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Interview Chhatisgarhi Hindi

Sound is subconscious information, not tangible energy: Sadho sound designer Rohan Verma

The audio-visual production graduate from Symbiosis International University stuck to the aesthetic of creating a rooted sound and using silence for impact.

Blessy Chettiar

Director Danish Iqbal’s Sadho was screened during the 9th Jagran Film Festival 2018 in Mumbai. The film tracks the journey of grave-digger Sadho as he comes across a baby presumed to be dead but is actually alive in miraculous circumstances. Set in the Jashpur region of Chhattisgarh, the film draws attention to the evils of human trafficking in the state by outsiders.

The film relies heavily on the ambience of a poor village and a man’s struggle with himself to overcome greed. The director often uses only sound to convey a build-up of tension and conflict in the narrative. The protagonist speaks little, so dialogue is minimum, but the background music conveys volumes on behalf of Sadho (played by Sukumar Tudu).

On the sidelines of the festival, Sadho sound designer Rohan Verma spoke exclusively to Cinestaan.com about how the effective sound was created for the film. In his debut film as sound designer, the audio-visual production graduate from Symbiosis International University stuck to the aesthetic of creating a rooted sound and using silence for impact. Excerpts.

I wanted to make a film on humanity: Danish Iqbal on Sadho

What kind of sound was Danish Iqbal looking for in Sadho? What was your experience of creating it?

For Sadho, we were looking at a very rooted and silent aesthetic. Our options were to either underline every emotion, with atmosphere and drones, by filling it with proper sound or we just include the beauty of Jashpur [a district in Chhattisgarh] and its sounds, and minimally underscore with a flute or string instruments and use rooted percussions.

A percussion instrument is used to heighten the tension and chase sequences. Is that a tabla?

No, it’s not a tabla, but a tribal instrument from Jashpur called the bagal-bachu. The bol [sound] played have roots in north India, but the tonality of the instrument is made by the use of sticks. This instrument is made from the skin of an animal. Our aesthetic was that maybe the film could get a little boring if there was no continuous sound, but a space for silence for a viewer to get involved in the film also needed to be left.

Sound can be designed while shooting or afterwards. What was the process with this particular film?

For Sadho, we were at a disadvantage when we were on location, because we couldn’t take the diegetic sounds [actual sound with a source on-screen] like the foley, rustles etc.

And why was that?

We couldn’t record or it was lost. Something went wrong. So, when we came on the edit, we realised we had a blank canvas and we could fill it in whatever way we wanted. We didn’t have to use the sound that came with the dialogue. So, now we had the option of choosing just the dialogue and using just the sounds we needed to create the environment.

Then we wanted to create a sound scape that reflected Sadho’s inner turmoil and the reality of Jashpur. We were on a very low budget, so we created sound on stereo speakers first and then we couldn’t mix it. Then we created it on 5.1 [Surround Sound]. It was a trial and error process, but we did it ultimately. So, the sound process in this film happened after the film was shot.

What did you learn from it all?

It was a really great experience for me as a first time sound designer. I don’t know if I should share but we did really small things. While we were creating sounds, there were so many that we didn’t create defined layers. So there was a foley sound in the dialogue layer. And that was my fault. When we went for mixing, I realised that [it wouldn’t work]. So it was learning process that it should all be in defined layers.

What is your previous sound design experience?

I hadn’t designed sound for a feature [film] before. I had done short films and some basic work before, that’s it. But sir [Sadho director Danish Iqbal] somehow had the belief that I could do it. So, I went along. This is my first feature as a sound designer, and that’s when I realised the value of music and instrumentation.

It wasn’t that we had to put just sad music in the film. It was that we wanted a certain song or a certain string to come in at a particular point. That was a good learning experience for me. Different frequencies, different kind of textures of instruments really reflects the characters there are. Technically, you just need to know the software and that’s not a big deal. This was a creative learning for me.


Sadho director Danish Iqbal and sound designer Rohan Verma at Jagran Film Festival 2018.

Do you ever feel that so much goes into the sound design but it is missed by the viewer? Is there something you’d really like them to notice?

I think it’s beautiful when people don’t notice the sound design and the edit. When these two things aren’t noticed it’s the biggest compliment. With sound, it’s a very subconscious information, it’s not a tangible energy. If you don’t pay attention to it, it’s leading you into a particular zone. Visuals are tangible, you can see them change. But sound is an energy that flows into you from somewhere. As a sound designer, I feel it’s a subtle and surreal energy to play with. That I think is the most interesting part about sound designing.

Tell us something about your background.

I am a media graduate from Symbiosis and I specialise in audio-visual production. My forte is editing and VFX, which I do more than I sound design. Because I play instruments and I have the sensibility, I think sir [Danish Iqbal] understood that. We worked together in theatre, and I used to design his sound scapes in plays and theatre performances.

So, it was there that he thought we could collaborate on a film. I had told him that I may not be really good because it was my first film. With him the thing is that his spirit for making films is so much more than his technical expertise and finances, that it really encompasses you and makes you do it.

What plans now?

I am working on two short films right now as an actor and as a sound designer.

You’re trained as an editor, done sound designing for a feature film, and about to make your debut as an actor. Do you plan to write and direct your own film someday?

I love filmmaking. Right now, I don’t have anything to say, really. I feel blessed when I can be part of someone’s vision. I have the sensibility for filmmaking, but right now I don’t have anything of my own to say. So, I want to share what people want to say and get it out to the audience, just be part of their vision and just enjoy that process of connecting with people.

Related topics

Jagran Film Festival