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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Surround Sound

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

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: May 3, 2013 1:23:23 am

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 unknown,unsung and unrecognised. Their credits only appear at the end of a film. Now,a National Award-winning Bengali film,Shobdo (Sound),pays them tribute. 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. He considers Foley artistes to be irreplaceable despite advances in technology.

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 post-production,when we put off the ambient sound,the scene just unbelievably died,” says Ganguly.

In 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 the possibility of any other sound,” says Ganguly,who researched by reading books on hearing methods to keep it scientifically authentic. The film was also screened at the International Film Festival of India.

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