Cinema

Making 'sound' sense

Resul Pookutty. Photo: Deepak Gupta  

“Do you hear a pin drop? Only in cinema, because in films nothing is accidental. Everything has been placed with thought and intelligently put together for you to hear and to feel,” says Oscar winner Resul Pookutty. He was speaking to students of Amrita School of Communication on Aesthetics of Sound in Cinema.

At a time when technology has conditioned you to remember nothing, Resul banks on memories to recreate sounds. The whirring of a fan, a radio coming to life, a person shuffling in his seat, women slicing into rubber bark to collect sap… He said that if one listens carefully enough, it is possible to tell if the footsteps you hear are of a little girl or an elderly lady; and where they come from — from inside a room or the corridor. It is his job to lend sound such minute details.

Resul’s audience, made up of students of communication, lecturers and professors, were riveted as they watched clippings from films such as Slumdog Millionaire and Chittagong. He then explained how he arrived at the soundscape. The scene where Jamal and Salim help Latika escape from Maman’s clutches in Slumdog…, is punctuated by threatening silence, the burst of a gunshot, and its reverberation.

Resul said that after he worked on Aamir’s Ghajini, he thought he had mastered the art of shooting on the streets of Mumbai. “Then, Slumdog… happened. Danny (Boyle) followed a non-traditional method of shooting. So, I had to change the way I worked. I decided to allow the performances to happen, and then record the soundscape. I wanted the mics to capture the sound I wanted them to, in the midst of all that melee. It is like how the brain lets you hear what you want to, even in the middle of din,” he recalled.

What an idea!

The night after the Oscars, Resul says, he wondered how a 15-million-dollar film beat others made on whopping budgets. “Then, it struck me that it was the idea that won. Execution can be good or bad, but one must have an idea.”

For Bedabrata Pain’s period drama Chittagong, Resul and his associate Vijay relied on foley sounds (where everyday sounds are recreated in a studio) to lend ambience to the film. So, sounds that are heard outside the frame, such as troops marching in, were created. “It was challenging to do sounds for a period film. We had to ask ourselves questions such as ‘how did a gun of that vintage sound?’ and ‘what kind of boots did people wear’, and so on. We changed the original sound but retained elements, so that nothing sounded artificial,” he said.

He’s adopted a similar approach for Soundarya Rajinikanth-Ashwin’s Kochadaiiyaan. “She showed me sketches. But I wanted to know details as to the fabric the characters were wearing, the footwear, etc. That’s how I could get the rustle of silk, the clinking of the armour… we even got mojris from Nashik to recreate the footsteps,” he shares.

Resul, who is to shortly make his debut as director, credits his ‘sound’ sense to his childhood in Kerala. “We lived a life tuned to Nature, a life that revolved around the Sun. After sunset all we heard was the sound of insects, the sound of the cow mooing. I feel sad my kids will never grow up in an environment like that.”

Unforgettable sounds

Of all the sounds, Resul is fondest of the whirring fan. It reminds him of the time, when, as a Class 5 student, jaundice almost claimed him. When he came out after a week of unconsciousness, in strange hospital room, it was the whirring of the fan that he first heard. That sound was recreated in the Hindi film Mixed Doubles.

But, the man, whose life revolves around sound, has a confession to make. “I cannot sleep in a new place. You see, I have a problem. The new sounds keep me awake.”

Pet project

Resul teams up with actress Revathy and a host of other celebrities to start a one-of-its-kind sound and light show in Ross Island, in the Andamans. He is working together with Dolby Atmos and Harman Kardon to put up a show in the space where the tennis court used to exist. “The place teems with history, and we know little about it. This is an attempt to recreate the past for this generation.” he says. The show will play out against the backdrop of the spectacular ruins. Gulzar has written the script and given the voice-over. Manoj Bajpayee, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar are a part of it too; Javed Saab’s ancestor was hanged at Kala Paani.” he says.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 1:13:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/making-sound-sense/article5844273.ece

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