'Mammootty believes sync sound is the future'
...says Ajayan Adat, sound engineer of the films Virus, Mayaanadhi and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, who talks about the benefits and challenges of using sync sound
Gone are the days when filmmakers and actors were hesitant to step out of their comfort zones. Today, with audiences being exposed to a wide range of content available across various platforms, Malayalam filmmakers and technicians are stepping up their game. The unwillingness to make compromises have resulted in technically as well as narratively superior films. Aashiq Abu’s Virus is one fine example.
A superlative film produced by the collective effort of proficient writers, actors, and technicians, a notable aspect of the film was its effective sound design—recorded on location—thereby giving viewers an immersive experience. Its sound designer, Ajayan Adat, who has already proved his talent with sync sound on films such as Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum and Koode, tells us about the advantages and challenges of live recording.
Virus has a lot of exterior locations. What are the challenges of doing sync sound in a film like this?
The major challenge is to maintain consistency in the noise profiles. When the shots are divided, the sound profile for each shot will vary. So the continuity is of paramount importance. The main sound signals come from the dialogues and on-screen effects and the 'signal to noise' ratio has to be maintained. Naturally, the priority is to capture the authenticity of the dialogues and performances. We can capture the missing ambient sounds later using directional microphones. The consistency and tone correction of the dialogues can be achieved in post-production.
Did having such a competent group of performers in the film help the process?
Definitely. In Virus, all of them were professionally trained actors. So there was no problem with regard to consistency, even with cinematographer Rajeev Ravi’s fast-paced shooting style. We used to shoot 10-11 scenes per day, but it was not done in a hurry; it was all organic, despite not doing too many rehearsals. Though we approached it like a documentary, we had to keep in mind that it’s not one and that all of it is going to be converted to Dolby Atmos sound.
What is created out of a spontaneous moment can never be duplicated on the dubbing floor. If you think about it, dubbing is akin to miming. Imagine a scene with dialogues muted and then the actors adding dialogues three months later—it’s the same thing, isn’t it? Granted that it’s an art in and of itself but it feels very artificial. Now, I won’t say that we can do a film like Pulimurugan in sync sound. But for a film like Virus, or Mayaanadhi (with chief sound designer Jayadevan Chakkadath), or Annayum Rasoolum, or Thondimuthalum (with Jayadevan), sync sound is compulsory.
So are you saying that in the future sync sound is impossible with relatively more mainstream films?
No, it’s possible. We are slowly getting there. We have already made an attempt with films like Oru Kuttanadan Blog (with Jayadevan) and Koode. I’m about to do a Prithviraj film called Ayyappanum Koshiyum which will also be done in sync sound.
What steps did you take to ensure that you got the optimal sound in Virus?
The first step was to get the crew to co-operate and maintain silence on their part. That gets half the job done. In Kozhikode, we shot in live locations, where Nipah patients, H1N1 patients, police officials, and ministers were going in and out of the hospital. So, dealing with the crowd and resultant commotion was naturally a challenge. We also had to make sure that classes in the medical college were not interfering with our shoot.
There was also the challenge to make a crowded area look empty. When the meeting sequence was being shot, there were classes going on on the other side. So we managed to get them to change the class timings. We also had to take into account the football games of the students on Sundays and the construction work happening in an adjacent building. We came up with a mode of communication wherein walkie talkies and hand signals were used to get the workers to maintain a degree of quietness while the shoot was in progress.
Are all the major stars showing an interest in sync sound now?
Very much. Mammootty has already got accustomed to it through Oru Kuttanadan Blog and Unda. He believes that sync sound is the future. It was on his insistence that they used it in Unda. We had even planned to use it for Lalettan’s Drama but due to certain last-minute casting changes, we had to drop the idea. Prithviraj worked with sync sound in Aurangzeb, which was a big-budget commercial entertainer. Then there’s Fahadh Faasil, who is a strong proponent.
Even a veteran filmmaker like Sathyan Anthikkad has switched to sync sound for Njan Prakashan. Dulquer Salmaan’s Parava—directed by Soubin Shahir—was done in sync sound. Most of Tovino Thomas’ films have been done that way. And now Nivin Pauly has worked with it in Moothon—a film that uses not only the Malayalam language but also the Hindi, Marathi, and Lakshadweep languages. Also worth noting is that actor Siddique, who was initially hesitant, is now getting used to sync sound after seeing the final results.