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Sound And Sensibility

Sound plays a pivotal role in any film but it is still only a ‘supporting actor’ in Indian cinema

Sound design in India is not taken as seriously as in the West. That’s why probably our films sound the way they do. It’s because we don’t invest time, energy and money in specialised jobs so that the film is technically superior and can add value.

Sadly, technical finesse in our films has never been a production value to our filmmakers. It is within this scenario that some of us, who had studied film sound academically, came to Mumbai and, fortunately for me, I came during the transition period, when analog was shifting to digital. Having been at the tip of the evolution, as an industry we had adopted new methods of working and hence I could bring in my new sensibilities.

The new breed of designers has taken an idea about the soundtrack of a movie, which is different from the music score and the songs, and put forth that idea to the director before mixing the movie so that the director can see how his film is evolving, which has never happened before.

So people have seen the potential of what sound can do and I can say that, over a decade-and-a-half, we have managed to add more value to the product that has come to us, and established good sound as a good production value. Unless and until we have created something like that, we have no space in mainstream Hindi cinema. The responsibility of a soundman or a sound designer today is not very different from what it was 30 or 40 years ago.

It’s a pain when you don’t have the money and time to do good work. I have producers coming and telling me, ‘Resulji, we want sound for this film like Transformers but we have ` 5 lakh to do the sound.’ Now that was a $ 2 to 3 million budget project and the sound guys worked on that film for two years. You cannot do the same thing in one month with ` 5 lakh.

When my friends in the West hear about the conditions that we work in, they just salute me. There are very few directors who understand the importance of this medium, what sound can do. Some want to make an attempt but they don’t have the time and money. I mostly enjoy doing small films, where I have creative freedom and where I can do more sound work.

And although sound is an integral part of cinema, the problem lies in the lack of concepts and having no vision about the film that one is making. They have an idea about the actors’ costumes, they have an idea about the sets they are going to make and the location they are going to shoot. They also have a great idea about the kind of music they are going to have in their films. But good sound is never thought of. It’s probably only when Black came out that people sat up and thought that good sound could also be a good production value.

I haven’t seen producers invest that kind of money. They are willing to invest ` 100 crore to create visual effects for a movie but they won’t invest ` 1 crore for sound – without understanding that the visual effects need impactful sound to make them believable. I don’t think our producers have the vision to understand this and schedule and budget for the same. Sadly, mainstream Hindi cinema has always been about having a hero, heroine and a few songs – that’s it.

Sound is an experience. Having good sound is going to elevate the experience of cinema watching, especially at a time like this where everyone has a home theatre system. You need something bigger to offer to the audience so that they come out and watch a film in the cinema halls. And this doesn’t only apply to content creators but also exhibitors. For the Indian audience, going out to watch a movie is a big event – we are people of festivities. If you are not able to give something better in terms of content, comfort, better viewing and listening, people won’t come to you, especially in the digital era.

Films like Avatar and Mission Impossible, which haven’t spent a single penny in this country in making them, are going to rake in money. As creators, we have to understand that someone is taking the moolah out of this country. Unless we understand what is happening, we will be swept away by Hollywood. Our songs and dances cannot hold for too long. It’s a pretty scary scene and I don’t think our content creators are thinking
about this.

On the other hand, the audience isn’t aware at all about what they are getting. Most of us haven’t even heard analog audio. Most of us don’t know the difference between MP3 and a WAV file. We have been listening to MP3 all our lives and we think it is good quality. So, our references have shifted. Convenience has replaced quality as the standard. It is the downfall of the digital blast.

Earlier, if a sound man spent too much time on a film, the producer would say, ‘Wow! He will make my film so much better!’ Now, if he spends a lot of time, the producer says, ‘What is he doing?’ We have to learn from the West in terms of planning and understand why they come up with things we can never achieve. Or else, we will still be playing second or perhaps, sixth fiddle to Hollywood.



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