In a hurried tone an Indian woman in a film instructs the staff to bring her new sari.
“Funmi ni sari titun yen”,
She says in Yoruba, the most widely spoken language in Nigeria. On another monitor, the same woman says in Swahili, the lingua franca of East Africa:
“Nipe ile sari mpya”.
Bollywood films, the Indian version of Hollywood, voiced over in the most common languages in Africa have to conquer the continent.
“We have been inundated with Nigerian films in recent years where to which many have become addicted. But it is time for change. The Indian films are good. There is everything: love, violence, excitement, music and dance,”, remarks Zita Moises.
The Mozambican studies in Kenya. He finances his study by voicing over Indian characters in Portuguese, the language spoken in Mozambique and Angola.
He is sitting together with four others in a small studio of the Kenyan production company African Voices Dubbing Company (AVDC) in the capital Nairobi. There is just enough room for a couple of chairs and the mixing table. The computer screen shows the translation as well as the film clip for the bit of text.
“It is quite difficult because my text must fit exactly in the time that her mouth moves. Moreover, one has to put emotions in the voice so it fits the character and the movie. I am actually a faceless actor”, says Moises with a broad smile.
Nollywood, the name for the Nigerian film industry, is extremely popular in most African countries. Those films are often filled with sorcery and violent love affairs. They are primarily Yorubas spoken with English subtitles. Unesco, the UN organization for education, science and culture, estimates that some 150 million Africans are still illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women.
That is the reason that the Bollywood films broadcast by Star Times, a pay TV channel, have opted for voiceovers. AVDC translates the Indian films for the time being only in French, Portuguese, Swahili, Yoruba and Luganda, the language of Uganda. AVDC director Caroline Mbindyo believes that the films from Bollywood offer a different culture and tradition in Africa.
“It is the next step in the African Renaissance. First feel the pride that our own African stories are told as with Nollywood. Now it’s time to look at other cultures and traditions. Fits in globalization. “
She has plans for expansion into more languages such as Amharic, the language of Ethiopia, Somali, Lingala, a language of Congo and Hausa and Igbo two other Nigerian languages.
“Maybe Nollywood also decides to voice over their productions to reach even more people”, remarks Mbindyo.
The Bollywood project offers quite a few challenges. The biggest one is finding people in Kenya who speak the required languages.
“We work a lot with students but also with full-time employees who sometimes even fly in for a few months.”
Important in the project are the team leaders who have to master the languages perfectly to check the translations but also how words are being pronounced. Oko in Yoruba for example has no less than six different meanings: Boat, farm, hoe, penis, stone and hook. Everything depends on the intonation and the emphasis.
Mbindyo: “If such a word is misinterpreted, a film can suddenly have a completely different, unwanted dimension.”