By Resul Pookutty with Baiju Natarajan;
Translated by KK Muralidharan
Rs. 399 pp 408
If there’s one thing that Resul Pookutty does not tire of stating in his memoirs, it’s that, in Indian cinema, technicians are never given their due and are, many times, gypped of their money too.
In fact, had Pookutty not won an Oscar for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, who’d have asked a sound designer to write his memoirs, and how many would have read it?
How many filmgoers even know what an audiographer does? Or how many people are involved at the many levels of sound recording, designing, editing and mixing?
Pookutty writes quite bluntly that very few directors understand the mechanics of sound and that hardly any actors, except for Amitabh Bachchan, do either. Apparently, if a sound technician says he did four kinds of nights in Saawariya, only another audio expert would understand what he was talking about.
The book is not great on style but is written with honesty and a great sense of humour. Lines like: “The uncle’s face went through some colour correction,” make the reader smile.
The prologue in which Pookutty’s very colourful manager Baiju Kalluvilla and his large family make an appearance is hilarious – they are all given more ‘footage’ later. The part in which 30 members of Pookutty’s family (he has 10 siblings) landed up at Mammootty’s house for dinner and behaved totally star struck while the host wondered how he would feed so many unexpected guests is laugh-out-loud funny.
Pookutty vividly describes life in a small Kerala village, where he spent his childhood in a mud house with a father who was a staunch Communist, like so many Malayalees of that period, and a strong mother who raised her kids well.
A passion for cinema is a given in Kerala, and even as Pookutty studied law as a back-up, a fortuitous admission (after one rejection) to Pune’s famed Film and Television Institute changed his life.
The story of a village boy’s transformation at the FTII is typical of many film people whose only conduit to the industry was the Institute; typical also is his response to the personal freedom and eye-opening, mind-altering exposure to world cinema.
Many an FTII graduate could tell an identical story, it’s just that Pookutty’s Academy Award (he also won the BAFTA and very prestigious Cinema Audio Society awards, but the Oscar moment sticks) got him published. It also got the road next to his house renamed Oscar Junction.
Pookutty gives everyone credit – the directors who inspired him, the Mumbai bais (maids) who looked after him, his FTII buddies who helped him and all the unsung, underpaid sound technicians who do the tough work so that a film’s sound is perfect – and hardly anyone notices.
His account of the chaotic Slumdog Millionaire shoot is very enjoyable and the reader comes away thinking it’s a miracle the film turned out the way it did.
Vignettes of Pookutty’s personal life are charming too, and he makes his struggle sound like fun. There are touching moments too. Very casually and without rancour he lets slip that his highly qualified wife couldn’t get a job in Mumbai because she is a Muslim.
Actually, there’s a film in here – it is an inspiring underdog-to-hero story pretty much like the film that made Resul Pookutty a hero and a household name in Kerala and a celebrity in the film industry.
Deepa Gahlot is a journalist and Head Programming, Theatre & Film, National Centre for Performing Arts