Ace Sound Designer Subhash Sahu was at Annapurna College recently to give our students a week-long masterclass on the aesthetics and nuances of sync sound. We caught up with him.
Tell us about how you got interested in cinema and sound?
Sound was not exactly an interest. It was acting. I grew up in the rural regions of India, where theater was a very important, and perhaps the only medium of entertainment. We used to have regular theater shows in our village. I started taking part in these shows. The roles were small, but I got to act and I was happy with that.
Once we moved to Bhubeshwar, in Odisha, I got exposed to films. Though my father was dead against me watching movies, I used to sneak out to go to movie theaters. I got inspired by the great actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and dreamt of making it big in the industry.
During my engineering days in Chennai, I worked on Tamil films as a junior artist too. Once I was done with my formal studies, I was clear on joining the film industry. I decided to join FTII in Pune.
I was aware that Mithun Chakraborty was from the institute. I wanted to learn acting. But at that time, FTII didn’t have any such courses, so I decided to take up sound engineering. Coming from an engineering background, sound engineering was a more viable choice. At the end of the day it was a film school and I could learn all aspects of filmmaking including acting.
I did act in a lot of student films but I soon discovered I lacked talent in acting and the field involved extreme struggle. Sound seemed like an easier career choice. Thus was born the sound engineer in me.
Did You Know?
The first Indian talkie, Alam Ara (1931), made the first use of sync sound in India and subsequent Indian films were regularly shot in sync sound with the silent Mitchell camera, until the 1960s. With the arrival of the Arri 2C, a noisy but more practical camera particularly for outdoor shoots, ‘dubbing’ became the norm and was never reversed.
What is the present status of sync sound in our country?
The status of sync sound isn’t that great in India. Apart from Bollywood, none of the other film industries use it. Bollywood, thanks to the influx of a new generation filmmakers, the entry of corporate production houses and high Hollywood impact, has seen considerable development in the department of sync sound.
The new generation of directors want to make realistic cinema, unlike the traditional dialogue-and-song formula. Now 60 to 70 per cent of our Bollywood films incorporate sync sound.
Sahu believes Bollywood would rather make a large number of mediocre films, rather than a few good ones.
What is the difference in the working styles of Hollywood and Bollywood?
The main difference is in planning. We in India are far less planned in comparison to our Hollywood counterparts. And if we manage to have a plan, the execution is missing.
For example, in Hollywood if the time allocated for a film shoot is two-and-half months, pre-production goes on for at least one-and-a-half year. Whereas in India, more importance in given to the production stage, rather than pre-production.
For us, quantity matters more than quality. We believe in making a large number of mediocre films, rather than a few good ones. In the process, we pay less attention to detail. Moreover our films are targeted towards a mass audience, for them the lack of music results in the film being a bore. In this process of selling films, the intricate detail of sync sound is lost.
How do modern directors react to a sound ‘retake’?
Defiantly there is a hitch. There is a positive reaction, but it is forced. Unlike a retake for camera, which is given more importance, sound suffers. So whatever I require, I try to get maximum initially, to avoid retakes.
Can you share some of your experiences in shooting Omkara and Kaminey?
Omkara was my first big film, though I had done 15 before that. So many things work out so perfectly when you have a right director. I was very lucky to work with Vishal Bhardwaj. Today what I am is all because of Omakara and Bhardwaj. It was a lovely experience working on both Omkara and Kaminey.
Actually Kaminey was a big challenge for me. The entire movie was shot in the rain. I knew that if I could match rain with sync sound, it would be the ultimate sound design. I hate to justify Kaminey as a product of sync sound. We had to get special sound equipment that operates in the rain. My boom operators also put in a lot of work, working day and night in the rain. Truly it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What was it like teaching at Annapurna College?
The atmosphere at Annapurna College is great. Students here are eager to learn, and they are open to new ideas. When you are teaching such you automatically to get yourself motivated. I am here to teach sound, but I was overwhelmed to see that it’s just not sound students who are attending my class; there are direction and cinematography students too. Every student takes equal interest in all the aspects of filmmaking. The faculty at Annapurna College is also very dedicated. At Annapurna College you get to learn to be a complete filmmaker. I know Annapurna College is going to give big names to the film industry.