Page last updated at 05:21 GMT, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

India's 'sound' success

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Resul Pookutty
Resul Pookutty says that technological changes have made a huge difference

Could this be the year of the Indian technician at the forthcoming Oscar awards?

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire has already hit the headlines for its achievements - the first Indian film to win a Golden Globe and a record number of awards and nominations at the prestigious Bafta ceremony.

This has understandably brought the film's actors and musicians into the limelight. But before too long the film's technicians could also be basking in cinematic glory.

Resul Pookutty won the Bafta for sound design for Slumdog Millionaire with Glenn Freemantle, Richard Pryke, Tom Sayers and Ian Tapp.

Aesthetic freedom

Since then "sound guys" in the Indian film industry have become the subject of much discussion and attention.

Sound technicians are the people who make a film sound like it does - recording on location and editing and reworking of sound effects during post-production.

In India, they are called sound engineer, sound technician or sound designer and each job has its own definition depending on the aesthetic freedom they get.

Work ranges from merely recording and repairing to composing, mixing, editing of various sounds, dubbing and background score.

Resul Pookutty, a graduate from the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India, has been in the industry for over 10 years and has worked on several big films. He is now a household name in India and is hotly tipped to win an Oscar this year.

At his studio in suburban Mumbai, three other sound engineers work on several films.

Dean Picardo
What we need is a change of attitude from producers and directors
Sound engineer Dean Picardo

Amrit, who worked with Mr Pookutty on Slumdog, says that over 50 to 60 sounds are mixed to create a particular sound which may last for not more than 20 seconds.

There is lot of work, both indoors and outdoors, but it is hardly noticed by people, he says.

He points out that working on locations in Mumbai was one of the toughest challenges for Slumdog.

"It was not an easy film to do. Even though it had a small budget, technically it was one of the most advanced."

Over the last decade Mr Pookutty has seen the industry change.

"In the early 1990s the equipment was not enough to do live sound or sync sound. Now sync sound technique has increased and it's a great change."

Filmmakers say it is only now that experiments with sound have started.

Constant struggle

Anurag Kashyap, who made films like Black Friday, No Smoking and more recently, Dev D, has used ample experimentation in sound in his films.

He says that in earlier days, people used background score from stock sounds but now young filmmakers are trying to use it differently.

Sound engineer Ganesh G

If you have it, you'll make it in this industry. It takes time, but it is about passion
Sound engineer Ganesh G

"I find the right people for each of my films and then work with them. Every film needs a different score."

Another well known film maker, Rajat Kapoor, has made several off-beat low budget films and worked with Resul Pookutty for over a decade.

"In the 50's Hindi cinema used sound very well. Films like Mahal (one of the earliest suspense-horror films) had phenomenal sound.

"However, the 1970s, 80s and 90s were bad times for cinema, every aspect degenerated. Now with the coming of multiplexes and different filmmakers, more attention is being paid to visual and sound aspects."

However, for most sound engineers a constant struggle is the reality.

Dean Picardo, who works at Purple Haze, a well known studio in Mumbai, says that in terms of talent and equipment India does not lag behind.

"The budget that is set aside for the sound department by the producer is much lower than other departments like cinematography and actor fees," he says.

"That has to change. For example when films are shot in New York, the police help in keeping the crowds who gather silent. Here a sound designer has to work with the crew to keep crowds quiet."

In India, sound engineers could start their career "working for free", getting around $200 to $300 per month for a long time. However the top technicians make several times more.

Despite the rough ride, most sound engineers swear by their profession.


Ganesh G, a sound engineer who works with a big production house, says that perseverance is the key.

Slumdog Millionaire poster in Mumbai
Mr Pookuty says recording sounds for Slumdog posed new challenges

"If you are really passionate you don't give up. If you have it, you'll make it in this industry. It takes time, but it is about passion."

Mr Picardo agrees. He says that says if the project is exciting enough, every sound technician will do the job, no matter what the obstacles.

"No one thrives, they only survive. It's a fight on daily basis on personal as well as professional front. But we do it."

Mr Pookutty feels that today sound engineers are getting paid better because of the dearth of qualified trained professionals.

But others feel they have a long way to go before they get remuneration to match their work and talent.

Filmmakers and technicians unanimously agree, though, that the success of Slumdog Millionaire has provided a platform and a benchmark for Indian technicians. They hope that things from now onwards will only get better.

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