Sound engineer M.R. Rajakrishnan has an enviable track record in the film industry, writes Saraswathy Nagarajan

M.R. Rajakrishnan is a man in a hurry. He has to catch a flight to Chennai where he is working on the Vikram-starrer Thandavam (Tamil) and Malamaal Weekly 2 (Hindi). He was in Thiruvananthapuram for his father M.G. Radhakrishnan’s second death anniversary. Despite the paucity of time, he patiently poses for our photographer at his family home, Medayil, at Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram.

He precariously balances himself on a ledge, leans filmi-like against a tree, lounges on the steps and stands on the verandah while the photographer starts clicking.

Then it is time for a change of costume. Manju, Rajakrishnan’s wife, helps him select his clothes for the photo shoot. His daughter, Gouri Parvathi, can be heard talking animatedly somewhere inside the house. Awards, mementos and photographs, old and new, and oils by Padmaja Radhakrishnan, Rajakrishnan’s mother, jostle for space in the drawing room of the quaint, tiled house that has nurtured many big names in the Malayalam film music industry. Now it is the home of another award-winner – Rajakrishnan, who won the Kerala State Film Award for the best sound recordist of 2011 for his work in Urumi and Chappa Kurishu.

His name features in the credits of some of the biggest hits in Mollywood during the last two years. But Rajakrishnan prefers to let his works speak for him to blowing his trumpet to announce his resounding success in tinsel town. Photoshoot over, he joins us to talk about his evolution as one of the finest sound engineers in the film industry. Having worked in more than 300 films in all the South Indian languages, Hindi and Bengali, an enviable track record by all accounts, Rajakrishnan says each film is a learning experience for him.

“For instance, the experience of working in Thattathin Marayathu was very different from Anjali Menon’s movie Manjadikuru, which had sync sound. Anjali and I worked on it for three months. Even the ambience of every room and frame had to be processed to make the sound transitions smooth. On the other hand, in Thattathin Marayathu, in a scene where Vinod sees the heroine in college, we had to go in for a technique where every other sound was muffled to make Vinod’s dialogues stand out to give it a reverberating effect,” he explains.

He admits that he is his harshest critic. “After watching my films, I dissect each sound in a film I have worked in. I cringe when I see some of my earlier movies.”

An avid fan of English movies, Rajakrishnan, an Economics graduate from Mar Ivanios in Thiruvananthapuram, wanted to work behind the camera as a cinematographer. Although he comes from a family of musicians, music, he admits, was never on his wish list.

“Nallamma (as he calls his aunt Omanakutty, Carnatic vocalist and academician) did try teaching my sister, Karthika, and me Carnatic music. But I was never serious about it. As I was forever drumming on every level surface in the house, my father encouraged me to learn the mridangam. I learnt it for eight years from the best of teachers,” he says. However his heart beat for films.

That is when film director Priyadarsan, a family friend, advised him to spend some time at Four Frames, Priyadarsan’s studio in Chennai, before making up his mind to focus on cinematography. “As I tuned in to sound designing and its many applications in movies, I became completely engrossed in it,” says Rajakrishnan.

Enthusiastically he explains the many processes involved in sound designing, which eventually marries the visual and the aural before a film hits the screens. Does having an ear for music help? “I don’t know…may be it does. I am acutely tuned to every nuance of sound in a film and now I know the effort that goes into each movie. Each film has an aural ambience that has to be processed to suit the visuals, the characters and the story,” he explains.

He says with a smile that during the recording of the period Urumi, they went to the extent of procuring an ‘Urumi’ (a traditional coiled blade) to reproduce the swish of the sword. “If one wants excellence, one has to go into the details. Each minute sound contributes to the soundscape. I began my training under Deepen Chatterji and then, over the years learnt though trail and error.”

“My biggest award is when leading directors like Lal Jose, Santosh Sivan, and Priyadarsan choose me again and again for their films,” he says.

His pleasure is evident as you mention the long list of hits he has been associated with. But he says his best is yet to come.

Rajakrishnan’s biggest disappointment, however, is that most theatres in Kerala do not have the facilities to do justice to the soundscape in a movie. “I strongly feel that every film has it own audience. If only we had multiplexes with a good ambience, most of our films would have done well.”