Renganaath Ravee on creating the path-breaking soundscape in ‘Jallikattu’

Sound designer Renganaath Ravee

Sound designer Renganaath Ravee   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The sound designer says he meticulously recorded night ambience in several locations in and around Kattappana in Idukki where the film was shot

Even as Lijo Jose Pellissery’s immersive on-screen mayhem, Jallikattu, continues the bull run at the box-office, its blink-and-you-miss-it frames and pulsating soundscape remain talking points. The avant-garde filmmaking style is equally matched by Prasanth Pillai’s unconventional, largely acapella-based background score and Renganaath Ravee’s thumping sound design.

It’s not just that the sounds sound hauntingly impactful, but the sheer range of the audio spectrum encompassed in about an hour and a half is perhaps new in Mollywood. Whether it’s the sound of heavy breathing, sharpening of butcher’s knife, cleaving of meat, buffalo bellowing, chain-sawing trees, clock ticking, hiss of rain dousing fire, tinkling of bells, buzz of flies, chirping of night crickets, mob going berserk…, in short, chaos reigning, Renganaath dexterously uses them at the right time at the right decibel in sync with the rapidly-edited shots.

Patient experiments
  • Renganaath says one of the most challenging of sounds recorded for Jallikattu was that of the buffalo itself. He captured most of it from Angamaly market and some from Kattappana. “If you observe, poth (buffalo) is an animal that doesn’t make much sound. I had to wait for hours sometimes, holding the mic (laughs). In the film, the buffalo is active and aggressive all the time as it’s on the run. What I learnt is, in a group, the animal makes more noises, but we needed single clips. I have used various sounds of buffalo such as growls, bellows, grunts and so on. I have recorded the sounds of a lot of animals over the course of my career, but this was a real challenge. More than any skill, perhaps what was needed was a lot of patience,” he says.

“All sounds are beloved to me,” says Renganaath. But Jallikattu, perhaps, marks a watershed. “Of course, a lot of effort went into Jallikattu but what makes me most happy is that many people are seeking out the best theatres to watch the film, thanks to the audio-visual experience it offers. It’s a positive sign that people are becoming more appreciative of the technical aspects of movies,” says the sound designer and sound editor over phone from Kochi.

He tips his hats off to Lijo, with whom Renganaath has worked in all of the director’s seven movies, starting with Nayakan in 2010. “Lijo has a clear idea about not just the visuals but the sounds in his films as well. He gives specific instructions and suggestions and we always work as a team,” he says, adding that the director really threw down the gauntlet this time for the crew.

Renganaath Ravee

Renganaath Ravee   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For Jallikattu, which premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Renganaath meticulously recorded night ambience in several locations in and around Kattappana in Idukki where the film was shot. Most of the action takes place at night when a buffalo on the loose runs amok and has an entire village on tenterhooks.

“Night sounds form the prominent layer. We used a microphone that records sound in 360 degrees, which is then converted to the required 5.1 and 7.1 formats. So what was in effect recorded was ‘images’ of sounds and not just tracks,” explains Renganaath, who bagged State awards for his craft in Ee. Ma. Yau. and Ennu Ninte Moideen.

As the pace quickens, the crowd, out to lasso the beast, swells, with over 2,000 villagers accommodated in some sequences. “The crowd is one of the highlights of the sound design. The action virtually starts with two people and if you notice, as the film progresses, the crowd grows quickly. We faced limitations in recording the rabble in studio. So, we recorded segments with some 100 people and layered them multiple times for the final combination,” he points out. A scene towards the climax shows the wild mob charging down a long suspension bridge. Perceptibly, the soundscape accompanying the high drone shots is eerily raw. “We actually shook the bridge to record the sound,” he says.

A still from Jallikattu

A still from Jallikattu   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Renganaath says it’s been Lijo’s pattern, perhaps since Angamaly Diaries, to use background score chiefly as a means to deliver the sucker punch while upping the sound design for more specific effects. “In Jallikattu, instead of instruments, background score is executed more through acapella experimentations accompanied by certain percussions. If you look at Ee. Ma. Yau, background score makes a clear appearance only in the climax. So, though not used throughout, it makes an instant impact,” he says.

Growing collection
  • The sound designer says he makes it a point to carry a recorder with him whenever he travels in order to obtain new sounds. “I collect the sounds I record and edit and save them in my ‘library’. I now have close to 4 terabytes of material. Some of them are ‘borrowed’, while others are purchased from international sound libraries,” he says.

Renganaath likens the effect to being “pitch-forked into blinding light from darkness.” “We designed the audio spectrum for Jallikattu keeping all these in mind that took in music, sound and dialogues in the most effective measure we found,” adds the 38-year-old whose upcoming works include Lal Jose’s Nalpathiyonnnu and Vidhu Vincent’s Stand Up. He has a word of praise for sound mixing engineer Kannan Ganpat for his work in enlivening the dynamics of the sounds.

The effects in the climactic sequences are in line with the theme, as human voices taper to animal sounds. Renganaath feels that the idea behind sound design is not to let the noise draw one’s attention away from the film but be a part of the whole experience. “Or else it may stick out in disharmony,” he says.

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 1:01:07 AM |

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