disheartened, but not worried.
“To get screens in the first place would be a task, with several big films in line. So it will be a huge question mark after this. But there is a larger problem at hand and this was necessary. It would be insensitive to be focussed on this,” she signs off.