Actor. TV show host. Occasional singer. Phenomenon. Amitabh Bachchan, who has dominated the entertainment world as much as the cultural scene for nearly fifty years, turns 80 today. The “Big B” is not limited to his roles: he was voted “the greatest star on stage or screen” in a BBC poll, he became the first living Asian to have a waxwork at Madame Tussauds, he was awarded the highest French civil honor, and carried the Olympic torch. Likewise, he points out the famous “baritone”, who has his own separate identity. In its latest outing, the rumor – which has launched a thousand brands, attracted tourists to Gujarat, made Holi parties incomplete without “Rang Barse” – is a housemate who wishes you “happy birthday” and offers jokes, poems and even weather updates, all at the touch of a microphone and the wake word “Amitji”, which brings to life a smart home assistant.
Alternating the rumbling with the nonchalant, a key aspect of the on-screen character was the sonorous voice that makes the more mundane words full of possibilities. Curiously, Bachchan’s period in film as a faceless storyteller took off before his acting career. After a failed attempt to get a job at All India Radio, his voice made its debut when director Mrinal Sen used it for the sutradhar (narrator) in Bhuvan Shome (1969).
Voicemail spawned a craft industry of similar sounds, prompting the actor to copyright it after a tobacco manufacturer copied it to promote their gutkha. However, there are imitators encouraged by Bachchan himself. Remember “Jumma chumma” or “Sona sona”, songs that people think the actor sang? Sudesh Bhosle takes this as a compliment. “I recorded them in front of Bachchan saab, he personally recommends me for some of his songs and supervises the recording,” says Bhosle who draws on the actor’s body language. “I need to get my hands on the waist and drop my shoulders to get the iconic ‘hain’ of him.”
We first met Amitabh at a train station. Most of us immediately sensed that he was going to have a great career. Her powerful voice and his emoticon ability were amazing. His work ethic was really inspiring. He had a special talent for reciting the poems of his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan. We stayed together for three weeks in a building in Goa for filming. He was really good with people, very humble and focused.
Malayalam actor Madhu who was in Bachchan’s debut film “Saat Hindustani”
Chetan Sashital, who dubbed the commercials with Bachchan’s voice, says he achieves the soundscape “by breathing deeper through the diaphragm… it is not correct to define his voice only as a baritone. It’s the way he modulates, breathes, stops, and his sharp diction allows him to go from a commanding tone heard in Deewar to a hoarse Sarkar and a gruff Mirza.
Both substitute at the behest of Bachchan “when he is not available or his throat is not in good condition or after his written or oral permission”. “His voice is his intellectual property and we must protect ourselves from any malice or misuse,” says Sashital. Bhosle adds: “I check with his office to make sure it’s not a brand that is trying to get me because they can’t afford Bachchan saab.” Industry also exists in regional languages. Some of Kerala’s best imitators are known for their impressions of Bachchan. Whether it’s the late Kalabhavan Abi who dubbed the Malayalam versions of the actor’s commercials or Ashraf Thalassery who duplicated him in the Malayalam film “Guppy”.
Maybe it’s his ability to pull the emotions out of every word in a “deep, resonant vocal timbre,” says sound designer Bishwadeep Chatterjee. “No matter how much he modulates by raising or lowering the pitch, there is an incredible consistency in his vocal personality. Never too thin, not too soft, “says Chatterjee who has worked on several Big B films.” He’s so passionate about his dialogue, voiceovers or singing that he built a state-of-the-art recording studio in his house. “.
There is also science in this unique voiceprint. Over the past couple of years, studies have indicated that taller men are perceived as more formidable, in part because their voices are lower in pitch. Pennsylvania State University research confirmed that tall men had lower frequencies in part because longer vocal tracts and larger vocal cords generate lower, more resonant voices, while another study by a Boston University anthropologist found that men with low, resonant voices are more likely to be perceived as “attractive, masculine, respectable and dominant”. It all goes for the 6.2-foot-tall actor whose “baritone” was the overwhelming response to a poll about the voice people wanted to hear if they called a call center.