Ever heard of the sound of a leaf falling or a single drop of water..sound of laughter, a sigh a tear may be? We do not usually pay attention to just sounds in real world because they are an integral part of our world. Well, listen to the radio and you will realise how sounds create a visual in our mind. In the same manner, when we watch a movie, we never realise that all those sounds we hear, the background score, the dialogue, the noises or complete silence—all that is created after the film has been shot. This way, a sound designer is an integral part of the ‘soul’ of a film which moves and touches us. Ajay Kumar PB, reputed sound designer and engineer, worked in the South Indian industry before joining Bollywood. He has designed and re-recorded sounds for more than 300 films including award-winning films like Dirty Picture, Badlapur, Dhanak, Tanu Weds Manu and many many more. His most recent work is Andhadhun that has been appreciated for its amazing use of music and sounds. Pragati Saxena catches up with the man:
How has been your experience with the making of Andhadhun?
Director Sriram Raghavan is very particular about every sound in the film. He does not want to divert the audience’s attention to unnecessary ambience or effects. He doesn’t like too much loudness and wants very accurate levels of ambient sound or music. For example, in a sequence in Andhadhun, when the fake blind pianist sees a dead body while playing the piano, the sound track is not very loud. It’s very difficult to decide the level in such situations. Usually, we end up using loud sounds, but I try to see the audience’s point of view too. Similar is the case when Tabu pushes the school principal off the balcony. I have tried to project Tabu’s point of view through very subtle sounds which are more muddled and tense. Andhadhun was a very challenging film for sound mixing.
How do you explain sound designing and mixing?
Sound design is the art and practice of creating sound for films, or for any media. It involves specifying, recording,editing or creating audio tracks by using audio production techniques and equipment. But in films, most of the audio content is created in post-production. This includes music, dialogues, atmospheric sound, real sounds like footsteps, rustle of clothes, gunshots, etc. Sometimes, we need to create sounds which we don’t even know about, for example, sound in a space shuttle, underwater sound, sound of a free falling leaf, sound of a plane crash or a bomb blast, etc.
Sound Mixing/re-recording is all about combining different sounds together. It is a process after sound editing and design. When we talk about sound mixing for a film, it means layering and levelling it according to the visuals. The re-recordist also processes(equalisation, controlling, dynamics, creating reverb) recorded sound, to make it more real and convincing to the audience. The mixing engineer is responsible for the final soundtrack of the cinema. It is he who decides how the sound of the scene has to be treated (definitely with the help of the film director), how loud the music and sound effects need be, how loud should the dialogues be,etc. If you are in a forest near the river, there is definitely a reverb there.To recreate that reverb technically or digitally is a difficult task. Mixing is the last creative part of filmmaking and it is not only very technical but also an artistic process.
People usually talk about the struggle of actors and singers in films. How is it for a creative technician to carve out a niche for himself?
Today, the film industry is huge. There are lots of opportunities. In the 1990’s when we studied sound engineering for films, there were only two institutes in the country but now there are several institutes giving out diploma and degree in this course as is the case with journalism and mass communication. But to become a good re-recordist /sound mixing engineer, you need to really work hard. It is a job that requires a lot of attention, long working hours, a lot of innovation. So, you should join sound engineering only if you are really interested in it. Struggle is everywhere and there’s no quick rise in this field. You really need to have a lot of patience, try to give your best, never give up and you will get there one day.
You have also worked in the South Indian film industry. How is it different from Bollywood? Was it a deliberate choice to join the Hindi film industry?
The South Indian film industry works on avery tight schedule. Their character is usually loud and melodramatic. The mainstream South Indian cinema lacks subtlety. For them, it’s more of a technical thing. In Bollywood, thing are changing. We do work on a very tight schedule but now filmmakers are realising the importance of sound design and mixing.Filmmakers like Anand L Rai and Sriram Raghavan welcome creative ideas, are innovative. So, I found the Hindi film world more interesting.
How is the Mumbai film world different than Hollywood?
Hollywood films have huge budgets plus they pay a lot of attention to minute details. Hindi filmmakers may take two years to complete a film but they do not give post-production much time. For sound mixing, our filmmakers give just one month for a film they have shot for two years! Then we have a one-man show most of the time as far as direction and post-production is concerned. In Hollywood, the mixing team is huge: ADR mixer,music mixer, foley and effect mixer, final re-recordist mixer, big team of re-recordists.In India, only one person is doing all the work.
You are now working on the post-production of Shah Rukh Khan’s much publicised film, Zero. How is it to work with director Anand L Rai?
I have been working with Anand since Tanu Weds Manu. So I have a rapport with him. He is a realist to an extent. He is creative too as far as post-production is concerned. But this film has lots of VFX. We will have to create and mix sound accordingly. That is a challenge which we are dealing with right now. The star power of SRK does not have any bearing on the post-production. The director and the technician together have to create the mood of the film and we are trying our best to match the director’s expectations. But time is a constraint. We must finish the mixing in just one month. This is another challenge I am dealing with right now.
You are a well-established sound engineer and designer. What is your ambition now?
Well, I have reached this stage with a lot of hard work. My ambition is to do more sound oriented films in different languages , to achieve the Hollywood quality of sound and also to be part of a Hollywood project.