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Picturing the sound of movies

Nita Sathyendran
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Local boy Arun S. Mani makes an impact as a sound designer in films

Sound bytesSound engineer Arun S. Mani
Sound bytesSound engineer Arun S. Mani

“I like silence the best,” says Arun S. Mani. And that’s from someone who makes his living with sounds, someone who has, of late, been making quite a lot of noise as a sound engineer for some of filmdom’s biggest hits! In the couple of years or so since he started out as an independent sound designer and editor, Arun has got himself an impressive filmography that includes, among others, Santosh Sivan’s Inam , Tamil thriller Pizza , current Mollywood box office craze Ohm Shanti Oshaana , and Arun Kumar Aravind’s Ee Adutha Kaalathu , Left Right Left and the latest, 1 By Two .

“Silence is my USP as a sound designer. Nothing really beats silence when it comes to enhancing emotion, creating a mood or changing the mood on screen,” explains Arun, as he settles down for the interview – incidentally, his first ever.

There’s no trace of the nervousness of a newbie however, as Arun opens up about himself. “I am 30 years old and was born in picturesque Kappil, a border village in Thiruvananthapuram, and brought up in Nedumangad on the outskirts of the city. My parents, Mani and Padma, are teachers, while my brother, Sanju, works in advertising. I am a graduate of Electrical and Electronics Engineering from TKM College of Engineering and the School of Audio Engineering (SAE), Chennai.”

In fact, he is in his element as he continues to talk about his work and his fascination with sound. “My interest in sound engineering comes from my general interest in cinema. Actually, it began with Roja . While most other people were caught up in the story, A.R. Rahman’s music in the film and the nuances of the late H. Sridhar’s sound wizardry captivated me. I was all of eight then. I felt that it would be great to have my name on the back of cassette covers like they did!” he says, with a laugh.

After graduating from SAE, Arun interned under audiographer M.R. Rajakrishnan at Four Frames, Chennai, and later became his assistant, working with him on several films, particularly Marathi films. “Initially, I wanted to do something with music but it was Rajakrishnan who guided me to sound,” he says.

Ee Adutha Kaalathu was Arun’s first independent movie, for which he did the foley editing. Next up was the sound effects for Pizza , together with Vishnu P.C., a Kozhikode-native, with whom he’s gone on to have a successful partnership collaborating on all other projects since.

The turning point in Arun’s career was Left Right Left . Arun’s work for the film was appreciated as much for it’s subtlety as its power.

Then again, Arun – and Vishnu – seem to have a knack for choosing films in which sound has a major part to play. Thrillers Pizza , Pakida , Geetanjali and 1 By Two , being examples. “I’ve been fortunate to get projects that can showcase my skills. In Pizza , particularly, sound was integral to the success of the film and it was used to enhance fear. In 1 By Two there is an accident scene. I heightened the severity of it with a low rumble. In the trailer of Inam there is an insect that goes into a bunker – a supposedly safe zone from the tumult outside. The sound of the insect was created with an AK 47 rifle! I draw inspiration from each scene, from each character and try to lay the ground work well before post-production, if needs be even capturing the ambience at the location. The key is to give a live feel to the frames.” he explains.

He adds that he cherishes his work in Inam , a film on Sri Lankan Tamils – and that’s not only because he met his wife, Nandini, a Sri Lankan, during the shooting of the film. “I have a good rapport with Santosh sir, who is very clear in his vision for the film. I had earlier worked with Santosh sir on a documentary Farmers From Kuttanad ,” he says.

While Arun’s wish is to continue making a impact with movies of the scale of Kakka Muttai (produced by Dhanush and Vetrimaaran and directed by Manikandan) in Tamil and Bangalore Days (directed by Anjali Menon) in Malayalam, both of which he is currently working on, his real aim, he says, is to create a library of sounds that is accessible to all.

Silence is my USP as a sound designer

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