The Oscar Winner Dr.Resul Pookutty aspired to become a Physicist to do research in Super Conductivity, while Science still happens to be his obsession as for him creating music is like giving a dimension to time and space…Loudest.in caught the Oscar-winning genius in an interesting conversation at the BW Businessworld Future of Design Summit & Awards 2019, who made India proud the world over for best sound mixing for Slumdog Millionaire in an interesting conversation, Pookutty talks about his theory behind sound design as he believes that ‘sound’ holds the power to directly impact mind space, he talks about the creative process behind designing a sound piece and how music comes to him…Some excerpts from the conversation…
Talking about the transition in life starting from studying law, then physics and choosing to enter FTII Pune Pookutty says,” It’s the Nobel season and when I see Nobel prizes given away, it brings out the physicist inside me as I wanted to research on Super Conductivity and win a Nobel prize for India. That was my ambition, as to an Oscar which is not my main field but still… so when people win a Nobel Prize I feel cringed”…chuckes!
Pookuthy reminisces his journey from studying sound designing at FTII Pune to giving his Oscar acceptance speech says,“ I went to study sound in the film school thinking it as an extension of my physics studies. But when I went there, in the first attempt I failed which was a big lesson and that was the time I started loving cinema and had fallen in love with it. From a science student, I eventually became an art student as in the film school learning sound was the easiest path to follow, which I started enjoying by the time I reached the second year.”
“I started thinking about what makes people behave and how culture has come through the sounds we hear, how language is just a sound, how memory is part of the sound wondering how our ancestors have memorized and passed on the memory from thousands of years as part of our musical traditions as some of the oldest prevalent music. So, I realized that I come from the biggest tradition of sound and no other country has such a great tradition of sound and unfortunately very few people understand it. I spoke of this at the Oscars at my acceptance speech, which was all about where I was coming from,” added Pookuthy.
Having worked with AR Rehman for Slumdog Millionaire and Sanjay Leela Bansali for Black, what is it to create sound with the Maestros Pookutty says,” We hear each other’s works, it’s a synergy and it’s a combination of work. See eventually what we are doing is that how can we influence minds and create a mind -space and eventually we do is to portray the best of ourselves.”
Pookuthy shared his experience while creating the soundscape for Black and Slumdog Millionaire says, “ Both of these films required unprecedented spadework. In ‘Black’, people with similar challenges were brought on the set and observed. The sound was ‘extracted’ to match the subsequent analysis of a differently-abled protagonist in Black, while Slumdog Millionaire I tried catching up the authentic surroundings of Dharavi in Mumbai, which saw largest number of microphones in the recording.”
Pukoothy stressing on the importance of live sound recording as compared to Dubbing in India says,“ Actors bare their soul and become someone else every time a director says ‘action’. That process influences audiences, creating an emotional bond but it is not captured when you dub.”
For Pookutty ‘sound design’ is a sub-conscious art that influences audiences emotionally, as he says, “When we talk about design we talk about tangible things, the things that it can see, touch, feel everything which is tangible. What I do is to explore the intangible, so what I do is with space and time as I believe sound holds the power to directly impact mind space and can without fail will elicit a reaction, even if it is just traffic noises or seashore.”
He further explained defining what is Cinema, Pookutty said “Cinema is a continuum of time and space, what you see on the screen is a two-dimensional picture and everything that you see is a frame, be it a photo or a painting or an architecture, its frozen time. When it comes to motion pictures its again frozen frames and pictures but moving with which the time is flowing. Sound is a temporal element of that space, which is always with the time element, which can be a time of the day morning evening or a period or an era or can be a season like a monsoon, a rainy day. So if we take a picture that a painter makes it has a vision behind it. When I have a piece of the picture like that and I start putting sound to it I can actually define the exact meaning of a particular picture, for example, It can actually sound like 5 am on a particular day in a particular place. Suppose I am in Delhi at Jamma Mazjit at 5 pm I will hear the sound of an Azaan, so when I start putting sound in a picture I actually try to put the meaning of everything coming to me related to it.”
Talking about the responsibility of a sound man in the film,Pookuthy said, “It is a huge responsibility for a sound man in a film to create the meaning for the images which a painter has created, that makes him the most the powerful person in a film, as he connects picture and sound as one expression which is constructed thereby syncing the sequences of the shots with layers of sounds. That’s how filmmakers treat each layer independently and bring it all together in one master presentation.”
How was his India home-coming,“ When I came to Mumbai the community said we don’t need educated people. I strongly feel education is needed, as every theory helps in differentiating with what is spurious and what is generic. I believe in what Swami Vivekananda said, “If your education does not benefit your community it has no meaning”. So I decided to create a space where I will be needed for the benefit of the industry. I came in a very interesting time when analogs were fading away and digital was coming in and we who had studied digital technology had an added advantage, so there was a need for new thinking.”
Backed with a digital knowledge Pookutty searched what could be the next technology like Dolby something like a 3D equivalent in sound, and created what famously became the 4D SRL for the movie ‘2.0’. Normally, where the Dolby digital system uses 45 to 60 speakers, the 4D SRL format, which was placed in Satyam Cinema in Chennai, used 634 speakers. Every alternate seat was outfitted with speakers, creating a moving effect, which stood for the director Shankar, Resul himself and Lyca.
Sharing his views on how can one define sound design architecture which can help mankind via cinema, “It’s very tough to say anything about this because it is something very intangible, something we construct in time and it’s something that you experience. It is very immersive in nature because sound has the ability to pull you into a picture, which can transform you before you actually realize it. If a picture is bad you hate it and sometimes you get a headache if the sound is bad. So what we do is to give you the best emotional experience because it is subconscious and it is one of the most understood aspects of my craft, which I take care of and try to teach a particular group in conferences like this, telling them how we understand it how it deconstructs or reconstructs the subconscious through sound, as there is a science behind it.”
Stating an example Pookutty said, “Have you wondered why do we feel like singing in a bathroom because it’s where the sound effects you because of the Psyco-acoustic field, as the bathroom has a particular shape and when you sing it has a reverberation which is actually affecting you, so you are constantly affected by how you hear and what you hear, but very few have an understanding of it.”
Further elaborating on the sound art, “Looking at the world today we have the sound art, where the sound has gone to the museum’s today, so it’s like how a painter would paint, there is a sound art of how a sound is designed. Some of the biggest innovations in electronics have come up, which we experience today is because of the sound.”
So what kind of research goes behind designing a sound piece, “A lot of research goes behind when we are given a situation, we study it and put our thought behind it, in terms of our understanding of the situation, the culture around it and then we come out with something new. For example, if AR Rehman who’s from South India is making a film like ‘Dil Se’ in Rajasthan and he is using a Turkish traditional music or Rajasthani Damru in a composition like ‘Ae Ajnabi’ with only voice and a hand drum, so it’s all about how he is assimilating different traditions, so we need to first be aware of a different kinds of music.”
In which projects he thinks he had utilized his knowledge of sound design to the maximum and any favorites?… Pookutty said, “It is difficult to pick one favorite child from your 10 children because all are your favorites, the same is the case here. Still ‘Gandhi my father’ was a project which had a lesser-known aspect of Gandhi depicting a turbulent relationship between Gandhi as the father of the nation and his son. As an artist, you have tones of things available to you to do, but it does not mean how many things you are doing, it’s about how many things you are not doing, so it’s the restraint that you take as an artist. I did not want to emotionally blackmail the audience because Simplicity is Gandhi’s forte and so I wanted to be simple and minimalistic in my expression.”
Talking about the creative process which goes behind his work, “For me, technology is a tool to arrive at what I am thinking is right. I have a vision and I keep in search of the vision and keep searching at elements to arrive at it. In the film like ‘Gandhi my father,’ there was truth in everything that Gandhi had done, or he believed in, his staunch conviction, so I took that as a design element to create everything in that film.”
Talking about the Indian Music industry,Pookuthy says, “We don’t have a music industry, unlike Europe where musicians have a separate community we have only Hindi cinema, Indian film songs that we have the only breed, while classical music is very specialized, because we have an opinion that to be a part of the classical music community you have to learn it.”