Resul Pookutty. Changing Hindi Cinema. From ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ to Big Budget ‘Blue’.
Up until about a dozen years ago, the idea and implementation of production sound recording was virtually non-existent in India. As a film school graduate from India’s Film School Institute in 1985—and with inspiration from Spielberg to Lucas—Resul Pookutty aspired to change all that. Riding the wave of the massive success from his work on 2008’s international indie blockbuster, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (and subsequent sound design awards including an Oscar, BAFTA, MPSE, CAS, and others), the mixer/sound designer and colleague Akhilesh Acharya launched Canaries Post Sound outside of Mumbai in late ’08.
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The studio’s main sound design room is built around a Blue Sky 5. 1 Sky System One. “If you look at the history of mainstream Hindi filmmaking in the last, say, 10 years, it was in the mid-90s was when Hindi films were being compared with Hollywood and European cinema. We had to change how the films have been portrayed (it’s not all about song and dancing) and how the production planning has been done, and the process has benefited. We as new production technicians get to put our stamp on our work, and to also say that this is how it has been traditionally done, but it is not how it should be done.
Especially with the Oscar that I received with my work in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, there is a new energy, a new enthusiasm, and a new awareness about sound. So with that, I’d say we are going through a golden period of the changing face of Indian cinema. With the launch of Canaries Sound Post, Pookutty is determined to change the way production sound is traditionally handled in India. With the spotlight on Indian cinema globally, thanks in large part to ‘Slumdog’, the timing couldn’t be better. “To understand how sound functions in Indian cinema, you must understand that production sound recording was virtually non-existent until 13 years ago. In India, in its true essence of how sound has been handled, there are no sound editors or no supervising dialog editors like we have in Los Angeles or any other part of moviemaking industry.
Here, we end up doing everything as one person in postproduction—so I myself handle everything from recording production sound, dialog editing, sound design, supervising of the mixing procedures, and most of the time I do the Foley recording, sound music mixes and extras. Also, there are no specialized film post-production facilities specializing in India where can handle the sound and production process. What usually happens is that I work on my production recordings here and then fly off to London, Australia, or LA for executing better mixes. That’s been my modus operandi up until now. Early in my career, I realized that good soundtrack of a movie was the result of how you handle the raw material that was recorded. That’s why we thought about having specialized post studios where we can handle the sound and production process.
That’s how Canaries has come into existence.
Seeing, and hearing, a Blue Sky ‘Sky System’ in action at Skywalker Sound, he was convinced to install a Blue Sky 5. 1 Sky System One into the main sound design room at Canaries, with an Audient ASP 510 surround encoder in conjunction with a Digidesign HD Pro Tools system.
Two smaller 2-track cutting rooms are outfit with Blue Sky ProDesk systems. “A close associate in Italy talked to me about Blue Sky,” Resul recalled, “and that’s how the name came to me. I was working at Skywalker on a sound effects session and was immediately impressed with its response and power and the way sound is being reproduced. I have used Dynaudio, Genelec, and HHB monitors, and no one is good over the other; certain qualities that one has, the other doesn’t. In a film and sound design environment, working with all the music, sound effects, dialog, and background ambiences needed a certain quality in a reproduction system. The Blue Sky systems gave me a very wholesome listening environment and are very spot-on. The fact that it gives me true monitoring in a small room impresses me a lot.
I’m hearing everything that I’d be hearing in big room; I’m listening to all streams of sound, which are going to be mixed to the film format in its true sense. And I really love the bass management system. It’s a very cool concept and absolutely essential in a small room. I can hear the true color of my sound, which was misguided and misleading in other monitor systems. In other words, Blue Sky made something that was very intangible, tangible.
Moving forward, Pookutty is putting finishing touches on 3 major Indian movies including ‘Pazhassi Raja’, a biopic historical film and one of the most expensive Hindi movies ever produced, and ‘Blue’, an underwater treasure hunt movie which re-teams Pookutty with his ‘Slumdog’ composer, AR Rahman. Pookutty went on location to the Bahamas to gather underwater sounds (the first time in Hindi cinema) and is gearing up its major launch this fall.
All of this momentum is not lost on Pookutty. Not only did the success of ‘Slumdog’ open new production opportunities for him and other like-minded production folk, but also shed new spotlight on sound in film. “In the 80 years of Oscar history, no one from India has won a technical award in the film industry,” he states. “And apart from that, the Oscar has created a lot more awareness about sound.
One thing that touched me very deeply was at the Motion Picture Sound Editor Awards this February. Ben Bertt was receiving the Career Achievement Award and both George Lucas and Spielberg were there. I realized that this is something we are lacking in India: mentorship.
There was nobody to guide me when I was starting out. I don’t want my own generation or the one after me to go directionless, so I am building myself up to cater to a new breed of enthusiastic film technicians and film people. I’m hoping that the Canaries Post of tomorrow will be the Skywalker of India.
For more on Canaries Post, go to: www. canariespostsound. com.