Listen Up! They are orchestrating a symphony of sound. Listen to them for chills and thrills, for giggles or goosebumps. Audio shows are out to take you on a fun ride. As they see a surge and millions tune in, actors branch out to lend them their voice. Audible, Amazon’s online audiobook and podcast service has a huge range of audio shows. Kaali Awaazein, a 10-episode fictional series featuring Amitabh Bachchan, narrates the stories of the ghosts and the chudails.
Buri Nazar is a thriller told through a series of phone calls and voicemails. Its lineup of narrators includes Sayani Gupta, Rithvik Dhanjani and Supriya Pathak. Aakhri Sawaal: Interviews Before Execution is a fictional exploration of death row inmates, directed by Mantra and narrated by the inimitable Kubbra Sait. The other two recent shows on Audible include Bhoot Kaal, a 30-episode series created and narrated by Neelesh Misra, and a horror series titled Kalia Masaan, about a deadly supernatural force, the Man of Ashes, who has been walking the earth for 150 years.
Actor Anshuman Jha has forayed into the audio space with Bombay Strangler Ke Khauffnaak Tapes, a suspense thriller directed by Piyush Jha, which will pique you with its scary sounds and eerie voices. “I have done features, stage, and ads, but the audio entertainment world is a different beast. Audible Originals does the shows in a way that they become realistic: You can feel the story being told to you,” he says. In audio shows, he adds, the effort is to hook the listeners through the sound effect and the modulation of the voices of the artists: “The listeners will be spooked out completely and it will keep them hooked to the end. With the very first episode, the audience will be intrigued. With its amazing technical finesse, it just takes you into the world of the characters.”
Audio shows also offer a good break from screen time. It’s a great option for those suffering from eye fatigue after prolonged exposure to the screen. During the pandemic, as people mostly stay at home, they tend to get tired of just watching, their eyes glued to the screen. The audio universe is giving a lot of chances to focus on the ear more and not just the eye. To evolve as a human being, the Vedas tell us, you need to see through your ears. In Kaliyug, however, people end up seeing through their eyes and don’t pay enough attention to their ears. Audio shows give the audiences an alternate entertainment space. Amazon Original has a free catalogue and there is a wide range of shows that you can listen to. The best part is you can tune in even when you are busy doing other chores, like gardening or cooking.
Anshuman says doing audio shows may sound simple, but it is the hardest thing he has ever done. “Audiences are used to visuals. When you are doing a film, you can be subtle sometimes. But audio shows are a completely different ballgame and one needs to express through his voice,” he says. When doing an audio show, he has to constantly remind himself that his voice and face are not visible. “It is one of the most challenging things I have taken up as an artiste. It has opened doors for me and it made me realise so many things about my own voice, which I was not aware of.”
Audio shows are very popular in the West and the craftsmen are convinced that they are here to stay in India and grow manifold. Audio shows also train one’s ears for the art of listening well. In the ancient gurukul system of education, the acharyas used to only narrate things and kids used to listen, and that’s how their memory got sharpened. Listening changes the way the brain processes and you end up absorbing a lot more because the focus is just between your two ears.
Veteran actress Supriya Pathak, who has worked in the audio show Buri Nazar, says, “It is a slightly different experience for actors and needs to be handled differently. They need to concentrate majorly on the voice and modulate it accordingly. The treatment of acting in an audio show is different because one can only use one’s voice — it is the only medium to tell the story. It is difficult because you are using only one part of yourself. But it is interesting and challenging at the same time.”
Pathak is no stranger to the audio format though. When she was young, she would listen to plays on the radio, which was the only medium of entertainment back then. “At that time there used to be stories enacted by people, like Hawa Mahal. I have not done any of those radio plays, but I was certainly aware of the medium. Radio has always been there, but television took over the scene. I am happy to see the revival of the audio medium,” she says. As a craftsman, Pathak says, she has to just concentrate on a singular aspect of her talent. “During the four days of recording, I took good care of my voice because it is an asset in an audio show and the sole medium of expression. In a film, web show or play, sometimes you speak with your eyes. But in an audio show, your voice takes the centre stage.”
An audio show doesn’t give an actor much time to create a character. One also becomes very dependent on the director. When actors are acting on stage or television, they can turn things around a little bit if they wish to. However, in an audio show, an actor has to just follow the instructions of the directors.
Actress Sayani Gupta’s first job for which she got paid was for a radio ad when she was just four. She adds, “It was voice work. So, I have a lifelong relationship with the audio medium. When I did the audio show, it was like coming home. I realised that I was good with the mike.” On a lighter note, she adds: “The best thing about audio shows is that you don’t need to dress up for your shoot.” Audio shows leave little room for pauses and long silences. “It’s like storytelling. Today’s technology is amazing and you can create so much. A listener can visualize if one is opening the key or which corner of the room the character is talking from. Everything is audible through sound design and is done in great detail. More emphasis is given on voice so there is tonality and modulation. As an actor, it’s only about how well you play with it,” says Gupta.
Gupta has acted in two audio shows, Mine and Yours and Buri Nazar. When the lockdown started, she used to listen to a lot of audio shows and podcasts while doing household chores. “I feel that is the advantage of the audio shows. I have grown up listening to radios — my father worked at the All-India Radio all his life and I have had a very close relationship with radio. As a kid, I used to listen to a lot of radio plays and they were part of my childhood memories. I used to be hooked to them. Doing these shows is like reliving my childhood days.”