Sound Completes The Visuals - Debajit Changmai

Debajit Changmai

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving won National Award for Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Ishqiya’ in 2010, sound mixer Debajit Changmai has been flooded with back to back film projects since then. After giving final sound touches to the films like ‘Don 2’, ‘Kaminey’, ‘Aisha’, ‘Chalo Dilli’, ‘Heroine’ and Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, he is currently working on Reema Kagti’s ‘Talaash’ and has Preity Zinta’s ‘Ishq In Paris’, Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ and Rohan Sippy’s ‘Nautanki Saala’ lined up next. Pandolin peeks into Debajit Changmai’s heart on his profession and the films he has given his soul to.

How do you describe your role as a Sound Mixer?

Being a sound mixing engineer, I re-record the sound for a final mixing for a film. It’s same like bringing all the sound elements to a single platform, keeping all the individual elements in different levels to create certain moods for a particular scene. In a film, there are so many branches of sound, and then be it track playing or the designing of the sound. Foley recording, dialogue recording i.e dubbing, and background music and sound, all these include the final sound mixing that I do.

If you see a film or a particular sequence, in which a character is talking, dialogue would be the major sound component. In case, if there is any movement, so respective effects would be there. If the character is sitting inside a room in a village, so without showing the visuals of the village, we can create the atmosphere of the area just by recorded ambience sound.

Who do you work with?

I work with the sound designer and the director. Sound designer is responsible for the creative decision making. In layman terms, he is a guy who goes to the market, decides on ingredients for a meal and buys them to cook. Sound mixer is like a cook, who put all the ingredients together and decides on the quantity and level.

How did you start your career?

I did a professional 3 years diploma course in sound recording and engineering. After that in 2001, I started my career with ‘Kailash Kamal Studio’, under the guidance of Sikander Ghosh and Anup Dey. From 2006 onward, I started taking up projects on my own.

Did you face any struggle during initial days of your career? 

Mumbai city is full of film aspirants. Here, people are always struggling to get into films. Getting started with a good studio was a herculean task in the beginning. There was hardly any mixing room available in Mumbai as compared to other departments. I struggled for six months, and luckily I got the chance to work with ‘Kailash Kamal Studio’.

How challenging is your job as a sound mixer?Debajit Changmai

A sound mixing engineer can create different moods for a same sequence or a scene by playing with different levels of sound. It’s difficult. We are here to execute director’s vision in a perfect way. We have to understand our director on what he or she wants. Everyone has different perspective or different tastes. We are used to do projects after projects every month with different directors. For us, this is the most challenging part. Immediately I have to shift my perspective to his taste or his vision, and at times it becomes really difficult. You can’t lose your own judgement completely. Also, it’s not necessary that we must follow our director’s vision if they are wrong. Then at that situation, we try hard to convince the director on what we think is right. So, yes the job is challenging.

Success came soon to you as you won National Award for Best Audiography for the film ‘Ishqiya’. What brief did the director Abhishek Chaubey give you?

Let me explain you the procedure of how we work. When the director is ready with his movie, he calls me up for the final sound mixing for his film. After the prolong discussions on sound, the director gives us the complete freedom. We finish the mix and call the director again. If he has some issues there, then he would discuss the things out and we would execute his points if that is practically possible.

Abhishek Chaubey and I have been associated with Vishal Bhardwaj for a long time. We did Kaminey before we worked together in Ishiqya. Ishqiya was Abhishek Chaubey’s first movie. He said that he wanted very raw and rustic feel of the sound. I saw the film before I started working on sound. After discussion, we decided our sound track to be raw and rustic as per to the film’s theme. We also played with the silence. There is a scene in which Arshad and Vidya are getting intimate with each other. As the scene progresses, we gradually removed all the sound elements one after another, and then there came a point when it reached near silence.

But even complete silence doesn’t sound like silence. One has to remind the audience of the silence. To break it, we put the sound of some construction work happening outside like one metal beat and then a gap of 2-3 mins and then another beat of a metal.

Which film has been the most interesting project for you so far?  

I liked working on ‘Kaminey’ as there were so many layers to the sound. More recently, I did ‘Barfi!’ I found the film very challenging.

Debajit ChangmaiCan you give more details of the work you did in the films ‘Kaminey’ & ‘Barfi!’?

Having worked in ‘Barfi!’ was a dream come true for me because we hardly get to see such kind of films in India. If you observe the film closely, you would know that it doesn’t have regular sound tracks. The film has only 20 percent of the dialogues. As the characters are deaf and mute, our sound track has to be in sync with that. The sound track has to keep audience engaged, otherwise they would get bored.    

There is one dream sequence wherein Murphy is sleeping and his father is struggling to wake him up. But Murphy can’t hear, so he still sleeps quietly. In that sequence, we used many sound effects and we could have averted all those but we kept them really loud. In the scene, we made the scene look obvious that the Murphy can’t listen even though the music is loud. I am very fortunate to have got this movie.

In Kaminey, there were two characters Guddu and Charlie going on parallel tracks, both completely different from each other. Hence, we designed the soundtrack keeping these two characters in mind. When the scene is about Guddu who is a good guy, the sound level was kept normal, while in the case of Charlie, the sound was louder. Hence, we needed to make sure that it shouldn’t look like a jerk. It had to appear smoothly done. I believe, sound has to complete the visuals.

Have you also worked in other regional films? Does different language come across as a barrier?

As I am from Assam, I have done couple of Assamese movies ,one Bengali, one Tamil, and one Telugu film. The advantage of a film is that even if you don’t understand the language, you can make out what’s going on in the scene. If the film is dialogue driven, I speak to people who know the language and understand the dialogues.

As you hail from the North-eastern state of Assam, how do you see the growth of movie industry in Assam?

In the northeast, filmmakers from Assam and Manipur are more active than other states. Manipur is doing really good, and so does Assam. But the industry out there is not going through a good phase because of lack of professionalism. I can’t imagine going back to Assam completely and set up a studio or work there because people out there are not aware of the importance of having a sound mixer. They don’t understand the technicalities. But slowly, things are improving. Many directors from the region are emerging.