TUCKED AWAY in a narrow bylane of Goregaon, is a small, dimly-lit recording studio in which 34-year-old Shankar Singh is busy working on his current project. Mounted on the wall is a large screen playing visuals of an accident scene, in which a truck driven by the grungy villain collides with another and goes rolling down the hillside. In perfect sync, Singh takes two sheets of corrugated metal and bangs them against each other rhythmically, creating loud sounds. He rustles dry leaves to replicate the scratching of the paint job by the surrounding foliage. Also, he layers the reel with several other types of noises to make the crash sound as realistic as possible.
Singh is in the movie business, but not in a conventional capacity. He is a foley artist, an integral part to the sound design of any movie. He creates all the non-automated sounds that you hear — a runaway bride’s tinkling anklets, the groaning of a leather sofa, as the grandmother sits down, the insistent buzz of a fly on the wall and even the villain’s formidable footsteps.
Just as the voices of the actors are added later to a movie reel through dubbing, so are sounds of foley. “Foley isn’t just about recreating sound, it’s about recreating that sound with feeling… If the actor is walking emotionally, we need to capture the emotion. The way an artist sounds on screen, we sound the same way behind the scenes,” says Singh. His work is chiefly centred around replicating the sounds he sees. Singh often uses props to realistically create these sounds and the studio room holds quite an assortment of them. There is a rusted old iron latch, which is used to recreate the creaking of a gate and a Chinese fan that he slowly flaps to mimic the sound of a bird flying. His favourite kind of foley is the one in historical dramas. “The sound of a sword drawn is recreated with such great flair. There is dramatic effect to every sound produced.
He grew up in a “filmy environment”, Singh says. His father worked as a driver for BR Films, a production house in Juhu. Exposed to the inner workings of a studio very early on, he started work at 15. “A lot of
foley artists start young because this work is difficult and you need a sharp mind to catch it… At an earlier age, you find it easier to grasp the art of syncing.”
Over the last 18 years, he has worked on numerous projects, currently making Rs 15,000 to Rs 1 lakh on a project depending on its budget.
However, it is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes, a movie that he has worked on does not hit the theatres and sometimes, only a tiny part of its budget is allotted to sound design. Foley also takes its toll on your time, as recording studios have actors dubbing throughout the day, which leaves only the nights for foley, says Singh, recalling a time when he would come to work around 10 pm and leave at 5 am.
“Dubbing is a comfortable job, you just have to sit and record. But foley is all about feeling. If there is a muddy scene, you have to put your hands in mud. You quite literally get your hands dirty and I enjoy that,” he says.
At the moment Singh is working on a Malyalam film, which should take a minimum of 100 hours to complete. He works reel by reel, first completing all the footsteps, then the rustling and taps and later on when he has a good idea of the story, incidental sounds.
The fact that foley artists are not that widely recognised doesn’t seem to perturb Singh. “I like the idea that a sound I have created becomes immortal,” he says.