[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aster sound designer, Shajith Koyeri, gets candid with Pandolin about creating the sound of silence in Barfi!. Here’s a sneak-peep into the plans that structured this unique film auditorily and gave it wings of wordless imagination. Eavesdroppers, rejoice!
Did Barfi! use sync sound?

No. As there were hardly any dialogues in Barfi!, I didn’t use sync sound in it. All of its dialogues were dubbed. The film was shot using guerrilla methods. People didn’t know that a shoot was on. Use of sync sound would have required use of equipment that would have revealed the shoot and led us away from our objectives.

The production team shot without recording dialogues, but kept a pilot-recording to help with dubbing. The pilot is a low-quality recording that is used as a reference-track for dubbing. To capture the real-location-feel, I used sounds recorded on location. For 4 days, my recordist just recorded sounds in Darjeeling and Kolkata.

What kind of discussions took place between Barfi!’s director, Anurag Basu, and you for designing the film’s soundscape?

Anurag’s brief was to make the entire soundscape of the film naturalistic. As it was a film that grounded a protagonist who couldn’t hear and speak, and another who was autistic, I was asked to make the sound design such that it made these characters and the drama around them literally come alive. I had to avoid the easy option of filling the film with music and sound to compensate for sparseness in dialogue. Rather, the film’s sound had to mix sparseness with exactitude. To achieve our objectives, we dubbed only specific reactions of Ranbir and Priyanka. We also recoded and used certain tiny sounds which lent to the texture of sound we wanted. We kept the repetitive bits of Ranbir and Priyanka exclaiming “Barfi!” We also let the film be as silent as possible. Each time you encounter music in Barfi!, you’re led to a succeeding horizon of silence as if it were the speech of the film, its tongue of silence. Whenever Ranbir is alone, especially in crucial situations like when his father dies, you have silence. Even Ranbir’s POV shots are enveloped in silence. We also wanted to give a soft and subtle texture to the film’s sound. We played with loud sound in only two or three spots, e.g. when the trains are coming in or when Ranbir crashes against the lamp-post. These small changes in the flavour of sound were brought in to maintain the realism of those events and for intensifying their drama of loss.

What did you feel while producing such feeling evoking sound for Barfi!?

I lived with the characters and their moments of passion, heartbreak and drama. I was a part of them. Each time I watched the film, I found a part of the sound I needed to make to make them come alive.

Could you talk about the dynamics of your relationship with Barfi!’s music director, Pritam, and Anurag Basu? What were the ideas exchanged between the three of you during the film’s making?

After I got my reels, I started designing sound for Barfi!. To avoid a clash, I ensured that sound happened after music had been laid. I enjoyed working with Anurag a lot. He is a relaxed man who respects his co-workers and never hustles them. I finished my last reel just three days before the deadline. This was the first time Pritam and I were working together. He worked so hard that he missed sleep regularly. We too didn’t sleep for the last 48 hours of mixing. Being FTII educated, Pritam understands the importance of sound. He never asked for sound to be taken out of focus. We were very comfortable with each other. He was quite passionate about his work and kept on altering and perfecting his music right till the end.

Pritam suggested that we don’t use multiple instruments for our tracks. Accordingly, the accordion and the piano were what we used largely.
We felt that Barfi!’s music was inspired by Amile’s. Is that inspiration actually working in the film?
First, I am not the one who should answer this question. Second, as far as the inspiration is concerned, if it is there, it is present as a tribute. I think that Barfi!is a masterpiece, one of the best films made in recent times, with music, sound, performances, and a storyline that will be difficult to parallel. It’s a good omen for the Hindi film industry.
What kind of equipment did your team use for recording sound on location for Barfi!?

While we used 2-track recording machines for recording ambience, we use 5.1 mic with 8-track recoding machines for recording dialogues and action. We made a list of sounds we required before we went to gather them. As the film was set in Darjeeling, the steam train became significant. The sound of its horn is unique. Anurag had told me about it. He had also asked me to use sounds from Bengali markets, sounds of Buddhist gongs, sounds of moving trams, sounds of boats under the Howrah Bridge, sounds of traffic snarls, and blaring taxi horns. My recordists got all these. To heighten the impact of the sounds of the train, we added extra sound from the library to its honking and chugging. As we wanted to record from all possible angles, we used a digital recorder with 4 mics and covered all possible sounds that the train makes: sound of its wheels rolling, sound of its wheels grinding to a halt, sound of steam gushing out as it halts, the distant sound of it approaching, sound of it entering and leaving the station, sound of its horn when it moved fast, sound of its horn as it approached the station, and sound of it travelling speedily and at different speeds.

Did you do all this the guerrilla way or did you take permission from the authorities?

Most of the time, you don’t get permission and you have to do it the guerrilla way. For Barfi!, local production guys from Darjeeling and Kolkata helped us and made things easier.

What were the challenges you faced when dubbing with actors and the director of Barfi!?

For Barfi!, we had really talented people like Priyanka, Ranbir, Illeana and Saurabh Shukla dubbing for us. Most of the time, they followed the pilot. While Anurag judged their performance overall, we oversaw specifics of modulation, projection and performance.

What challenges did you encounter in post-processing for Barfi!?

As we didn’t want the dialogues to sound dubbed, we did lots of intense processing and eliminated all unnecessary frequencies from them. We made sure that they were heavy, had a good bass, were soft, had perspective, and sounded pleasant. For design, we used both sounds from the library and recorded sounds. Step by step, we chose the apt sound for the apt thing, edited them, laid them, listened to them, set their levels, put reverbs, made sure that they fit the scene organically, multilayered it, and ascertained the spread of the content as appropriate.

What was the total time that you took for designing sound for Barfi!?

I finished my main design work in one and a half months, and had one month for collecting sound on location, research, pre-work, and track-choosing. For a film of this magnitude, I would have preferred two and a half months of sheer design time.