"Harun finding and coming into himself was such a beautiful story on its own—it was a pleasure and an honor to give voice to it."
Actor and narrator Sunil Malhotra has narrated dozens of audiobooks in the last 10 years, but he still vividly recalls recording his first in 2008. “They sent me this gigantic manuscript. This was before iPads and digital copies, and it dawned on me: ‘Oh, I have to read this before I narrate it! It’s HUGE!’” One of the longest projects he’s ever tackled, the book was a minefield of medical terminology and included a broad cast of Indian, African, English, and even some Bronx-accented characters.
“I had to invent a system of keeping track of words and terms and voices--I was learning as I was going,” Malhotra recalls. His director, also a prolific narrator, offered an observation that’s stuck with him. “He saw me struggling in the middle of recording that first book. He told me, ‘You know, narrating audiobooks is like pushing a boulder up a mountain--with your face.’ I always tell that story because it seems that in most books there’s a moment where you just have to realize you cannot rush your way through anything. You have to take a bath in it, sit in it, enjoy that it’s going to take time. That’s what your listener will have, the time it takes to tell that story.”
His work on that first project earned him an AudioFile Earphones Award--and a reputation as someone adept at handling multiple voices. Malhotra says that growing up as a musician in a family in which multiple languages were spoken helped train his ear. But he describes his ability to create distinct and authentic characters from different cultures as an ongoing research project that involves deep listening--and reaching out to friends in a variety of communities. “I learned that in college, to go find native speakers and interview them--and not just about banalities. When they’re discussing something they get emotional about, that’s when you start to hear it. That’s when you reach the truth of how they speak.”
Recently, Malhotra enjoyed working on I HAVE LOST MY WAY, which weaves together the voices of three teen characters. “I love how we the reader/listener are submerged into the first-person perspectives of these three characters as they go through the day together. It’s a wonderful reminder of how our own experience of the world can be so vastly different from the experiences of those right next to us. Also, Harun’s finding and coming into himself was such a beautiful story on its own--it was a pleasure and an honor to give voice to it.”
Though he loves to listen to audiobooks himself, Malhotra rarely has the time to immerse himself in that experience. These days, he’s more likely to listen to Miss Nelson Is Missing with his young son in the car.
Does he read to him? “Always! From the beginning. What’s funny is sometimes my son will say, ‘Don’t do the voices. Just read it to me!’ Sometimes he loves the voices. But sometimes he says, ‘No voices, just be YOU.’”--Jessie C. Grearson
©AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine
Let us recommend your next great audiobook!
No algorithms here!
We pick great audiobooks for you.
Sign up for our free newsletter with audiobook love from AudioFile editors.
If you are already with us, thank you! Just click X above.