In his new film Kaabil, Hrithik Roshan plays a dubbing artiste. He is shown to speak in many different voices, all so authentic that audiences think Hrithik’s voice has been dubbed by the original artistes.
For the Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty it was the biggest challenge of his career. “It took us ten months from prep to fruition of the voices the way you hear in Kaabil… I knew that Hrithik was a dubbing artist and imitating other voices is the main key factor of the film’s narrative, which Gupta explained me earlier on.”
Director Sanjay Gupta put an astonishing level of responsibility on Resul. “He said I have written these scenes with you in my mind, which put a lot of pressure on me, as every sound man would enjoy a line like that from your trusted director. But it put me in a spin. I was apprehensive wondering if he was not expecting too much from me! So I had to prepare well.”
Hrithik Roshan would let Resul breathe easy until the dubbing scenes were perfectly achieved. “HR won’t let you ease out… collectively we decide to go with a plan, the plan was first to shoot all those phone call sequences where he fools the villains, with the actual actors and how they would speak their lines as their own characters. Then we gave the videos to HR to rehearse with. He locked himself up in his room to rehearse and when he came out to shoot those scenes, he was a different person with multiple personalities.”
A lot of the scenes where Hrithik Roshan impersonates the villains were shot in public. Says Resul, “Sanjay Gupta made it tough for us keeping those scenes in a public telephone booth with trains running behind. So HR has to really stretch his voice to arrive at a performance that is a perfect mixture of his character Rohan imitating others! Because it was a Sync Sound film it posed a real challenge to digitally process the voices with all those location noises in the track.”
Then, says Resul, began the voice tests. “First test I did was the voice of the character Percy’s father, which I thought was pretty good, but HR was not happy as it is a character appears only twice in the film and says only one dialogue… then I realized this is not going to be an easy process! Then I processed another character Wasim’s voice, he heard the test and called me elated; ‘Resul I heard the first line and thought you cracked it, it’s amazing, if I can be heard like that in the whole film we would be doing a wonder.’ I thought this man is difficult to please, he only liked one line from the whole scene, how will I do the whole film?!”
Resul knew he was dealing with a perfectionist in Hrithik. “I realized it’s a tough path I have chosen, then started my research as to what to do, to make HR sound like the way he heard himself in the first line of Wasim’s scene. It meant a three-way technical process. I started analysing what happens when we hear somebody mimicking somebody else…?! HR told me when we mimic–he himself was a good mimic, so was I in my college days– we sound “like” the other person but not exactly as the other person. Which means a part of you will remain in all the mimicking process. It was a very important realization but a tough thing to achieve technically. Because it would be easy and cheap to dub the scenes with other characters and get away with the scenes but HR’s resolution to remain truthful to mimicking made my life hell…! How do I retain HR as in Rohan in all the mimicking scene and make it believable for the audience?!”
Resul says Hrithik Roshan and he together decided to approach the scenes differently from a traditional point of view. “We took those scenes and called Ronit Roy, Rohit Roy, Girish Kulkarni and Rubina and asked them to dub the scenes not exactly in their voices but extending the presence of their voices in characters, for that’s what we do in mimicry, pick up the exaggerated expressions of another person and not exactly their voices. So we made all of them dub the scene in their exaggerated versions, it was difficult for them, because they kept complaining that this is not how Ronit as Shellar speaks! HR had to really speak to all of them personally and make them understand what we were trying to achieve. They reluctantly resolved into acceptance. There was great trust all of them showed and thank all of them. Then I made HR dub these lines again extending his exaggerated version of Rohan imitating these characters. Now I had three elements with me. Firstly, the original performance of HR as these characters, secondly the characters themselves doing an exaggerated version of their voices, thirdly HR’s exaggerated version of Rohan imitating these characters.
Then it was a question of morphing these voices into one another, which had never done before. “The first thing was to match all these voices. I used dynamic spectrum analysing technique to match these voices in-sync up to one millionth of a second of the audio, then pitch matching each voice to its original characters by matching the pitch of their original voices taking samples from other scenes.”
A very high precision pitch- matching software was used to achieve this. Says Resul, “I had to tweak each version of the voice by increasing or decreasing the male-female element and age element of each voice. How do you do that? The understanding of Yin and Yang helped me a lot in this…because every male voice has a certain female element and vice versa, for example Rohit has more ‘fermant’(female element) than Ronit’s voice and vice versa. I found Girish Kulkarni was tough to match in this process. My experience in the Tamil film Remo helped me a lot in matching Rubina’s (Wasim sister) voice. In Remo I changed the hero Shivakarthikeyan’s voice into a female voice in the whole film. Once I matched all these elements I myself was wondering who is talking like whom?! Then I morphed each words, sometime a whole line sometimes an expression into each other to create a smoother delivery of dialogue in the scenes without losing the dramatic content.”
Then came the cartoon scenes in beginning of the film. Says Resul, “We made character- sketches first for HR to modulate the voices… and write the scene around those sketches. He took his own time to rehearse and shot that scene at one go and we did animation around his performance. Once the animation was complete I tweaked the voices to fit in each character. A French company, which developed a special software helped me with the processing of these voices. In the sequence I kept HR’s voice imitating the animatics without losing his voice-quality but matching the animal body. It’s an amazing software!”
Now for Hrithik doing Mr Bachchan’s voice. “Then came Big B, none of us had the guts to ask Big B to dub the scene for us like the way we did the character scenes… we had to approach that scene differently. This scene was made possible only because of HR’s ability of mimicking. I had worked very closely with Big B’s voice in Black and I knew his timbre like the back of my hand! And HR mimicked him superbly. I did Dynamic Spectral matching, pitch correction and frequency equalization called Equilibrium to arrive at the perfect baritone of Big B. When I went to the mix room I had seven versions of Big B’s voice and myself and HR chose different degrees of Big B’s voice in each line and retained the quality, as if Rohan is imitating Big B, and it’s dangerously close to original Big B.”
An extraordinary level of voice modulation has gone into Kaabil.
Exhausted, Resul says. “Audiences don’t know when they watch the movie that we have done all these manipulations in voicing. For example the entire voice of HR in the film I treated as a nice, lovable boy in the first scene to a determined and unstoppable man in the interval scene, all these are achieved with careful digital processing! So when a critic wrote about his character development in the film, I feel happy that I helped my Rohan electronically to arrive at audience’s heart, that’s where I have changed myself from a technician to an artist in a film like Kaabil….. Apart from my wonderful technical talent from my studio in Mumbai some of the best talents from Europe also worked in the film to arrive at the sound you hear in Kaabil. There is no limit to anything you want to achieve in films these days.”