I am disappointed by the quality of theatres in Tamil Nadu
...says the sound designer of Karthik Subbaraj's Mercury, who also shoots down some misconceptions about his job
For sound designer Kunal Rajan, Mercury's his 150th project. This Kamal Haasan regular has worked on films like Vishwaroopam, Uttama Villain and Thoongavanam in recent years. "There are very few directors who realise the importance of sound design in Tamil cinema. Karthik Subbaraj is one of them. Both of us have wanted to work together for some time now, and I'm glad it materialised with the Prabhudheva-starrer," he says.
An added bonus for him is that Mercury is a silent film. "The entire film is dependent on sound design. But let me clarify that my job is to let the audience experience a 'silent' film, not to add great sounds or effects," he says.
Kunal equates sound designing with storytelling. "It's important that I make sure sound is in tandem with the characters' emotions. Generally, in our films, the music that goes with dialogues is jarring. If the audience notices the sound, it means I've done a terrible job. The function of sound is not just to enhance the visuals. It plays a much more active role in a film," he smiles.
In silent films, there's also the risk of misleading the audience, points out Kunal. According to him, the soundtrack goes beyond creating the atmosphere. "Usually, when there are dialogues, the focus of the audience will be on the actors and what they speak. In this case, you only see the characters emoting on the screen and reacting. Designing sound for a full-length feature film was challenging," he adds.
He shares that there's a reason why Mercury is a silent film. "I request the audience not to read any synopsis online, but visit theatres with an open mind!"
Surely, comparisons with Kamal Haasan-starrer Pesum Padam will be inevitable. "I don't think it's fair to compare them. For one, Pesum Padam wasn't a thriller. When Karthik approached me, one of the first things I did was to research if there were any silent thrillers by Indian filmmakers. I couldn't find any. The last silent film I remember is the award-winning The Artist (2011)," he says.
Advancements in digital technology has made work easier for him as a sound designer. "Yes, but I am disappointed about the quality of theatres in Tamil Nadu. Most of them are terrible. They don't have a proper sound system or a projector. A film should sound the same in every theatre. I am surprised that the Nadigar Sangam or other associations haven't raised this problem so far!"
There's a lot of confusion over Mercury's release date. "Karthik Subbaraj is in talks with the Tamil Film Producers Council and he's totally in support of the strike. Internally, there are other issues, which can't be openly discussed," he says.
Kunal is also excited about Vishwaroopam 2. "Once you work with Kamal Haasan, you feel you don't have to work with anybody. The man's like a university. The trailer of the film is now ready, and will be released once the strike ends. I can assure that the sequel will be a treat for Kamal Haasan fans," he adds.