RESUL POOKUTTY - “I would like the world to appreciate the quality of sound in Indian films”

After doing India proud by winning an Oscar for his sound design in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, Resul Pookutty recently became the first Asian to win an award for best sound for the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ at the 63rd annual Golden Reel Awards. However the renowned sound designer’s immense talent has never quite got its due in his home country, India. Pookutty is now set to make his directorial debut in films with his own production outfit, Le Penta. He talks about ‘India’s Daughter’, his association with the industry and his plans for the future.
By Manishaa R
  Let’s start with India’s Daughter. You had said that you would have been happy if the film had been released in India. Do you think the kind of effort that went into the film should have been recognized in India? Every artist who works in his sphere of things would want his people to appreciate his work first. In this case it did not happen and that was a bit disappointing. This was the perfect film in which the filmmaker got the people who committed the crime to speak. In the social structure from which they hail, crime is the normal thing which means that there is something inherently wrong with our system. A film like this should have ideally been screened on Doordarshan in every household, so that it could sensitise every mother to such things and groom her children accordingly. We lost that opportunity. Any parent who sees India s Daughter will cry. I think we did the biggest injustice to Nirbhaya by not showing the film. I strong felt at one point that Modi-ji should have lifted the ban and showed the documentary across India.
Why do you think it has been banned in India? Do you think we as a country are refusing to accept the reality of our system and social strata by banning the film?
I do not know the reason why it has been banned. I was very ashamed to hear the defence lawyer speak in his interview on national television soon after that Nirbhaya had no right to live simply because she had gone out with her boy-friend after 8 p.m. This was in total contrast to the way her parents spoke about her dreams and how they took to the tragedy. We need to see and discuss this contradiction as a society. I strongly feel crime against women can only be mitigated at home. That apart, we have adult comedies beaming into our living rooms and being openly shown in theatres. Isn’t that a big contradiction too? For me no culture is relevant if women are not respected in it.
Your talent has won you accolades over the world but the Government and the film fraternity has never quite accorded you the kind of recognition that you deserve. Do you feel let down?
I don’t take awards seriously so I have no problem not getting one. I remember an award function not so long ago where my film was featured in four out of five categories and my name did not figure anywhere in the list but I have no complaints. I don’t want them to be generous; I want them to be genuine. It is a well- known fact that most of the award functions in India are done with the intention of generating software for television. It is akin to making a television show to get huge TRPs. Actors are obviously paid. Most of the organisers either have a channel or a property that they want to promote which is why they institute an award.
How did you feel when reckoned directors and technicians, started returning their awards as a form of protest against intolerance? Were you approached to speak about it?
I would probably protest through my work as an artist. Also I don’t think the word intolerance is justified in the current political scenario. We are far more tolerant but tolerance has no voice. I have also gone through real times of intolerance when emergency was declared in India. I was a kid when emergency happened, my father was very active in politics, there was a time when my mother held me close to her chest and slept at night. There’s one thing that my mother feared during emergency and that was a midnight knock. Every mother feared for her child and husband’s life at that time. I have seen my mother’s tears and gone through those times. I don’t think that the times we are living in today are even remotely similar but having said that, we have become very volatile. We get into people’s lives and kitchen and tell them what they should be doing. We have shifted our value system to some other point. A time has come that we as parents, brothers and elders have to sensitise our children and tell them clearly that religion is in our house and in our prayer room, outside our houses everyone is contributing to our lives. Real education is not just in schools and colleges, it is outside. We become a human being in our house and we have completely forgotten this.
You have worked with some of the most creative makers in your large repertoire of work. Who are the filmmakers with whom you bond creatively? I have loved working with all my directors and every film has been a different experience for me. When I worked with Sanjay Gupta in Jazbaa, I knew what kind of film he was making and how to pitch it. He would come only occasionally to the mixing room because that was the kind of confidence he had in
me. But when I worked with a maker like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, I knew that he came from a certain tradition of Indian cinema like Gurudutt. When we worked on Black, I would play some tracks in the studio and he would go back and change his music. It was very interactive. When Black came to the theatres people woke up to the concept of good sound. Sanjay has his magic of turning everything into good production value and I immensely loved the experience of working with him in two films. On the other hand, I and Rajni-sir (Rajnikant) share completely different dynamics. Rajni-sir can fly and it still looks perfectly justified on screen. We did two films Enthiran and Kochaidiyan and now I am working with him on Robot-2. I also love working with Shankar, because he understands commercial cinema in its finest way and thinks far ahead of our times. Also I cannot forget the experience of working with Rajat Kapoor, who believes in a particular kind of cinema. His Aankhon Dekhi was a beautiful film and a true reflection of Indian culture and family values. There is also Feroz Abbas Khan with whom I worked on Gandhi My Father. I find him very inspiring.
You and music maestro A.R. Rahman reportedly share a great rapport with each other. What is the equation between you and Rahman?
Rahman is like a big brother to me. We started associating with each other after Slumdog Millionaire, after which we worked together in . I call him up and talk to him often and most of the times both of us are almost doing parallel work whether it is writing scripts, planning projects. If he is planning a music school, I am planning a sound school. For some reason, we keep ideating in a parallel way. He is one of the phenomenal artistes of our times and I feel I am blessed to have his company.
You are all set to make your directorial debut in films under your own production banner, Le Penta. What prompted you to take the initiative? I had always wanted to direct a movie. I studied in the Film institute and everyone who studies in film school, dreams of making a film. I also nurture that desire deep inside me though I am essentially a sound man. I and my friend, Amitabh Singh who made Good Road, were working together and we came across a story based on a true incident. I narrated the story to Mr Bachchan and he loved it. Mr Bachchan has been very closely associated with this film ever since. He has almost guided me in writing this whole film and we finalised the film to a stage where he said, we could go ahead. That is when, Mr Mahesh Ramanathan and Kumar Bhaskar, who was head of production in Reliance, also joined hands. All of us strongly believed in the subject. Mahesh felt that he saw a truly potential creative mind in me and suggested that we form a company. That’s how Le Penta Entertainment was formed. We are currently looking at the financial aspects and the budgets and as soon as that is done, we will officially announce it.
Will that mean that you will be doing more justice to your films?
I met Rahman once and he said he wanted to make his own films so that he could explore his kind of music in them. I told him, how come you are saying my dialogue? Both of us know and agree that it makes a difference when you are working for somebody else; it is not what you exactly enjoy doing. If I want to have the kind of sound I believe in, I would have to do my own films. Sound is a very powerful medium in films and I want people to take sound seriously. Also there are many technicians who have successfully taken to direction. Santosh Sivan was one of them. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, David Dhawan and Rajkumar Hirani, were all editors, before they ventured into direction. I think technicians make better directors because they have a better eye on other aspects of filmmaking,

Do you think the power of sound is largely undermined in Indian cinema?
When you come to Indian commercial cinema, there is no sound, it is all about music. There’s a huge difference. It took a Danny Boyle to understand my and Rahman’s potential and tap it effectively for his film. Look where he has taken us. Though Rahman has done phenomenal work here and is a celebrated music composer, nobody has used sound the way Danny did in his film. In Hollywood, sound has got an altogether different importance. I think three people who have understood it, have taken the concept of filmmaking to an altogether different level be it George Lucas, Spielberg or Hitchkock. They have shaped the fascination of people and have the insight to see sound as a narrative tool. If you look at Star Wars even today, you will realise that sound has played an important role in the entire narration. I would like to put India on the world map for its technique. I think we have the potential but we end up making films with the lowest common denominator.
Are you going to surrender to a star-driven industry to make your films?
I would like to make films where the subjects demand certain actors-stars or no stars. For instance, I cannot think of my first film without Mr Bachchan. It would be a futile exercise making the film without him. This is also how writers and directors work in Hollywood. If you find a script that’s brilliant, you send a note with the script to a star and say this is an Oscar worthy film with a role for him or her. They don’t charge 200 million dollars for that, they would probably charge 2 million dollars, because they value the script. Also the producer is not just someone who has money and is investing in a film. The stars there stand by the subjects they endorse. Here in Bollywood, we have a very complicated system. Everybody is putting a package to the film and everything is associated with a few people and their whims and fancies. Our filmmakers need to come out of these proposal and package deals, lest we will not be able to make quality films that the world can celebrate.

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