She was the voice behind the driven headmistress Geetha Rani in Raatchasi, the distressed yet brave game designer Swapna in Game Over, and very recently the godly voice of Amman we all caught glimpses of from the trailer of Nayanthara’s upcoming film Mookuthi Amman. Deepa Venkat began dreaming of acting as a little girl, while she was dubbing for Disney cartoons. Soon, she found herself in the world of radio and prime time television, all the while holding on to first love, dubbing.
Having just finished dubbing for Mookuthi Amman, Deepa checks her phone for a text of appreciation from Nayanthara. “Nayanthara is very particular about the output. Either she voices her own films or as you can see now, she’s comfortable having me dub. She watches the whole movie and texts me her feedback. Sometimes she’ll ask for few changes and will sit with me for corrections. You will never find her compromising for anything less than perfect.”
Another recent project Deepa just finished voicing is Jyothika for her upcoming Ra Saravan’s film. “It was a Thanjavur slang I had to adopt. I’m always quite nervous when it comes to slang. The director knew the accent very well so he helped me with it.”
According to Deepa, dubbing for a movie takes a minimum of three sittings with five or longer hours per day. Even though you are not on camera, you have to still act the part physically to effect the right voice. “With any film, the process starts with auditions. Even though the director would have heard my voice for the same actress in a different film, they will have a set of questions. Every movie is different so the first step is always the voice test. For this they play an intense or emotional scene from the movie and observe my voice. I usually watch the whole scene first and get the outline of the role. I don’t have to hear the whole story but just enough to understand the character, what she does, where she’s from and so on.”
Once the voice test is done, they move on to rehearsals. “I’ll try to match with the heroine’s original voice first, then I’ll give variations. All of this is recorded and then one is selected. We move forward with the chosen tone and then I voice the character from the beginning of the movie. “
Different movie, different feel
While Deepa has voiced so many characters in her long spanning career, she claims each movie is a completely different and a one-of-a-kind experience. “Game Over was a very interesting experience.There was so much in the film, the whole set up was very different. They were recording with three mics. I wasn’t allowed any jewellery because even the smallest noise caused a hindrance. They had to pin my thali back. Shankar Sir’s movie dubbing is also a wonderful feel. The set-up is extravagant.”
“Hollywood movies are again a different story. Disney has always had a very strict protocol. The scripts have to be approved by the same language speaking person sitting in the Walt Disney office. They will also have to approve the voice artist. Even when we dubbed for Terminator and Dark Knight, we weren’t allowed to take our mobile phones inside. The whole recording session is video recorded. We don’t even be able to see the scenes we are dubbing for visually.”
Chance of a lifetime
Deepa started off as a child dubbing artist. “I used to dub for cartoons when I was in the eighth grade.These Walt Disney cartoons like Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers and others were getting dubbed from English to Hindi and a portion of it was happening in Chennai. There was a very small number of Hindi speaking voice artists in Chennai that time. Through a mutual friend we were able to set up a shot and that’s how it started,” she recalls.
“I was in Mumbai till my 3rd grade and then came back to the city I was born in – Chennai. My entire school and college years were completed in correspondence. I was doing serials at that time. My parents were very particular that I complete my school education. I got a lot of movie offers that I had to decline then, and I would argue with my parents that it was unfair,” she looks back with a laugh. “But they were always very supportive of me, be it acting or dubbing,” she adds.
The grind is real
“After a point I lost the interest in securing the central role in movies. I was very comfortable acting in serials and being a part of prime time television. I felt more at home. We knew the kind of roles we were playing; there was scope for performance, we had good directors, good stories, and good companies. They were like schools that taught us everything.”
Deepa is not likely to forget the strain she was put through about a decade ago: “It was a lot of hardwork; we used to work on tight budgets. Sometimes when we are shooting on location we wouldn’t have proper rooms/restrooms in which to change. There wasn’t much by way of advertising either. Still, we managed to reach a lot of people and made household names. Nowadays, people work a lot more comfortably.”
She soon felt the workload catch up to her though. “At a point of time I was doing 4-5 serials. I started losing out on movie and other dubbing offers. But after a point, when it started getting very repetitive, I decided to stop.”
Then came marriage for Deepa. As she settled into her new life, a new venture beckoned. “One day I got a call from Hello FM. The CEO wanted me as a stand-in for an RJ who broke her leg. It was only for a month for a two-hour morning show. I didn’t know much about radio but I wasn’t doing anything else then, so I agreed. It was a struggle for a month but I kept at it. It became like a new subject of study because speaking every day for two hours was not easy. I did that show for nine years. It picked up very well; I had a huge listener base.”
She soon understood the tasks and challenges of radio: “I would go in early in the morning and prepare talking points. It’s all live so you have to think on your feet while adhering to the show’s duration, speak in Tamil, and not offend anybody.” Still, she found it an endearing experience. “I got to interact with a lot of people from different fields. Radio means a lot to me. Made some really good friends there too, and if given a chance I’d love to return.”
After all that reflection, Deepa’s parting words ring clear and strong: “Each field has its own its own hardships, rewards, pitfalls everything. I think a lot goes into preparing for it and then bracing yourself for the rest.”
Deepa recently starred in “En Veetu Samayal,” a cooking show in JFW’s new food channel Spice, where she presents some of the most lip-smacking delicacies for you to try out at your home.