What we have done is actually the job of the Indian government: Resul Pookutty
The Academy Award-winning sound designer is debuting as a lead with Oru Kadhai Sollatuma, but that’s not why he’s excited
For Resul Pookutty, a man whose film career has stemmed from his love for sound, Oru Kadhai Sollatuma (The Sound Story) is a dream project. It’s a docu-drama on the Thrissur Pooram festival and its sounds. It’s a long-term aspiration, and even as early as in 2009, when asked right after his Academy Award win what he planned to do next, he spoke about wanting to capture the Thrissur festival's sounds. And now, that’s a reality.
Excerpts from a conversation with the sound maestro:
What’s your fascination with the festival?
It originated in Kerala more than a thousand years ago. Almost a million people assemble there every year for this five-day festival. Hundreds of musicians come together. There'll be chendas (drums), elathalams (cymbals), kombu (a horn) and kurumkuzhal (a wind instrument). It’s beautiful.
What about it excites you as a sound designer?
It's a delight for a sound man. It's a festival of rhythms — melams have a complex rhythm structure. Add that to hundreds of elephants and musicians, and lakhs of people, and the energy in the place becomes transcendental. The musicians who perform are some of the best in the country. It takes 25-30 years for them to become such artists. As a sound man, I realised this was a gift from Kerala. It’s something I wanted to preserve and archive. You could say that what we have done is actually the job of the Indian government. We're the torchbearers of tradition, knowledge and wealth that should be preserved. This, unfortunately, seems to be the last concern of our government.
Walk us through the technical aspects of the film.
The film is going to be in Dolby Atmos. I've combined the high-quality recording elements and techniques of Aura 3D with the immersion of Dolby Atmos. We've also used the technology used in VR for the microphone.
We used 24 cameras -- 3D, 2D, 4K, 2K, and cranes and drones to capture the event. I had a 25-member crew along with people from all over the world who came together to make this happen. The track count exceeded more than 150. Compare this to the 24 tracks we recorded for Slumdog Millionaire. It was far beyond what I thought it would be.
You’re also promoting it as a film for the visually challenged.
Elephants are a big part of this festival and we got to visit an elephant farm where we met Asia's first female mahout. She told us that one of the elephants which performed in the festival was half-blind. It was astonishing to hear that. Apparently, the elephant knew what it should do only from the sounds from her. And we immediately wondered why we couldn’t make a film that would help a visually challenged person experience this great festival. Their ears will be their eyes.
You are also in front of the camera for the first time.
It happened during the course of filming. I can say I'm an accidental hero. I'm playing myself but there's a fictional twist too. We didn’t want it to be just a collection of sounds for my archives (laughs).
Given that the film’s predominantly about the sound of the festival, making it as a multilingual (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Hindi) would have been a no-brainer.
For me, language is another sound. When you listen to Vairamuthu sir speaking, for example, you feel like you're listening to music that's spoken. The makers felt that this film should be experienced by everyone.
I understand that you are also interested in organising a light-and-sound show in Nagpur.
Actor Revathi and I did the Ross Island Light and Sound Show in Andaman Islands. Minister Nitin Gadkari was in attendance and was amazed by the show’s technical aspects. He called Revathi to do something similar in Nagpur. So we're trying to put on a show with AR Rahman's music. It's going to be a huge event that breaks technological boundaries.
You’ve always spoke about how undervalued sound is in our films. Tell us about the part it plays in a film like Shankar’s 2.0 of which you’re a part.
It's crucial. To quote Danny Boyle, there's no light without sound (laughs). That’s as much as I can tell you about 2.0. It’s a film about the challenges of contemporary life. What if we ignore the rest of the species? Thus the tagline, the world is not just for humans.
How has sound-designing evolved in Indian cinema evolved over the years?
Directors like Spielberg and Lucas have made their careers out of being good sound people. Everything we know about sound from Hollywood has come from them. There's nobody like that here. After my Oscar, filmmakers sometimes talk about it, but we still work like we used to. Problem is, music sells here, sound doesn't. The market is growing now though. So, let’s hope this changes.
What’s up next?
Right now, I'm madly focussed on 2.0. I've got Nandita Das's Manto which will premiere in Cannes or Berlin. I have three Malayalam films coming up -- Fahadh Faasil's Trance, Mamankam, and a film under Gokulam Gopalan's production. There's also a Hindi film by Anil Sharma, Genius, Sangamithra, and a Hollywood film which I have just completed.