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Sound storytelling

Vishnu Govind and Sree Sankar in the hills of Munnar to recording live 'the ambience of the wild'   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There’s a whole lot of love going on for team Premam. The hit film’s young sound designers Vishnu Govind and Sree Sankar of Sound Factor, who’ve quietly been making all the right noises in Malayalam and Tamil cinema of late, are right there in the midst of it all, sharing the love and, in turn, loving each byte of its success.



“I think Premam is a winner because it’s pretty realistic in all aspects, from the acting and the dialogues to the camera work and, of course, the sound. In fact, that was our brief from director Alphonse Putharen. He wanted Premam’s sound to be as close to real life as possible and not at all cinematic. So, we’ve given it a live treatment; something that’s akin to sync sound but is not per se,” says Vishnu.



Then again, ‘live treatment’ is what the young Malayali soundsmiths specialise in. They’ve already hit the high notes with their snazzy yet realistic work in some 16 films, including landmark Tamil thrillers such as Pizza (incidentally, the first south Indian movie mixed in 7.1 surround sound), Jigarthanda (the first to be mixed in cutting edge Dolby Atmos), Enakkul Oruvan, Soodu Kavvum, and the bilingual Neram, to name but a few.



“We believe that sound is a character in a movie and that a movie is as much about the sound as it is about the visuals. Consequently, we’re averse to using sounds from a digital library and prefer to build up a realistic set from scratch for each film, by physically going to the locations and capturing the ambience,” says Vishnu.



For Jigarthanda, for example, they went to Madurai, where the movie is set, and recorded how the Meenakshi temple’s bells sound at different times of the day and night, the sound of the traffic and humanity on the bylanes near the temple...even the sound of kothu porotta being made, a sound that they say is an integral part of the city. “Coming back to Premam, we went on location in and around Aluva, to the classrooms and dorms of U.C. College, the local church, the aqueduct, the local tea shop... Also, during the dubbing we used different ‘miking’ techniques to keep to real tone as far as possible,” explains 28-year-old Vishnu, who grew up in Thiruvalla.



Sankar, 29, is from Aranmula. The duo met while studying for their undergraduate degree in physics at St. Berchmans College, Changanassery. “We share a keen interest in music and the movies and just hit it off immediately,” recalls Vishnu.



Together, in 2006, the friends set off for Chennai to study sound engineering – Vishnu at Adayar Film Institute and Sankar at SAE Institute – and quickly became part of an extended group of future big shots, including directors Alphonse, Karthik Subbaraj and Nalan Kumaraswamy, actors Vijay Sethupathi and Bobby Simha, music director Rajesh Murugesan, singer-lyricist Shabareesh Varma, to name a few, who’ve individually and collectively taken cinema down south by storm.



“All of us are roommates, classmates or friends and would always hang out with only cinema on our minds. We’ve supported each other through thick and thin and always looked out for each other. Without our friends, who know us and our talent, our entry into films would have been much more of a struggle than it actually was,” says Sankar.



Indeed. It was Alphonse who gave the mavericks their first break with the short film Neram. They quit their jobs in 2012 to concentrate completely on cinema when Karthik tasked them with designing the sound for his debut feature film, Pizza. “Right before we started work on Neram, the feature film, we established Sound Factor,” says Vishnu. Shankar adds: “I’m an eternal optimist while Vishnu is our resident pessimist. But those are our strengths and we balance each other out quite well. Perhaps that’s why we are able to work so well together.”



The soundscape of Pizza, a horror flick, is now recognised as path-breaking, particularly the way the duo worked silence to the advantage of the narrative. “Working with the director, music director, prop department and so on, we developed a Hollywood style sound script that detailed everything from properties to be used to shot suggestions, each one designed to bump up the mood of a scene. We’ve tried to follow the same procedure for most of our subsequent feature films,” says Vishnu.



Sankar chips in: “Things are definitely changing for sound. The sound department used to be an afterthought in filmmaking and we’d only be given a handful of days to work on a project. Nowadays, though, many directors, particularly the new-age ones in the south, are willing to give space to sound. We want that to become an industry standard.”

forthcoming films

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Tamil

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 3:40:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/premams-soundsmiths-vishnu-govind-and-sree-sankar-are-right-on-track/article7378593.ece

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