You may not know what Mayur Vyas looks like, but you have probably heard him several times already, as the voice of Robert Downey Jr in the Hindi dubs of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, Seth Macfarlane in the Ted comedies, and Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder and Tower Heist. You may also have heard Vyas as the voice of Rajinikanth in the Hindi versions of Sivaji, Robot (Endhiran in Tamil) and Lingaa. Vyas is back on July 22 as Kabali, the eponymous Malaysian don who wreaks revenge in Rajinikanth’s latest movie. Produced by Kalaipulli S Thanu and directed by Pa Ranjith, Kabali is being released in Tamil with and without English subtitles and in Hindi in northern India by Fox Star Studios. Advance booking for the movie in Tamil Nadu is predictably strong and some offices have even given their employees a holiday on July 22.
“Kabali is my fourth film for the superstar, and it’s been a great experience for me,” said Vyas, who also teaches at the Bachelor of Management Studies course at the Usha Pravin Gandhi College of Management in Mumbai. “Matching the energy, style and magnetic persona of Rajinikanth the moment he enters the screen is a great challenge.” The Hindi version of Kabali has been handled by Mohan Nair, who has previously worked on the dubs of Roja and Kaadalan (Humse Hain Muqabla in Hindi.)
Rajinikanth’s Tamil-accented Hindi in the movies he made in Mumbai during the 1980s has led to several spoofs and memes. The actor spoke his own lines in such films as Chaalbaaz (1989), for instance.
Vyas is going nowhere towards the zone of parody. “I try to match his style and attitude, but I consciously do not mimic him in any way,” Vyas said. “It’s easy enough to do a southern accent, but that will be caricature and mimicry. You can’t make fun of the character since he is the film’s hero.”
Vyas first dubbed for the Tamil screen icon for Shankar’s Sivaji in 2007. Shankar had recruited lyricist and actor Swanand Kirkire to handle the Hindi screenplay and dubbing, and several actors were considered as the voice of Rajinikanth in the vigilante drama. “Shankar wanted leading actors like Anil Kapoor to dub for Rajinikanth, and to my knowledge, Anil Kapoor did some work on the film too, but it didn’t work out,” Vyas said. The identity of a voice doesn’t always need a face to go along with it, he pointed out. “People would have immediately identified the voice as Anil Kapoor’s. Fortunately, my voice is close to Rajinikanth, even though I am half his age.” Swanand Kirkire’s uncle, Jitendra Kirkire, was instrumental in getting Vyas to audition for the part after he heard in the recording studio.
Endhiran was specially a challenge because the movie features two Rajinikanths: the scientist Vaseegaran, and the robot he creates, Chitti, who eventually goes rogue. “Robot was like playing a handful of characters – there was Vaseegaran, which was very well underplayed, and then the flat-voiced robot Chitti, who then becomes negative,” Vyas said.
Lingaa (2014) too featured Rajinikanth in a double role, as a family patriarch and his grandson. Kabali features Rajinikanth in different phases of his life. The movie is reportedly low on the punch dialogue that is a characteristic of nearly every Rajinikanth film. “You can get carried away with the punch dialogue that is delivered in a grandiose style,” Vyas said. “In Kabali, I think Rajinikanth has consciously chosen a role that is suitable to his age.”
Vyas hasn’t met the matinee idol whom he has connected to Hindi audiences just yet – Rajinikanth was not in Chennai when Vyas flew down for the dubbing. “One of my unfulfilled desires is meet Rajinikanth in person,” Vyas said. “I have seen the film many times in Tamil, and I will now go and watch the Hindi version.”