Listen! They orchestrate a sound symphony. Listen to them for chills and thrills, for giggles or goosebumps. Audio shows take you on an entertaining ride. When they see a spike and millions tune in, actors branch out to lend them their voices. Audible, Amazon’s online audiobook and podcast service, offers a huge selection of audio shows. Kaali Awaazein, a 10-episode fictional series starring Amitabh Bachchan, tells the stories of the spirits and the Chudails.
Buri Nazar is a thriller told through a series of phone calls and voicemails. The series of narrators includes Sayani Gupta, Rithvik Dhanjani and Supriya Pathak. Aakhri Sawaal: Interviews before the execution is a fictional exploration of death row inmates directed by Mantra and about 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 Masan, about a deadly supernatural force, the man of ashes, who has walked the earth for 150 years.
Actor Anshuman Jha has entered the audio room Strangler Ke Khauffnaak Tapes, a suspense thriller directed by Piyush Jha that will captivate you with its spooky noises and spooky voices. “I’ve done features, stages and commercials, but the world of audio entertainment is a different beast. Audible Originals makes the shows to be realistic: you can feel the story being told to you,” he says. With audio shows, he adds, the attempt is to captivate listeners through the sound effect and modulation of the artists’ voices: “The listeners will be completely terrified and it will keep them hooked to the end. With the very first episode, the audience will be mesmerized. 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 who suffer from eye fatigue after prolonged exposure to the screen. As people mostly stay at home during the pandemic, they are getting tired of just watching and glued their eyes to the screen. The audio universe offers many opportunities to focus more on the ear and not just the eye. In order to develop as a human being, the Vedas tell us, one must see through one’s ears. However, in Kaliyug, people see with their eyes and don’t pay enough attention to their ears. Audio shows offer audiences an alternative entertainment space. Amazon Original has a free catalog and there is a wide range of shows to listen to. The best part is that you can tune in even when you’re busy with other tasks like gardening or cooking.
Anshuman says making audio shows might sound easy, but it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done. “People are used to pictures. When you’re making a film, you can sometimes be subtle. But audio shows are a whole different ball game and you have to express yourself through your voice,” he says. With an audio show, he has to constantly remind himself that his voice and face are not visible. “It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve recorded as an artist. It opened doors for me and made me realize so many things about my own voice that I wasn’t aware of.”
Audio shows are very popular in the west and the artisans are convinced that they will stay in India and grow diverse. Audio shows also train the ears in the art of good listening. In the old gurukul education system, the acharyas just told things and the children listened, and so their memory was 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 on audio show Buri Nazar, says, “It’s a slightly different experience for actors and needs to be handled differently. You need to focus mainly on the voice and modulate it accordingly. The treatment of acting in an audio show is different because you can only use your voice – it’s the only medium to tell the story. It’s difficult because you’re only using a part of yourself. But it is interesting and challenging at the same time.”
However, Pathak is no stranger to the audio format. When she was young, she listened to plays on the radio, which was the only medium of entertainment at the time. “Back then there were stories staged by people like Hawa Mahal. I didn’t do any of these radio plays, but I was well aware of the medium. Radio has always been there, but television has taken over the scene. I’m excited about the revival of the audio medium,” she says. As a craftswoman, Pathak says, she only needs to focus on a single aspect of her talent. “During the four days of recording, I took good care of my voice because it is an asset to an audio show and the only means of expression. In a film, web show or play, sometimes you speak with your eyes. But in an audio show, your voice takes center stage.”
An audio show doesn’t give an actor much time to create a character. You also become very dependent on the director. When actors perform on stage or on television, they can turn things around a bit if they want to. In an audio show, however, an actor only has to follow the directions of the directors.
Actress Sayani Gupta’s first job for which she was paid was on a radio commercial when she was just four years old. She adds: “It was language work. So I have a lifelong relationship with the medium of clay. When I did the audio show, it was like coming home. I found I was good with the mic.” Leichter adds, “The best thing about audio shows is that you don’t have 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 opening the key or which corner of the room the person is speaking from. Everything is audible through sound design and very detailed. The voice is more emphasized so that tonality and modulation are present. As an actor, it’s all about how well you play it,” says Gupta.
Gupta has appeared on two audio shows, Mine and Yours and Buri Nazar. When lockdown began, she listened to many audio shows and podcasts while doing housework. “I think that’s the advantage of the audio shows. I grew up listening to radios – my father worked at All-India Radio his whole life and I had a very close relationship with radio. As a child I listened to many radio plays and they were part of my childhood memories. I used to fall for them. Doing these shows is like reliving my childhood days.”