Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan is lending his voice to Alexa becoming the first celebrity for Amazon’s voice assistant in India and the first in Hindi. Amazon’s partnership with Bachchan, who has performed in movies for more than half a century, highlights anew the company’s focus on India. The feature also continues Amazon’s experiments with celebrity voices like Samuel L. Jackson as an enticement to use Alexa and buy Alexa-powered devices.
Bachchan role as a voice assistant doesn’t entirely replace the standard Alexa voice. Like with Samuel L. Jackson, Amazon recorded Bachchan speaking a lot of different words and sentences to build up an audio profile. Then that audio was fed into Amazon’s neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology, teaching the voice assistant how to sound like Bachchan even when saying lines never uttered in the recording booth. Amazon hasn’t laid out everything Bachchan will be able to talk about when the feature arrives next year, but the weather and other basic Alexa responses will likely be included. Like Jackson, Bachchan has recorded some unique quotes, jokes, and other statements that will be played directly, without needing a synthetic version. Amazon hasn’t mentioned the cost either, but Jackson’s voice costs $5. Amazon hasn’t indicated if Bachchan will speak in English, in which he is fluent, along with Hindi, but he isn’t likely to have two versions based on whether or not he swears, the way Jackson’s Alexa feature offers.
“Technology has always given me an opportunity to adapt to new forms,” Bachchan said in the announcement. “Be it in movies, TV shows, podcasts and now, I am excited to create this voice experience in partnership with Amazon and Alexa. With voice technology, we are building something to engage more effectively with my audience and well-wishers.”
India and Celebrity
A celebrity voice is part of Amazon’s push for Alexa in India. The voice assistant added Hindi and the Hindi/English hybrid language Hinglish a year ago, and the company has been releasing new additions to attract interest in Alexa at a steady clip since. Amazon debuted its portable smart speaker, the Echo Input, exclusively in India in December, even before expanding sales of the Echo Show 8 and the Alexa Auto device to the country. The competition is fierce, however. Voicebot reported earlier this year that while Amazon accounts for the majority of the smart speaker market, Google Assistant has ten times the number of voice apps in Hindi, and Google is extending a range of services in India, including food delivery, which all feed into Google Assistant in some form.
Google is also a competitor in the celebrity voice space. While John Legend may have left Google Assistant, the demand for them is only going to grow. A survey in the U.S. last year found that a third of the participants would like to have a celebrity voice as an option. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the most popular option, followed closely by Will Smith. Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris Rock, and Oprah Winfrey rounded out the list of top choices for celebrity voice assistants. The study didn’t include India, but Bachchan is a huge name so his presence may prove to be a not insignificant factor for people deciding what voice assistant to use to complete tasks.
“Mr. Bachchan’s voice is truly memorable for any Indian who has grown-up with Bollywood,” Puneesh Kumar, who heads Alexa in India said in a statement. “This combination delivers a perfect pitch to further delight and simplify the lives of our customers. We are excited to see how our customers will respond when they use Alexa and hear his voice.”