Resul Pookutty almost made the biggest mistake of his life during the making of Slumdog Millionaire. The sound mixer,who picked up an Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing at Los Angeles’s Kodak Theatre on Monday,felt the Slumdog team wasn’t giving sound its due importance. After a heated exchange with Danny Boyle,Pookutty walked out of the film,only to be wooed back by the filmmaker.
Just before he left for foreign shores,to pick up the trophies from the BAFTA and Cinema Audio Society (CAS) award and now the Oscar,Pookutty said: “I would have been crying now had I not been persuaded to join the project back.”
“It was a difficult project and Danny was very demanding. It put a lot of strain on me emotionally and physically,” Pookutty recalled. Since the film was shot in Mumbai,a “very noisy city”,in motion,the sound designer had trouble recording the sound from the viewers’ perception. In keeping with the film’s flavour,Pookutty decided to record the soundscape of the city.
The sequences shot at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus were among the toughest. “Since I wanted to record the sound of city life,I positioned my assistants with mikes across the station,” he said.
In fact,after a career spanning 13 years in the industry,36-year-old Pookutty applied fresh tactics for this film. “I had to constantly reinvent ways of getting the best possible sound,” he revealed.
But then,just like Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire,perseverance has been the story of Pookutty’s life. He was the youngest of eight children born to an impoverished family in a non-descript Kerala village,Vilakkupara,80 km from Thiruvananathapuram. His father was a private ticket bus examiner,and he learnt to study in the light of the kerosene lamp as their village had no electricity.
Cinema was far from mind,and Pookutty tried his hands at many things before straying into the world of celluloid. He reared domestic animals,sold milk,later took tuitions to finance college.
For a brief while,he dreamt of becoming a doctor,but gave it up when he failed the medical entrance. After graduation in Physics,he joined the Law College,Thiruvananthapuram.
However,even then,say acquaintances,sounds seemed to hold a strong fascination. “During a recent reception at the village,Resul said the chirping of birds and gurgling of the rivulet had always evoked much curiosity in him,” said his brother Baiju.
It was only out of curiosity and peer pressure that he applied for the sound engineering course at the Pune Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). He failed the first time,returned to Thiruvananthapuram,and read up all the books he could find on sound engineering. In the next entrance examination and group discussion,Pookutty passed.
While there has been no looking back,in home state Kerala,it is only recently that people came to know Pookutty,who has been living in Mumbai with his wife Shadiya and two children for the past decade. “Even the people of Vilakkupara learned about the feat of its son only recently,” said Baiju.
However,in the run-up to the Oscars,all that changed. Monday evening saw the entire village glued to television to watch the Oscars. As Pookutty’s name was read out,the crowd was ecstatic. Many could not stop their tears and ran to kiss the screen. There were impromptu processions on the streets,many carried banners.
“After the results were out,Resul called me,” says Baiju. “But emotionally choked,he could not speak.” His regret remains that his parents,who are dead,couldn’t see their son go so far.
Like most,Pookutty said he didn’t have much inkling Slumdog Millionaire would go on to become such a phenomenon,though he was a fan of Boyle. “I even had a poster of Trainspotting in my room at FTII,” he said.
When he first met Boyle,Pookutty added,he was tongue-tied when the British director asked him to suggest some films he should watch to know about his sound designing style. He replied,”Watch any of my films,you will find my mark.” When he met Boyle for the second time,Pookutty said,he found that the director had done his homework.
Resul Pookutty dedicates Oscar to India
Sound engineer Resul Pookutty became the third Indian to bring Oscar glory for India by winning the award for sound mixing in Slumdog Millionaire here today.
“I dedicate this award to my country. This is not just a sound award but a piece of history that has been handed over to me,” a beaming and emotional Pookutty said while dedicating the trophy to a billion Indians.
“I come from a country and civilisation that gave the world the word that precedes silence and is followed by more silence. That word is ‘Om’. So I dedicate this award to my country,” said Kerala-born sound technician.
Pookutty shared the honours with colleagues Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke.
“This is unbelievable. I share the stage with two magicians,who captured the noise and cacophony of Mumbai to create the soul stirring artful sound of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’,” he said.
Pookutty has won a BAFTA and a more recent Cinema Audio Society (CAS) awards for best sound mixing. He is the first Indian to win the CAS award.