Striking the right note

National award-winning sound engineer Sinoy Joseph on his career, working with Anurag Kashyap, breaking conventions, and post-production challenges
Striking the right note

An area of filmmaking not often discussed, sound mixing/re-recording has its own set of complexities and pressures unknown to the average cinemagoer. An interaction with a sound mixer brings forth stories that are amusing and insightful at the same time.

Recently, Cinema Express got a chance to talk to Sinoy Joseph, a sound engineer who has worked on a multitude of films, among which are those made by Anurag Kashyap, Lijo Jose Pellissery, Rajeev Ravi, Sathyan Anthikkad, Nagraj Manjule, and Shoojit Sircar. Sinoy’s breakthrough happened after he won a National award for Anurag’s Gangs of Wasseypur.

A native of Kottayam, Kerala, the Mumbai-based engineer possessed a natural inclination for music and all things sound-related. Though he did his BSc in Electronics, he was drawn to sound engineering, which made him enroll at Thrissur’s Chetana Academy. After his course was done, he grabbed an opportunity at Mumbai’s Q Labs.

“Though I wanted to work in song recording, I was assigned the dubbing department where you’re working with effects and whatnot. But it all turned out for the good. I got into mixing after a few months, and I got to assist a lot of seniors for around three years, after which I began independent work inside Q Labs itself,” says Sinoy, who made his debut as a re-recording mixer with 2008’s Saas Bahu Aur Sensex. The film wasn’t a success but he forged a bond with Australian sound designer Andrew Belletty, from whom he learned a lot.

Anurag Kashyap experience

2012 was a big year for Sinoy. He worked on two critically-acclaimed films — English Vinglish and Gangs of Wasseypur (GoW). The latter was honoured at the National awards. He says the scale of GoW made it one of the most challenging projects of his career. “Given the tonal change — from vintage to contemporary — it involved a lot of sound work.” Prior to GoW, Sinoy had worked as an assistant re-recording mixer on Kashyap’s Dev.D and No Smoking. He recently worked on Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan as well.

“Kashyap is particular about every sound. He knows exactly what he wants,” adds Sinoy. “A lot of ideas are put across the table, be it the music or effects. As his films have unique soundscapes, one is compelled to think out of the box. Even his unsuccessful films are technically superior. Sometimes he may make some last-minute changes — adding voice-overs, for example — and we have to make changes accordingly, which can be a huge challenge because you’re dealing with around 200-250 layers of sound. All that needs to be calibrated, which takes a lot of time. Manmarziyaan was relatively easier to work with in spite of having more than 10 songs.”

Setting standards

In addition to Indian films, Sinoy has worked on the Indian language versions of several Hollywood films such as John Carter, Brave, On Stranger Tides, and Immortals. Disney and Sony are among his main clients. “The work done by Hollywood sound technicians is so inspiring that you’re pushed to set the same standards with your work in Indian language films,” says Sinoy. “Every time an English language film is being readied for its India release, they send you samples of their work along with specifications, reference tracks, and what they have done in each scene so that our configuration can match exactly theirs. It would be unwise to change that if you go by Indian standards. Though Sony is more liberal when it comes to these things, they still require you to follow certain guidelines. We once took part in a one-day workshop conducted by a tutor from Disney. It was very beneficial.”

Challenges & compromises

Sinoy feels that sound design is not just about money or critical acclaim but also about satisfaction. “Doing sound without disrupting the storytelling requires a delicate hand. The flaws in the final output can be very upsetting because it affects not just the sound designer but also every single person in the sound department. So even if a particular film wins an award, if the work didn’t come out right, it bothers us. I think the main problem is we don’t pay much attention to sound when we watch a film. Normally, everyone focuses on the story; only the sound technicians pay attention to it. Our job is to transport the audience to a particular location. Even a small sound be very distracting for us.”

Sinoy points out a few examples that bothered him. “Some actors won’t allow you to switch off the air conditioner. Their comfort is more important to them than the work being done. Even a feeble air conditioner sound can interfere with your work. If something doesn’t work out the first time, we can make them say their dialogue off-screen by silencing that particular background sound. It’s what we call a “wild track”. The other thing that bothers me is when some music directors want their music to be more prominent than the overall mix. They listen to our mixing, which is there to serve the film, but they only pay attention to their work. They don’t look at the overall picture. They become too attached to their work. In such cases, you are required to do a lot of convincing. In a recent film, the music director said he did a lot of hard work and so he wasn’t willing to make any compromises. But as this was a film with some CGI and other visual effects, different sounds are bound to get into the mix. These situations are easier to handle if the director comes forward to support us. If not, it’s a huge challenge. I usually try to convince them. However, in rare cases, you will have to make a few compromises,” he explains.

Dubbing woes

An unhealthy trend that Sinoy wants to see corrected is the bad Malayalam dubbing of English cartoons. As a father, Sinoy is concerned about his kid listening to badly pronounced words and later speaking in the same way. “I find the use of ‘Manglish’ troubling. I’ve not seen this in the Tamil and Telugu dubs. It’s the Malayalam dubbing that I find so artificial. I’ve seen some Malayali kids talk just like that. I hope the industry takes note of this and does something about it soon.”

Sinoy is currently working on the second season of Sacred Games, which is directed by Kashyap and Masaan-fame Neeraj Ghaywan. The latter has replaced Vikramaditya Motwane, who co-directed the first season with Kashyap. The post-production is currently underway

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