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Visual storytelling through sounds

Sameer Dhamangaonkar approached me through a friend around eight years back
By Nipun Dharmadhikari
PUBLISHED ON JUL 03, 2021 06:35 PM IST

Sameer Dhamangaonkar approached me through a friend around eight years back. He was an IT professional with a stable job, and family. He, along with a few of his friends, had started a venture named “Snovel” wherein they would create audio CDs of popular books in Marathi. I had heard about them and also the concept of audio books. It had just started gathering steam in India and “Snovel” was one of the, if not the, first to venture in Marathi.

I met with Sameer and he explained that he felt that the practice of reading books has started waning. Apart from the obvious benefits of increasing a person’s ability to visualise, improve the vocabulary, capacity of concentration and widening the reader’s horizons of knowledge, books are a form of entertainment too. The options of entertainment, like radio or television, started cropping up in the last few decades of the previous century and shot up with the advent of computer and internet, finally culminating in mobile devices on the palms of our hands.

The habit of reading thus took a beating and affected book sales too. The changes in lifestyle through the decades and the quest for instant gratification has to be mentioned too. Books in regional languages, like Marathi, were especially affected as their reader base is smaller to begin with.

So, in an effort to conserve books, Sameer and “Snovel” had purchased the rights to a few books in Marathi and had roped in some big names to read them. They received a positive response from many quarters and they were now planning their first big project – “Raarang Dhaang”. Written by Prabhakar Pendharkar, “Raarang Dhaang” is an immensely popular novel in Marathi.

Set in the 70s, it is the story of a principled, young civil engineer named Vishwanath who is doing extremely well in his high-paying corporate job. He leaves that job and joins the Indian Army as a short service commissioned officer for the Border Road Organisation, to build roads in the Himalayan ranges. The book starts with him travelling through the terrain and getting introduced to huge mountains, locally called as “Dhaangs” and finally seeing “Raarang Dhaang”, the highest and most dangerous of the lot, through which he is supposed to build a tunnel.

The book explores the difference in working styles of Vishwanath and his seniors, the beautiful but deadly terrain, his interaction with the locals, letter correspondence with his father and the girl he is in love with and his struggle to stay true with his work ethic while following military orders. The book is a page turner and transports the reader to the Himalayas!

After I read it, I realised that this was a mammoth task. There were so many characters, locations, descriptions! All this had to be conveyed without boring the listeners. The entire experience can be brought about only by a meticulous sound design, which will make the listeners feel as if they are on the site of a road construction job in the Himalayas during the day and in pin drop silence of the mountains at night. They should not only be on the emotional journey of the characters, but also be able to feel that atmosphere. And all this had to be achieved through sounds only!

I had listened to the previous works of “Snovel” and they were mostly short-stories which had been narrated, with different voices for the dialogues of the characters with some sound design and music. While it worked for that format, making an audio book of a novel was going to be a different ball-game.

I met with Sameer and pitched my idea – adapting the book into the audio format. I was of the opinion that just like books which were adapted into films, this book will need to be adapted into an audio book. There will have to be modifications, like there are while changing the format and proper scenes will have to be written. Merely reading it out by a celebrity will not do justice to it.

Fortunately, even he was onboard, though it was a departure from their earlier works. But we all were excited nonetheless! Then came one of the hardest parts of the entire process – writing the script!

I had a go at it right away and made tremendous progress. The entire book was converted into nearly sixty-two large scenes. I trained myself to write detailed sounds to create the world. It is fun to even remember that process!

But, when I read it out aloud for the first time, we all agreed that it was missing something. It had all the elements of the book, but nobody could pinpoint what was missing, including me.

I went back to the basics – reading the book again. This time, I found the key. It was in the preface! The writer mentions that he had first written the book as a first- person narrative and upon reading its manuscript, had received feedback from an eminent scholar that it might work better if the story was told in the third person. He made that change and found out that it worked beautifully.

I thought maybe this was the change I was looking for! Since we were changing the medium of telling the story, maybe we needed to tell it in the first-person format. So, I added a narrator – the aged Vishwanath who was telling the story after thirty odd years. And suddenly, everything fell in place.

With the script now working, I began casting for it and working on its music and sound design to bring the audio experience to life!

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