Amitabh Bachchan is new voice of Amazon's Alexa

Amitabh Bachchan.
Amitabh Bachchan.

MUMBAI • Amazon.com has signed up India's biggest movie star Amitabh Bachchan for its Alexa voice assistant in a bid to lure users in the world's second-most populated nation to its services.

The 77-year-old Bollywood patriarch's image is ubiquitous across the country on advertisements for everything from hair oil to cement to a Unicef-backed polio vaccination campaign.

Amazon expects his universal appeal to help it take on rivals Apple's Siri and Alphabet's Google Assistant.

"The baritone that has enchanted the Indian film industry for over five decades" will be available to the many Indian customers who use Alexa, Amazon said on its India blog on Monday.

Users will be able to access Mr Bachchan's "iconic voice on Alexa by purchasing the Amitabh Bachchan voice experience", according to the blog.

India, with more than half a billion smartphones and some of the cheapest data rates in the world, is rapidly adopting voice-enabled services as more people eschew typing.

The market for speech and voice recognition is growing swiftly in Asia's third-largest economy and expected to jump more than 40 per cent this year to US$58.4 million (S$79 million), according to a report by Dentsu Aegis Network's India unit.

Bachchan emerged as Bollywood's premier superstar in the 1970s and is seen as India's answer to Hollywood's Robert De Niro or Al Pacino, playing "angry young men" characters battling corrupt establishments.

Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson was the first celebrity voice of Alexa. Amazon has since added professional voice actors who recite William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, proverbs and fables.

Last year, rival Google Assistant added the voice of American singer John Legend. The dominant Google voice assistant has yet to debut a celebrity voice in India.

As with Jackson, Amazon will apply neural speech technology to make Alexa sound exactly like Bachchan, no matter what question he is answering, without him having to record every word in the studio.

Users can buy Bachchan's voice to provide weather updates, recite poetry and give advice.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2020, with the headline 'Amitabh Bachchan is new voice of Amazon's Alexa'. Print Edition | Subscribe