Film fraternity demands 'sound check' of National Awards - Hindustan Times
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Film fraternity demands 'sound check' of National Awards after recent controversy

Nov 18, 2023 01:35 PM IST

Experts seek uniformity with major international awards to end constant controversies and court cases surrounding sound categories.

The cast and crew of Kannada feature film Dollu were buzzing with joy when they learned their movie had won two National Film Awards. Directed by Sagar Puranik, the film bagged the award for Best Feature Film in Kannada at the 68th National Film Awards presented last year. The second, Best Audiography award for location sound recordist, however, would cause a great deal of confusion among them. (Also read: Ranbir Kapoor asks photographers to be careful as they surround Waheeda Rehman: ‘He is doing what his father used to’)

 Resul Pookutty (centre), who won the Oscar award for sound mixing for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, says changes are required in National Awards sound categories
Resul Pookutty (centre), who won the Oscar award for sound mixing for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009, says changes are required in National Awards sound categories

Recent protests surrounding the National Film Awards

The confusion was because Dollu never used sound from the shooting location and was a dubbed movie, meaning sound was re-recorded and mixed during post-production in a studio. The award led to a barrage of protests, eventually resulting in the withdrawal of the award for location sound recordist category last year. If withdrawal of the award was expected to bring clarity the following year, it didn't.

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There was more drama when the 69th National Film Awards were announced in August this year. In the non-feature film category, the Best Audiography award for re-recordist of final mixed track -- Rajat Kamal and a cash prize of 50,000 -- went to Unni Krishnan for Ek Tha Gaon (Once Upon a Village). It soon emerged that the winner was only one of the two eligible for the award. To make matters worse, Unni Krishnan wasn't even the awardee's real name. It was Krishnanunni N R.

Film and Television Institute of India, Pune sound recording and design graduate Nithin Lukose filed a case in Kerala High Court against a sound category National Award this year
Film and Television Institute of India, Pune sound recording and design graduate Nithin Lukose filed a case in Kerala High Court against a sound category National Award this year

Constant controversies in sound categories plaguing the National Film Awards have now forced many prominent figures in film industry to demand an end to error and confusion by bringing uniformity with major international awards like Oscar and BAFTA. There are multiple options before the government which presents the awards to steer clear of jury blunders and error-strewn entries.

What Resul Pookutty said

"I prefer two awards in sound category for feature films to the current three," says Resul Pookutty, the only Indian to win an Oscar in sound category. "One for Sound Design and another for Sound Mixing," adds Pookkutty, who won the Oscar for sound mixing for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. "Basically there is no parity in the categories and awards today with other international awards. We are still leaning on the guidelines from the '70s. But the working methodology in today's digital era is different from the analogue era of the '70s," explains Pookutty.

The National Film Awards today presents three Best Audiography awards for feature films---Location Sound Recordist, Sound Designer and Re-recordist of the final mixed track, besides Re-recordist of the final mixed track and Production Sound Recordist (Location/Sync Sound) for non-feature films.

Separate categories?

Another option is to combine separate categories into one and award all lead players in the sound department like other major film-producing countries do. The Oscars, British BAFTA, French Cesar and Spanish Goya awards have only one prize for sound---Best Sound. The Oscars had two categories -- Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Best Achievement in Sound Mixing -- when Pookutty won the award for sound mixing. It became one category three years ago when Sound of Metal won the prize.

We don't award only the last runner, we award the runners before too - Nitin Lukose, FTII graduate

"Sound editing and mixing is like a relay," says Nithin Lukose, a 2014 graduate of sound recording and design from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. "We don't award only the last runner, we award the runners before too," adds Lukose, who filed a case in the Kerala High Court last month to seek his inclusion in the re-recordist of the final mixed track award for non-feature films.

The High Court then directed the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to decide on the matter after hearing all sides and present the award, if Lukose were to be found eligible after the awards ceremony, on another day with full honours and benefits. The film's producers and the awardee himself presented letters to seek inclusion of Lukose in the award. In the end, the government gave away the award only to Krishnanunni N R.

At the Oscars, if you are not an expert on a certain subject, you are not expected to vote - Resul Pookutty

Film industry representatives say longwinding nomenclature and classification of award categories lead to confusion among producers and directors when they fill out three categories for feature films and two categories for non-feature while applying for the National Film Awards.

The process of decision-making too must change, experts say. "The number of technical experts on the National Film Awards jury for sound category should increase to a minimum of two," says Pookutty. "At the Oscars, if you are not an expert on a certain subject, you are not expected to vote," says Mumbai-based sound designer Amrit Pritam, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Dollu and Ek Tha Gaon awards are not the only occasions when sound category honours have come under criticism and court cases. The Location Sound Recordist award for Village Rockstars, the Best Picture winner, in 2018 was slammed for not considering its entire sound, except dialogue, was recreated in a studio. In 2021, Tamil film Oththa Seruppu Size 7 won an audiography prize only to discover one of its sound engineers' names was missing from the awards entry.

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