Bachchan becomes Alexa's voice in India

Amazon Alexa on Monday announced a partnership with Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan to create a unique voice experience for its Indian fans.

The Amazon Alexa team will work closely with Bachchan to capture his voice and deliver a new voice experience to customers.

It will include popular offerings such as jokes, weather, poetic lines, motivational quotes and advice.

Bachchan is one of the most prolific actors in Indian cinema and a household name in the country of more than 1.3 billion people.

"The baritone that has enchanted the Indian film industry for over five decades will soon deliver a unique voice experience to the many Indian customers who use Alexa. Yes, you heard that right! Amitabh Bachchan has partnered with Amazon to create a unique celebrity voice experience," read an Amazon blog post published on Monday announcing the Bachchan partnership.

"Customers in India will be able to access Mr Bachchan's iconic voice on Alexa by purchasing the Amitabh Bachchan voice experience. This feature will only be available next year."

Alexa in the United States already has the voices of several celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, but this is the first time that the Indian Alexa will get the voice of a Bollywood celebrity.

"Bachchan's voice is truly memorable for any Indian who has grown up with Bollywood. This combination delivers a perfect pitch to further delight and simplify the lives of our customers," said Mr Puneesh Kumar, country leader for Alexa, Amazon India.

One can invoke the conversation between Alexa and Bachchan and make the celebrity talk to you by saying: "Hey, Alexa, say hello to Amitabh Bachchan."

Bachchan, 77, is often described as India's answer to Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro combined, reported Bloomberg. His star wattage and deep voice have featured in hundreds of commercials peddling everything from PepsiCo colas, Cadbury chocolates and even a UNICEF-backed polio vaccination campaign.

Bachchan's instantly-recognisable voice has added to his star status in hit Bollywood movies, a podcast and the Indian version of the television game show "Who wants to be a millionaire?".

On Monday, the actor posted on Instagram: "Ek nayi soch…ek nayi drishti…ek nayi disha." In Hindi, it meant "a new thinking, a new view, a new direction".

"Technology has always given me an opportunity to adapt to new forms. Be it in movies, TV shows, podcasts and now, I am excited to create this voice experience in partnership with Amazon and Alexa," he said. "With voice technology, we are building something to engage more effectively with my audience and well-wishers."

It's not clear how much Amazon intends to charge for Bachchan's Alexa voice or whether it intends to ever make it available outside India.

But last year the company partnered actor Jackson for a similar Alexa integration and Bloomberg reported that the same techniques are being used in the partnership with Bachchan, who recorded a series of phrases for an Alexa database that Amazon will expand using artificial intelligence.

That ensures a near-perfect mimic of his voice can be used for words and phrases Bachchan never recorded in the studio.

Google used a similar approach when it enlisted musician John Legend's voice for its limited-time Google Assistant add-on.

Like the Jackson option, which costs 99 American cents, the Bachchan option won't entirely replace Alexa but instead be available for certain requests.

India is a key growth market for Amazon outside the US, as the e-commerce platform is most popular in Germany and other European countries.

India's strong smartphone adoption and the growing purchasing power of its large population make it integral to Amazon's worldwide expansion over the next decade, particularly around voice interfaces for shopping and web navigation.

Indo-Asian News Service

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