He may be ‘India’s best known sound designer and audiographer’, as the book jacket to his autobiography says, but Resul Pookutty sounds like a lad from a small village in the backwaters of Kerala.
From interacting with Amitabh Bachchan using sync sound in Boom to working on the multi-award-winner Slumdog Millionaire , the 43-year-old has changed the way people talk, orchestras play, cars honk and the feet tread in the movies today.
In Chandigarh to launch the official trailer of Nanak Shah Fakir (releases on April 17), the first biopic on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak, on Friday, HT City spoke to the pioneer of the sync sound technology in the country, about his experience of working on this film, the growing relevance of sound in Indian cinema and more. The Oscar winner has designed the sound and AR Rahman mentored the score.
Q: While biopics are being made in big numbers, Nanak Shah Fakir stands out. You were seen promoting the film at international festivals where it garnered huge appreciation. What prompted you to take up the project, considering you have also co-produced this film with Harwinder Sikka?
A: I saw 40 minutes of the footage and was in tears. It appeared as a travelogue to me. A poetic journey of sorts! No one has ever attempted to create something like this in mainstream cinema. When I met Sikka (film director and producer), he said he was trying to reproduce all that he had seen in his dream. So I went along with that. I think I received the best compliment when he said, “I heard that sound (which I had created) in my dream.” The film is not only for Sikhs but for everyone else to know about Nanak’s life and teachings. I believe every film must have its own literature and when I spotted that in Nanak Shah Fakir, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
Q: Guru Nanak has been depicted in the form of computer graphics in the film. Wasn’t it tough to build a sound-track without interfering with the sanctity of the film?
A: It was God’s calling. As Uttam ji (music composer Uttam Singh) said ‘Samne shabad aaye, shabad apne aap bante chale gaye’, referring to Nanak’s texts in which the ragas were written. So it was as if we were all on a journey with Guru Nanak. We didn’t do much as Guru Nanak himself made the film and composed its music. We were simply his machinery. For me, it was like creating visual poetry and all I told myself was what sound can I give that makes even the audience feel they’re on that journey with us, with Guru Nanak. I considered it my duty to work on such a project which captures a sense of calm as well as violence. I didn’t see it as easy or tough, I just looked at it as my calling.
Q: You have worked on a wide range of films across Hollywood, Bollywood as well as in regional films in Malayalam and Tamil. How important is sound in creating a story? I mean sound designing has really come to evolve in Indian cinema.
A: Just like a cameraman gives a visual language to a film, a sound designer takes care of everything you hear in a film. He gives a direction to enhance the subject of an audio-visual medium. We take care of the smallest things, what are the sounds you hear in daily life and how to reproduce those. In a sense, sound is memory and memory is knowledge. We poke the audience’s memory ‘ki lage haan bhai yeh suna suna lagta hai’, in a way that it complements the story. For example, when I worked on Black I had to give even silence a sound. On the other hand I worked on Roar: Tiger of the Sunderbans for which I had to spend just two months in the forests to get the detailing right.
Q: You’re an FTII graduate yourself, so do you think formal training in such a medium is as important?
A: Very much. A film school gives you historical data but it is training that enables you to communicate your message to your target audience. Take Uttam Singh for example, who has beautifully composed the shabad for this film. He never went to school but trained 14 hours in a day and that’s why I believe he is what he is.
Q: Talking about your more recent work, you designed the sound for Leslee Udwin’s documentary India’s Daughter. What are your views on censorship?
A: We were collectively aggrieved by what had happened. We all wept in our private spaces and prayed that nothing like that ever happened even to our enemies. I do not know how and why that mindset has changed now. I still have the same mindset. The incident deeply affected me so this was an opportunity for me to do something, and I am glad I worked on the documentary with Leslee. As far as censorship, far more regressive content is available both on the internet and TV. We Indians have been patient in the past, so why we can’t be so at present.
Q: You said you enjoy working on regional cinema, and since you’re in Punjab, will we see Pookutty work on Punjabi films?
A: Why not? For me, sound itself is a language, so I don’t look at a script in terms of the language. Besides, regional cinema gives us the chance to experiment more. I was to work on Chaar Sahibzaade as well, but had to opt out of it due to time constraint.