It's been two years since Resul Pookutty brought home the Oscar. He recollects the magic moment and narrates how life has been since
Resul Pookutty describes life after “Slumdog Millionaire” in four words — “a series of shocks”. Understandable — he almost walked out of the film! And, much later, walked away with the Oscar statuette for Best Sound Mixing, turning into a celebrity overnight. In fact, when he landed in Mumbai airport after bagging the Oscar, a delirious crowd chased him at four in the morning. Of course, this was in 2009, and the sound designer is still surprised at the adulation he gets... As we get closer to this year's Oscar, Resul, who has many awards, including BAFTA and Cinema Audio Society's in his kitty, In this interview, the sound designer tells us how the Oscar moment was, and what it has been like after he recorded the life-changing sounds for “Slumdog Millionaire”. Excerpts.
Did you have a gut feeling your work for ‘Slumdog Millionaire' will be recognised at the Oscar?
No! Not even when my friend's father called me up to say he had a dream in which I bagged the Oscar. When the nomination came through, I asked him to have more such dreams! On 21 January 2009, when the movie crew had gathered for the film's India release, a live feed from Los Angeles announced the two Oscar nominations for mixing and sound design. I was in a daze… In fact, I remember running up to Danny (Boyle), who promptly lifted me up!
Did you go to the Oscar ready to speak?
Not at all. We were competing against the likes of ‘Wall E' and ‘Dark Knight', and I wondered if we'd be able to pull it off. Will Smith, my hero, went up to present the award, and I began to chant ‘Slumdog Millionaire...' When the announcement was made, all I remember doing was looking at the clock — in 60 seconds, I had to receive the award and give my speech… It was extempore.
Post Oscar, how has life changed?
Fame changed my public life overnight. For instance, when I was on a train in Kochi once, word got around and people flooded the compartment. Obviously, the adulation has not died down! And also, I'm having to run away from the media. I'm a State guest in Kerala, and a member of the Motion Pictures Academy. Otherwise, nothing much has changed. I still take an auto in Kochi…
What about sound designing, post Oscar?
People are willing to listen to you when you make a noise about good sound recording. In fact, in a first-of-its-kind incident in India, movie-goers vandalised a theatre saying poor sound destroyed the movie experience. As for me, Academy members told me there's much appreciation for the work I do.
Exciting work must be coming your way...
Small-budget or SRK films, all give me the same level of excitement. The difference is, people who can give me better work are more accessible. I'm doing the sound for ‘Chittagong', a lovely movie, and ‘Ra One'. I'm also doing John Madden's (‘Shakespeare in Love') ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'. Also, ‘Against Itself', a remarkable movie about India. Overall, 2011 looks good.
Is your success drawing more talent to your field of work?
More people seem to want to study sound mixing now. Well, I don't know if I'm a role model (laughs), but, if that's so, I'd be happy. I teach at my alma mater — Film and Television Institute of India; train those awarded audiography scholarship by the Institute. Students from France and Australia too have interned with me.
You have started a Foundation
After the Oscar, I got hundreds of personal notes asking for help; and two of them even moved me to tears. The Oscar has given me access to people with power, and I realised I could use it to do good. People such as Ramesh Menon (ImageMedia) joined me, and the Resul Pookutty Foundation happened. The day I announced our association with Lakshmi Hospital in Kochi, Amitabh Bachchan sent us a huge donation. We have subsidised surgeries to the tune of Rs. 5 crore. As many as 300 surgeries have been done free of cost. One individual donated land for a school. We have identified villages where we can make a change. We're always short of funds, but we'll help.
Any thoughts on the upcoming Oscar?
I see a perceptible change in American films — in the texture, quality and subjects. After 9/11, small films such as ‘Crash' and ‘Juno' have been winning. The gun is no longer the simplistic answer for all conflicts. In certain ways, American cinema is bridging the gap within the artistic community. Look at the change of rules this year — ten films, including foreign movies, can now be nominated for best film. So, ‘Peepli Live' has a chance. Rahman could win too.
What about the charge of selling poverty abroad?
Across the globe, there are different people, processes and circumstances. As an artiste, you have the right to carry the torch, and I have no qualms talking of problems in my country. It shows I want to change it. I won't worry about what people say.