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KIFF 2017: Nuances of sound, music and silence at the first Coffee Chat

Veteran sound designers T Krishnanunni and Harikumar Madhavan Nair speak of their work, experiences and changes in technology to gathered filmmakers and artistes at the Weavers' Village on Day 2 of the indie festival.

The first Coffee Chat session at the first KIFF. Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Kickstarting an innovative intellectual discussion among film practitioners, the Kazhcha Indie Film Festival 2017 (KIFF) initiated a 'Coffee Chat' at the Weavers' Village, a beautiful boutique that was started to promote the community of local weavers and preserve handloom traditions. The aim of the chat is to foster a dialogue among veteran filmmakers, industry experts and young filmmakers, allowing for an exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge.

Senior sound designers T Krishnanunni and Harikumar Madhavan Nair were invited for the first session. Krishnanunni has been widely felicitated for his work and has worked with almost all the eminent filmmakers of Kerala, including Adoor Gopalakrishnan, G Aravindan and Shaji N Karun. He has also directed a few documentaries. Nair is an ace sound designer from Kerala who has won several State and National awards. His works include Samsara (2001) and S Durga (2017).

The eminent sound designers spoke of their work, experiences and changes in technology with filmmakers Jaicheng Jai Dohutia, Bobby Sarma Baruah, Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, Jiju Antony, Pushpendra Singh, actor Kannan Nayar and Sonu.

Talking of the inception of the chat sessions and the choice of location, S Durga director Sanal Kumar said places remain while people flow in and out of them like water. He also spoke of the centrality of a place in enabling a deeper understanding of a filmmaker's mind. The venue for the chat sessions is thus the 150-year-old home of pioneering Malayalam playwright and novelist CV Raman Pillai. A part of the writer's home has been converted into the Weavers' Village boutique.

Krishnanunni spoke of some of the technological changes that he had experienced in sound technology, mentioning the use of the clang machine, recorders, etc and the advent of digital technology. Reminiscing about the making of Aravindan’s films, he spoke of using sync sound and how even though he was not very happy with the way sound turned out for one film, the filmmaker decided to retain it and the soundscape of the film remains embedded in the memory of those who have watched it.

Nair recounted the ways in which sound was earlier used by filmmakers to cover up some flaws and the severity of damage would determine the type of sound used. He emphasized that his personal choice was to use minimal music as all films do not need music to be embedded in them as ambient sound creates its own music.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Pushpendra Singh echoed this sentiment by drawing attention to auteur Satyajit Ray’s interview where the filmmaker says he used music in his films to sell them and, ideally, would not opt for it.

Commenting on the use of music in contemporary films, Krishnanunni said, “Music is the most badly used aspect of cinema as films are now given to music directors after the final cut is done. So the music has no connection with the film.”

He offered the example of Malayalam music director Johnson, who would advise people to not use music in their films if it was not needed. As a music director, that did not bode well for his own career, which came to a premature end.

Nair also spoke of the challenge of creating silence. “In real life, you cannot create silence because sound is a tactile sense," he explained. "It’s always there. So one needs to give some small sound to create a sense of silence.”

The sound designers also discussed the use of technology as the assembled filmmakers shared their experiences of working on their respective films and choosing to make certain decisions about the use of sound. Nair drew a comparison between the visual and the aural medium and pointed out, “Sound can’t cheat, but visuals can cheat to a great extent.” He emphasized the need to use technology sparingly for sound design, that too, if absolutely necessary.

The practitioners lamented the advent of technology that allowed a great many things to be modified in the post-production processing. “It is the wrong use of technology to think that everything can be corrected,” Nair said.

Padmakumar agreed, saying, “Filmmaking has become less about aesthetics and more about capturing information.” Singh added, “The digital is taking away the process of filmmaking. If everything becomes a template, where is the art?”

“When people talk of a film and [its] camera movement or the editing or the music etc, it means those things have not been done well,” said Nair, adding that these technical components should be seamlessly integrated into the film unless, of course, the filmmaker wishes to use jerky cuts or movements or accentuated sound for impact.

Padmakumar agreed with Nair's statement, saying, “No technical department should draw attention to itself.”

The engaging and informative chat session ended with the filmmakers praising the creation of this intimate space for dialogue. The next Coffee Chat will feature filmmaker Lijo Jose Pellissery in conversation with filmmakers tomorrow.

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Kazhcha Indie Film Festival