Having come to Mumbai to become a model more than a decade ago, Neejee Chhabra found her calling in the most unconventional place: Voice-Over Acting. It was a field unheard of at the time. In an exclusive chat with Indian Ad Divas, Neejee talks about finding her true passion, the arduous years of training, and what the profession means to her. Read on to know more.
Voice Acting is an unconventional profession. Did you know about it growing up?
As you rightly said, people know very little about voice acting. I knew nothing about it. I was brought up in a conventional household, with corporate dreams. My father always told me, “One day you will become the CEO of a company.”
I, on the other hand, had different dreams. I was sure of two things:
- I wanted to do something in the world of advertising
- I wanted to land in Mumbai
Growing up in Delhi, there was little exposure to media and professions of different kinds. Thankfully, my father got a transfer, and our family moved with him to the ‘City of Dreams’ – Mumbai.
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IAD: How did you get introduced to Voice Acting?
Neejee Chhabra: When I first came to Mumbai, I set my sights on becoming a model, simply because I wanted to be in the entertainment industry and modeling seemed like the only choice. If you remember, Bollywood was different back then. Everybody wanted to be Preity Zinta! (Chuckles)
I came to Mumbai with similar dreams. On one such modeling assignment, I was reciting a dialogue for a commercial, and the director took notice. He said he wanted to use my voice for an upcoming project. The next day, I was called into a studio. I went in thinking it was going to be a different and interesting experience. I was fascinated by looking at all the sound instruments. I thought I was doing this for free, but they ended up paying me really well!
I came home to my parents and said, “I want to be a voiceover artist.” They did not even know what that meant. (Chuckles recalling)
How did you receive training for this profession?
When you make anything your bread and butter, things drastically turn around. The day I decided I wanted to be in this profession, I started working extremely hard, trying to hone myself in every way possible. It was extremely difficult to find a means of professional training in this field. At that time, even the YouTube feed used to be painstakingly slow. So, self-learning was the only way to go.
Watching commercials on television was the school for me. I went crazy watching ads, over and over again. I would listen to and imitate voices around me, pick up tips and cues from other performances. There was nobody to tell me right from wrong. And there were times when I would make a mess of myself in the studio, and the directors would get frustrated. But I never gave up.
IAD: How did you bag your few projects without any connections?
Neejee Chhabra: I did not know how to maneuver in the city; I was a clueless child trying to make a name for herself in a strange field. Most of the advertising production houses were clustered together in areas like Mahalaxmi. I would randomly walk in, introduce myself, and ask for work. I did not even have a showreel at that point.
One day, I had gone to one such studio enquiring when they had a voiceover emergency. They had just wrapped up a recording when there was a sudden change in the script. The voice-over artist assigned for the project had already left. Someone noticed an inexperienced girl sitting in the studio, asking for work. It was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time because they decided to try me out.
That was the first ad that went onto my showreel. From then on, things started moving. I gradually built a strong portfolio and connections. It has now been twelve years in the industry. The rest is history.
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How is voice acting different from acting?
Voice Acting is more intense than acting. When someone is acting, the audience can see the character laughing, crying, fuming. We, on the other hand, have to deliver those emotions only through our voices. We have to get immersed in the character, feel the spark.
When I am doing an ad for Johnson and Johnson, I start thinking like a new mother. As humans, we all have those emotions within us. A voice actor merely brings them on the surface through their voice.
What do you cherish the most about your profession?
I believe this profession chose me more than I chose it. Every single project I have done has been close to me. I was not at all a confident child. This profession has given a lot to me on a personal level as well. It gave me a host of experiences, financial freedom, and a sense of accomplishment.
I am immensely grateful to be able to wake up every morning and do what I love.
What will be your advice to young talents trying to make it in an unconventional field like yours?
Be authentic. Don’t be afraid to have your own rules. Be unapologetic. Stay inspired. And most importantly, don’t be afraid of what people say.
I started as a complete fresher. I had never seen a sound studio in my life. When I would walk into a studio, I would be uncertain if I could do the job. Thankfully, I found the right set of people who mentored me, supported me, and gave me a jumpstart. There was no looking back after that.
Don’t be afraid to have your own rules.
And most importantly, don’t be afraid of what people say. – Neejee Chhabra
So, to all the young people, I want to say this – give your 100% to what you are doing. And do not give up. The rest will take care of itself.
Neejee has now entered the second phase of her career and plans to widen her horizons in the field of Voice Acting. We wish her all the best for her future endeavors!
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