Curtain Call: Intriguing the audience to read the original book
I was in the process of making an audio-book of the acclaimed novel in Marathi “Raarang Dhaang” written by Prabhakar Pendharkar. Sameer Dhamangaonkar, the producer representing the company “Snovel”, and I were in agreement that this was a novel that warranted adapting it to the audio medium rather than a plain narration. I had begun writing an audio-play script, drawing on my short experience of writing screenplays, and had finally found a way to adapt it and tell a visual story through sound.
After the script had been approved, we started casting for it. Amey Wagh and I have been working together since our college days, where we first met. When I started directing, I used to see Amey in the lead role of whatever I did, by default. And he too has never given me any reason to feel that anyone else would have done a better job. I asked Amey to read the book and explained the project to him. He too was excited to try something new.
I read the book and the script several times over and tried to place the voices of the characters to the people I knew around me. I was mostly successful in assigning unique voices to many characters. Though when I look back, I realise that I could have widened my scope a little and offered some Hindi speaking roles to actors whose first language was Hindi. It would have been a huge value addition.
The project’s sound designer and music composer was another friend, Gandhaar Sangoram, with whom I had begun my journey of direction and he had been a constant in all productions. He had recently made a makeshift studio in his home and we decided to record everything there, so that we would not have to worry about studio hours and expenses and could give the project the time it deserved. We also took a decision to record scenes with up to four actors when all the actors concerned were present.
We could have planned to record the part of one actor at a go and then add layers of the recordings of other actors. Usually that’s how films are dubbed. But we decided to rehearse an entire scene first, with all actors. Then, when all of us were ready, we would record the scene. It improved the give and take and also helped in getting natural vocal reactions from actors wherever necessary. Usually when recorded individually, these small things have the potential to sound fake, and by using this technique we minimised that risk.
Gandhaar had composed a theme right after he had read the script, even before the recordings had started. That music piece also set a tone for many scenes and scene-to-scene transitions. I have always believed in getting music pieces in hand before starting a project. It helps me visualise the moments in the scenes.
While adapting the book, I had changed the voice from third person to first person and had thus added a narrator, who was in fact the protagonist, Vishwanath, telling the story thirty years later. We approached veteran actor Dilip Prabhavalkar to see if he would be ready to play the part. I thought that there was a similarity between Amey’s voice and his. Even he accepted it graciously and was extremely warm and welcoming with any ideas and changes.
After recording sessions that lasted for more than a month, we finally had the first cut of the audio book! Sameer and I listened to it individually. While we had a few minor creative differences, there was an elephant in the room that needed to be addressed. The audio book was well over three hours long. In the past “Snovel” had produced books which were hardly two hours long and they were looking to maintain that same length. Their main concern was that one audio CD could hold around an hour’s content and a content this large would increase the number of CDs. It would increase their cost of production and packaging too.
I understood their predicament, but was unsure what to delete from the book. I met with them again and told them that reducing the length would imply editing ruthlessly. It was something that I was willing to take a shot at, but I was sure that it wouldn’t stay true to the original book. The beauty of the book was in the details and the descriptions and we would be losing most of that content. I also felt that we should not worry about the length if the content is good and if we have control over the medium too. After going back and forth a few times even they agreed and decided to use a different encoding format that would enable them to fit the content in just one CD. In hindsight, I think that was a good decision as in nearly a year, CDs became obsolete, and in another year, “Snovel” launched their own app and shifted their entire library there.
It has been nearly seven years since the audio book released and I receive some feedback about it from listeners still. I cherish the moments when listeners tell me that they read the book after getting hooked listening to the audio book.
Nipun Dharmadhikari is a storyteller and looks forward to telling them on stage, in front of the camera or in person.