Surround Sound

Foley artistes,who create realistic ambient sounds for films,are an unsung breed.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published:May 2, 2013 2:23 am

Foley artistes,who create realistic ambient sounds for films,are an unsung breed. A National Award-winning Bengali film pays tribute to them

Even as Indian cinema celebrates 100 years of entertaining audiences in a wide range of languages and styles,a crucial part of its history has stayed in the dark. Foley artistes,who recreate realistic ambient sounds for films,are today unknown,unsung and unrecognised. Now,a National Award-winning Bengali film,Shobdo (Sound),has paid tribute to these artistes. The film has bagged the Best Bengali Film and Best Sound Mixing at the 60th National Film Awards.

“They walk into the studios at the dead of the night to record sounds for films such as of footsteps or the river flowing,” says filmmaker Kaushik Ganguly. His prerequisite for making a film is finding a story that hasn’t been told. He decided to make Shobdo because he realised that it was an apt subject against the backdrop of the 100 years of Indian cinema celebrations. Ganguly’s previous films include the Arekti Premer Golpo in 2010,which deals with same-sex relationship more directly than in most other Indian films,and his next is on one the most celebrated child actors in world cinema — Apu of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali,now a 68-year old man lost in oblivion.

He considers Foley artistes to be irreplaceable despite modern advances technology,but they hardly get their due. Their credits only appear at the end of a film.

Shobdo’s story revolves around Tarok (Ritwik Chakraborty),a Foley artiste who gets increasingly obsessed with sound effects,so much so that he stops registering human voices. His obsession begins to affect his wife (Raima Sen) as well as his doctors (Churni Ganguly and Victor Banerjee).

The 45-year-old filmmaker,who dabbled in Foley art at an early stage of his career,got the idea of this film when he was playing the role of a blind writer in his film Laptop. “Playing a blind character made me more alert to sounds. During the post-production,when we put off the ambient sound,the scene just unbelievably died,” says Ganguly.

Shobdo’s subject dictated the way Ganguly made the film. He did away with the film’s background music to emphasise the ambient sound that defined the protagonist’s world. This wasn’t easy for Ganguly,who likes to build his scenes around music. But this device,he says,makes the film feel truer to life. “In real life,the deep and poignant moments are spent without the flute or the drums. The film has become more honest and sincere,” says Ganguly.

The sound mixers of Shobdo,Anirban Sengupta and Dipankar Chaki,have won the National Award for Best Sound Designer.

One of the evocative images of Shobdo shows the artiste at work — a bare-bodied Tarok,in his underwear — armed with two large dried leaves,creating auditory illusions inside a recording studio. It shows one of the many tricks of the artiste,who recreates sounds from the unlikeliest of objects. Dried leaves could sound like rain while a tin can of puffed rice can sound like a train. “They often wear only underwear during recording to rule out possibility of any other sound,” says Ganguly,who researched by reading books on hearing methods to keep it scientifically authentic.

The film has been screened at festivals such as IIFI.

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