By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on February 03, 2016
Very rarely do film technicians get the applause they deserve. We are so obsessed with our stars that even the director takes a back seat. Not that this is unusual, it happens everywhere. Yet, the lack of awareness in our country, of the skilled technicians and artists who make the film come alive, is astounding. Very few of our film technicians have made the transition from anonymity to public recognition. Resul Pookutty is one of them. And he had to win an Oscar for that to happen.
Even today, he rarely features in mainstream media. So it was our privilege to catch the man in person and hear him hold forth on his craft & his journey. Speaking at a masterclass on the sidelines of the Bengaluru International Film Festival, Pookutty was intelligence & humility personified. He went from answering basic queries on sound design to explaining the deeper philosophical nature of his work to an audience that held on to every word of his.
An FTII graduate, Pookutty has mixed, designed and edited sound & music for over 50 films. Recently he received two nominations at the prestigious American Motion Picture Sound Editors' (MPSE) Golden Reel Awards. Both the nominations are for films that have been banned in India - Unfreedom, a US production, and India’s Daughter.
Engaging him in conversation was the young & talented director of Thithi, Raam Reddy, who disclosed that if he hadn’t been a director he would’ve been a sound designer. While we put up that video from the session, here’s a small summary of few things that we learnt from him.
(From L to R) Raam Reddy, Resul Pookutty, Chaitanya KM, Vishu Kumar and Anand Varadaraj at masterclass on sound design at BIFFES by Resul Pookutty.
Resul stressed the lack of understanding of sound that most Indian directors suffer from. This is unlike their appreciation of camera, lenses or the visual aspect of the craft. This leads to a gap between the sound designer and the director, where the designer, as an artist, is restricted in his ability to explore thee full range of his craft. He feels that it is necessary for every filmmaker to understand, the nuances and subtleties of sound. If a sound designer is treated like an equal partner, he can use his knowledge and expertise to make any scene better.
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Sitting alongside was Raam Reddy, whose film Thithi has not used music at all. When asked why, Reddy said “I find the power of sound on a subconscious level to be deeper than the power of music on a conscious level.” One needs to add various layers to their initial sound to bring meaning to the moving images.
Pookutty has done this multiple times in his career. One of the most memorable examples of this is in this scene from Slumdog Millionaire, where Pookutty used multiple layers of sound to portray the emotions of his lead character.
When working on sound, many technicians have the habit of getting too engaged with the technical aspects of their work and forget the narrative structure. Everything that the sound designer does, should be to enhance the scene. It should take the vision of the director ahead. The job of a sound designer is to aid the filmmaker in helping him realize the movie that he has in his mind.
Pookutty came out forcefully in favour of sync sound, a practice that has gained ground in Hindi cinema in the last few years. However most South Indian films still take the old route of dubbing. Pookutty feels that dubbing sound, is cheating the audience as well as the actors. Given the advances in technology, it is possible to do a lot in post - production.
“Post-production is meant to manipulate and manifest”, he said. And if nothing else, it helps discipline the set. :-)
Most of the filmmakers try to incorporate music to fill in the gaps left in the narrative. Many a times, dialogues by the characters are also used, to heighten the emotion that a moment carries. This restricts the use of silence in our films. But if used well, it can add layers to the scene. Pookutty highlighted this by citing an example from Margarita With A Straw, where silence is used brilliantly to showcase the pain one of the characters experiences on losing their parent.