Amazon has rolled out India’s first celebrity voice feature on Alexa with the nation’s biggest movie star Amitabh Bachchan as the company makes a push to lure more users in the world’s second-most populated nation.
The company, which rolled out the voice of Samuel L. Jackson on Alexa in the U.S. in 2019, said users in India can add the Bollywood legend’s voice to their Echo devices or Amazon shopping app for an introductory price of 149 Indian rupees ($2) for the first year. (Starting the second year, the annual price will move to $4.)
The 78-year-old actor is providing Amazon with stories from his life, a selection of poems from his father, tongue twisters and motivational quotes. Amazon customers can also ask Alexa to play music, set alarms, get weather updates and get answers in Bachchan’s signature style.
The company said it is also applying neural speech technology to make Alexa sound like Bachchan even if there’s no direct pre-recording. (Amit ji, remind me to ask you about Amazon’s antitrust situation in India later today.)
“Working with Amazon to introduce my voice on Alexa was a new experience in bringing together the magic of voice technology and artistic creativity. I am excited that my well-wishers can now interact with me via this new medium, and looking forward to hear how they feel about this,” said Bachchan in a statement.
A household name, Bachchan emerged as Bollywood’s top star in the 1970s playing characters who battled corruption and social injustice. He has also done scores of advertisements for brands and initiatives from everything including hair oil, biscuits, cold drinks, jewelry, state tourism and banks to a UNICEF-backed polio vaccination campaign.
The company announced its collaboration with the Bollywood legend last year. But the pandemic forced Amazon’s engineering teams to work remotely for this project. There were also additional complications. Globally, users can trigger Alexa with a one-word wake alert (“Alexa”). But in the case of Bachchan, Amazon has introduced a two-word wake system to Alexa: “Amit ji” (where “ji” is a Hindi word to pay respect).
“At Amazon and Alexa, we consistently innovate on behalf of our customers and building the Amitabh Bachchan celebrity voice experience with one of India’s most iconic voices has been a labor of love. Creating the world’s first bilingual celebrity voice required us to invent and reinvent across almost every element of speech science — wake word, speech recognition, neural text-to-speech and more,” said Puneesh Kumar, country leader for Alexa, Amazon India, in a statement.
“While we are proud of the many India-first innovations and desi-delighters in this, it’s still day one and we will continue to enrich this experience as science evolves.”
India is a key overseas market for Amazon, which has deployed over $6.5 billion and is increasingly making investments in startups. This isn’t the first time the company has signed up Bachchan for one of its businesses. The company last year acquired Bachchan’s “Gulabo Sitabo” movie rights for streaming globally on Prime Video.