How Important Is Voice In Onscreen Depiction Of Argument?


photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar Tiger argument via photopin (license)

For the last four posts, I have been discussing portrayal of conflicts in Hindi classic movies. In my opinion, these scenes offer us some real treasures of Indian drama. Today I will talk about something elementary. How does conflict start in the first place? I agree that this is a deep question which falls within the areas of philosophy and sociology. However, here we need not go into much detail, instead mention only main steps of interpersonal conflicts. First, there is a clash — of ideas and opinions, of dreams, ambitions, preferences and so on. We try to resolve such conflicts through dialogues,  which are most often biased. We try to persuade the other person to move away from our path. When the other person does not follow, we try to convince him by logic and arguments. When that also fails, we try to show authority, strength, power, and in such way step by step the conflict takes higher notes of argument ultimately transforming into verbal duel followed by physical assaults.

Thus, it is clear that in the course of arguments, speech does play an important role. This is important in theatre and films wherever such drama is played. Action movies put a lot of stress on voice intensity and pitch so that dialogues become louder and louder, further intensified using background music and special effects. Attention is also given to witty dialogues, which are popularly known as punch dialogues. At first, audience seems to enjoy such scenes, but after some time, they become routine, predictable and boring, and lose all appeal. The reason is simple — they do not have any artistic value in terms of acting skills of the actors.

Dialogues have become more and more important after arrival of Amitabh Bachchan on movie scene. Most dialogues are memorable, notably from Deevar (1975), written by Salim-Javed. These dialogues were given full justice and played out in full respect by Amitabh, and were also supported by dramatic background music, or rather background sound. I would say that the credit for these scenes should be shared equally by the sound technicians, dialogue writer, and the two actors playing the scene. This often misleads the other film-makers into thinking that oratory is sine qua non of a conflict scene. My argument is that it is not so. Even without dialogues, a scene depicting conflict could be played equally well; however, it demands himalayan talent and skill on part of the actors. I present my case using four example scenes.

First is the scene from Duniya (1968) with Dev Anand and Balraj Sahni. This is a peculiar argument of Hindi movies, which depends nearly completely on oratory skills of the protagonist. Balraj Sahni is following his own usual style, and plays the role of father quite convincingly. Dev Anand’s approach is to keep talking, speaking long dialogues, taking only short pauses that too to give Balraj Sahni an opportunity to speak out few words at the most, and then resume his own tirade. His whole oratory is like poetry and music, an extremely beautiful flow presented in an equally beautiful voice. Such are the instances when the fine line between prose and poetry disappear.

But you would agree that the plus point of Dev Anand was his style, and not his voice. You wonder, whether he would have needed to speak at such length and argue for such long, had he possessed a baritone voice.  I mean, if Dev Anand commanded authority and dominance in his voice, would Balraj Sahni have even started the discussion in the first place? Take the following case as an example. This is from one of my favourite movies of all time, Ardh Satya (1983), with Om Puri and Amrish Puri playing the argument between father and son on the question of marriage.

Although it is not the theme of the present discussion, I would like to point out two interesting features in this scene. The table lamp is used to serve two purposes. First, it accentuates Amrish Puri’s facial features, giving him an added strength and dominance. He sits there like an authority, or rather a demon king. However good an actor Om Puri might be, and however beautiful voice he might have, he is at a disadvantage vis-a-vis Amrish Puri when it comes to bodily stature. Here the table lamp comes to his rescue. While he is shouting back at Amrish Puri, his own shadow falls on the wall behind him, the shadow being much larger and taller than him or rather both of them — simply because the lamp is at a lower level. However, it gives Om Puri a larger than life appearance in front of Amrish Puri.

In the movie Aakrosh (1980), you see another face of Om Puri. Quite often film-makers do an experiment — what would it be like if the actors are not allowed to use their strongest talent and skill? For example, take the case of Nana Patekar playing deaf and mute person in Khamoshi (1996) or Rani Mukherjee a blind and deaf lady in Black (2005). In Aakrosh, Om Puri is not speech impaired; however, he chooses to stay silent. In fact, throughout the movie he does not have any dialogues and is thus not allowed to use his beautiful and clear voice. Still, he manages to convey all possible expressions using his otherwise plain face. Naseeruddin Shah is playing one part of the debate, the only person speaking in the room, pleading, requesting, nearly begging in front of Om Puri so that he may at least give him some clue about the case. I have been trying to share this clip but it seems the owner has restricted its display on websites other than YouTube. So if interested, you have to open the following link on YouTube and watch the scene from 39:52 to 42:20.

We have discussed cases where both actors were talking, followed by a case where only one actor was talking. We saw how the harmony of argument is still maintained in spite of no dialogues of one actor. I would close this discussion with one last case where both the actors are silent. This clip is from short film The Bypass (2003) with Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. None of the actors has any dialogue, and the way the scene goes, it seems that none of the actors needs it anyway! Irrfan uses his expressive eyes to convey his authority, dominance, status and strength. Nawazuddin has already won overall admiration and appreciation for his acting skills. With one masterpiece after another, we certainly do not know where will he go next. He maintains a blank expression in most performances, yet his face expresses varied emotions of confusion, absent-mindedness, romance, horror, wickedness, everything. He has seemingly taken silence to another higher level than Om Puri. The latter was at least putting in some expressions. On the other hand, here Nawazuddin doesn’t even bring up any expressions at all. And yet the expression is not even blank, you do feel and very well understand the thoughts that are in his mind, the message that he is trying to convey. You do see on his face a sense of curiosity, surprise, greed, struggle, revolt, and innocent satisfaction over vengeance achieved.

To have a look at other articles in the Clash Of The Legends series, click here.


1 thought on “How Important Is Voice In Onscreen Depiction Of Argument?

  1. Vinay Nagaraju

    He he this is an interesting observation. It is very similar to what we do in reality as well isn’t it? Quite interesting to see how well they are portrayed in the cinema as well 👍


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