An ear for sound

Justin Jose

Justin Jose   | Photo Credit: H Vibhu

Sound engineer Justin Jose explains how his work helps in creating the soundtrack of a film or television programme

Justin Jose has a sound track record. One of the earliest technicians to work with the Dolby Atmos mix for movies, beginning with the Bollywood film Madras Café, the first film in India mixed using Dolby Atmos, Justin won the National Film Award for the Best Re-recordist for films such as Bajirao Mastani (2016) and the Ladakhi film Walking With The Wind (2018). Recently, Justin launched his own Mariyano Audio Post Services, a one-stop place for all professional audio production services.

Justin recalls that the first phase in his career was a struggle as he freelanced in recording and dubbing after moving to Mumbai in 2002. All he had was a diploma in audio recording from Chethana Studio, Thrissur. Things changed when he joined QLabs as ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) Recordist, specialising in re-recording dialogue and recording voice-over under the watchful eyes of Deepan Chatterjee. A trained electronic keyboard player, Justin soon picked up the tools of the trade and became a re-recording mixer by 2008.

Since then, the 39-year-old has done the re-recording and mixing for numerous Indian movies and also for dubbed versions of Hollywood films. Justin, who was in Kochi as part of the jury of an online mini movie festival, spoke to Friday Review. Excerpts from the interview.

How did you start off? What made you choose to be an audiographer?

Like any youngster with an inclination to music, I thought I could be a singer. When I discovered that I couldn’t carry a tune, I tried instrumental music – the piano and the keyboard. I even completed grade four from the Trinity College of Music. As I found the field to be extremely competitive, I joined Chethana for a course in sound engineering. One thing was constant – my love for films, for music and sound. I knew that my career lay in that direction. One person who mentored me at this stage was Father Paul Alengattukkaran, my first teacher who showed me the endless possibilities of sound.

How would you describe your job?

That’s tricky! There are two parts. Both essential at the post-production stage of film making – sound design and re-mix. The sound designer is responsible for obtaining all sound effects, whether recorded or live, for a specific production. Sound design is an artistic component of the production and the person on the job needs to be imaginative in creating sound effects and not just re-record it.

After reading the script and meeting the director, the sound designer makes a cue list. After the cues and their sources are determined, the sound designer begins to gather them either from the library or by re-creating them. The second, which is what I have been doing for the major part of my career now, is mixing recorded dialogue, sound effects and music to create the final version of a soundtrack for a film, television programme and so on. The final mix must achieve a desired sonic balance between its various elements and must match the director’s or sound designer’s original vision for the project.

Has your training in music helped you in the job?

Of course it has helped. There have been occasions where I’ve had to dive into the music editing of the film to enhance and present some scenes better. This, although, isn’t a common practice in the industry. Only the directors, producers and music directors who know of my music skills ask me to try and polish the music track. I feel blessed during those moments, especially when I see my editing add a new perspective to the film.

From your impressive catalogue of films, do you have any favourite scenes?

Yes, several. The ‘Gajaanana’ song sequence in Bajirao Mastani, another scene from the same film where Priyanka Chopra realises that there’s another woman in Bajirao’s life, there are many such instances in that film. The challenge was in blending sounds, such as the interiors of the royal palace, the war front, the emotional sequences, the songs, the aarti... We were trying to create the feel of an age gone by.

Some of the scenes in Baahubali, especially the action scenes, the one with the waterfall in the backdrop and a few scenes in Uri: The Surgical Strike still haunt me. Of course, the wind, the silence, the sound of the donkey’s hooves, and the rustling of the newspaper in Walking With the Wind will remain special.

Your portfolio also mentions your work in blockbuster Hollywood movies.

India is a major market for Hollywood films. The production houses have realised that many of their films are global stories, with universal values and so will appeal to a larger section of the Indian audience.

Through authorised vendors, these companies release dubbed versions of hit Hollywood movies such as Spiderman, Skyfall and Hancock. These films are often dubbed into Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

The idea is to reach out to audiences in other languages and remote areas too. All we are given is the original soundtrack and the dubbed one. It is a huge challenge to re-mix such films, especially when it comes to dialogues. It must match the original in timing.

You have not worked in many Malayalam films...

I have heard whispers that I’m too expensive and very busy. The truth is that I have taken up almost every Malayalam film that has come my way. Those who say that I’m expensive and busy have actually not met me or even bothered to pick up the phone and call me. I have done some very satisfying films like Koode, Punyalan Private Limited, Oozham, Pretham, Njan Steve Lopez, Cinema Company and Second Show.

On Deepan Chatterjee

Deepan da was a brilliant sound engineer and a great human being. He was passionate about music. He was RD Burman’s recording assistant for a long time. He composed music for Malayalam films like Kaakakuyil and Wanted.

Dada was Priyadarsan sir’s trusted sound engineer, working with him in films such as Kaalapani, (which fetched him the National Award), Kilichundan Mambazham, Hulchul and Kanchivaram. When most seniors I worked with were rather indifferent to juniors like me, Dada took the trouble to squeeze in time to train his juniors. His death has left a huge void in me.

What are your forthcoming projects?

I’m working on a couple of Hindi films and I’m looking forward to the sound designing and mixing for Ranjith Sankar’s film Kamala, Jeethu Joseph’s untitled Tamil film and Manoj K Varghese’s yet-to-be-titled film.

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 8:29:30 PM |

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