The whole process of Sound Designing is about constantly evolving
With six releases this year – Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Masaan, Drishyam, ABCD 2, Nachom-ia Kumpasar and the recently released Shaandaar, it seems that everybody wants to work with the Sound Designer duo Allwin Rego and Sanjay Maurya. The list of their upcoming films includes Fitoor, Yeh Hai Mera Sunday and an action flick called Rocky Handsome. When we interact with Allwin, one half of the duo about Shaandaar and other things, not only do his partner and he come across as the most-sought after people but also super talented. More power to these talented sound designers. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
What brief did you get from Director Vikas Bahl for Shaandaar’s sound?
His only brief was that you have to go crazy with the sound. He knew where our craziness is going to lead to. Vikas has shot Shaandaar with sound design in his head. Basically, Sanjay and I don’t do location sound. We are more specialized sound designers. Our entire contribution comes from the designing point of view. Gyanesh who is part of of our team has done location sound.
Tell us about your team.
There are a lot of people – dialogue editor to sound effects editor, then we have three people in mixing and so on. The entire team has around 10 to 12 people.
Describe your individual roles in the making of the sound? How do you both work in sync?
Basically, Sanjay who is from a theatre background is quite cool with actors. I’m socially awkward and like my comfort in the studio. Sanjay handles the dubbing part and I handle all the sound edits and we collaborate together on the design aspect of the film. There are scenes where some sounds need to be created. We meet together at the sound studios and spend time together while making sound and throwing ideas at each other. A lot of experimentation happened with Shaandaar. We are constantly thinking about our film while working on any project.
When two people are working together, how do you handle the creative differences that might arrive?
There is no tiff but there are creative discussions that happen between us. Both of us are always thinking about the film. So you obviously think about the bigger picture and finally arrive at that. I think we are also in the same head space, which has made us survive for so long.
What has really worked in favor of both of you?
I can imagine a sound but sometimes I just leave it there. But suddenly Sanjay comes in and says that we need this sound. So it’s there in my head space and Sanjay just reminds me not to be lazy. Similarly when he is dubbing, I tell him the areas that can be worked on. It is a collaborative effort, a give and take process. When we are working on any project, both of us listen to the music a lot. Shaandaar is our fourth collaboration with Amit Trivedi and we both love his music. The music joins various threads and tells the feel of the movie, which further tells us the kind of sound we should make.
In your journey of more than one decade, have you seen any change in the sound designing process for Bollywood films?
There are a lot of changes. A lot of it has to do with technological advancement, which has happened in the last seven-nine years. The possibilities are blown up now. The new plugins that have come are amazing. What you could only imagine earlier can now be pulled off in just a few minutes.
Has it become easier?
That’s not the case. When things become easier, a lot more doors open up for the whole process. Earlier we were limited with our choices. There is so much more we can do now, which makes us greedy. Sanjay and I are never satisfied. It is such a good thing when we keep wanting to do more.
You’ve mentioned somewhere that right from ‘special effects to getting good dubbing done from actors and applying various sounds to the movie creatively’, it’s all done by sound designers. Sound designing seems to be a very extensive process.
No doubt it is an extensive process. But for a film like Shaandaar, Vikas had a lot of sound design in his script itself. He has shot certain sequences that are sound design based sequences. Somewhere we had a template also. Otherwise, it gets very exhausting – to identify what you are doing the sound for. For instance in a lot of films it is about the inner conflict of the person and we want to exaggerate that. No One Killed Jessica had a lot of that. One part of the sound design was clearly for Jessica Lal’s sister’s state of mind – what she’s going through and you amplify that. That sets the mood for the proceedings. On the other hand, Chillar Party was a fun film. All the sound design was done to show the mood in a funnier way. You don’t have harsh sound in something like that.
How did Sanjay and you land into sound designing?
Sanjay has a strong theatre background and had worked with Makrand Deshpande for seven years. He used to handle production and eventually got into lights. That’s when Sanjay met Anurag Kashyap and started assisted him in his film called Panch. He got interested in sound and doubled up as a sound guy for Panch. While working on Black Friday, Anurag asked him if I wanted to do sound designing for the movie. I was never interested in sound but just happened to get into it. I was actually working in the studio where Black Friday happened. And Sanjay was looking for a sound editor at that time. We liked working with each other so we decided to continue working together.
How easy or difficult was the initial journey?
It was extremely difficult and I wanted to drop out so many times. In fact at one point, I was going for call centre interviews as well because there was no money in sound plus there were long hours. Besides long hours, I was not able to see what I was doing. Sanjay and I spent a lot of time without work in early 2000. But eventually we have been really fortunate to get the kind of films that we have done.
You have done some really good films so far. What factors helped you in getting all the good projects?
I don’t really know. Very frankly we have never approached a film. We don’t call anyone to give us a project. People just approach us themselves on the strength of our previous films. Even initially we never asked anyone for work.
Which movie changed your life?
It was our first film Dombivali Fast that gave us the confidence that we are doing good work. It was a turning point. Several people approached us on the basis of Dombivali Fast. Then Kahaani got us a lot of fame and brought us into mainstream. Sujoy (Ghosh) had seen our work and straight away called us.
Getting a Filmfare award for Kahaani was a big thing.
There is so much that we had to go out of the way and create in Kahaani. We experimented a lot with the sound to showcase Vidya’s state of mind as she was on a journey to find her husband. So the sound had to show her pain and the moments when she got scared. For us, the whole idea behind sound is that the audience should see themselves in that situation. So the audience had to feel that they are with Vidya on that street or any particular area. That’s how we always work on our projects. There is a lot of detailing in Kahaani, which as a lay person you only enjoy but only a technical person will understand the amount of effort gone into it.
How challenging is your job as a Sound Designer?
It is very challenging. For example Kahaani is a thriller and the information had to be precise. You can’t always be loud and have to underplay certain sequences. At times when the film score comes to you, it is challenging to blend the sound with it. It is a marriage of music and sound. And that blend needs to happen in a right manner.
What is your approach for every film with respect to sound designing?
One of the most important things that we do is to try and find out the state of mind of the character, scene and the mood. The other thing is that we try to get as realistic as we can, since it is all about believability. The other thing is distraction. If something is not working, I need to figure out a really good sound probably to hide mistakes.
In terms of technique, how often do you have to constantly update yourself?
The core idea is always the same. Right now we have some young guys in our team who are quite updated with the new techniques. I’m not really tech-savvy but I keep looking up interviews. There is a Dolby initiative where they put up interviews of some really cool sound designers. It has a lot of data that is helpful for sound designers.
Do you ever think that sound is underrated in Bollywood as compared to films from the West?
New directors such as Vikas Bahl, Nishikanth Kamath, Dibakar Banerjee are very savvy and are hands-on directors. They really know their stuff and make the process exciting. So you get your due. When I was starting off, not much importance was given to sound but right now I think it is getting its due. And Resul Pookutty is a very big factor. Getting an Oscar brought sound into the limelight and suddenly there was awareness about the craft. Now when I tell someone that I’m a sound designer, they don’t ask – what the hell is that? For a long time, my folks were unable to understand what exactly I did.
Now that you have made a name for yourself, do directors give you a free hand with sound?
I think we are very fortunate that we have got an opportunity to work with people who let us do what we want to do. I guess that’s why they hire us also. All our directors give us a free hand.
At what stage of the film do you both get involved?
The journey usually starts from the script description. The director likes to share his ideas with us, which is the process I enjoy as well.
How do you’ll choose your films?
We don’t choose, we just do them. This year we have already had around four releases – Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, Masaan, Dhrishyam and ABCD 2. Otherwise, we did just one or two films a year. Now Shaandaar released and Fitoor follows in February. We have another cute film coming up called Yeh Hai Mera Sunday and another action film called Rocky Handsome. Yeh Hai Mera Sunday is an indie film and we do a lot of indie films. These are the films which make you and are a reflection of you.
One of our recent projects, a Konkani film called Nachom Ia Kumpasar, got two national awards. Based on the lives of two jazz musicians, it was a very special film for a lot of reasons. Since it was a crowdfunded film, we are also one of the producers. Getting the producer credit was a great thing. Konkani is my mother tongue so this film was like a way of giving back. It is a musical told through the most popular Konkani songs from the 60s and 70s.
Have you’ll said no to any project?
We actually had to say no to a project very recently as we didn’t have time. Now I would like to do just one film a year. When you are doing a lot of films together, you get busy and don’t really enjoy the process. Saying no is always difficult, though.
What does it takes to be a leading sound designer?
A very flexible attitude is on the top of the list. It is just about being able to adapt as the whole process has changed now. We are very open. I don’t tell my director to not cut. He is obviously cutting it for a reason. Initially, one used to get possessive about the work and why it is not being used. You can’t hold onto things. You have to let them go. The whole process is about constantly evolving. You can’t be rigid about things.
What kind of scope do you see in sound designing in today’s time?
I think there is a lot of scope now. Right now the whole medium has changed as there is so much more content generation with digital coming in. As a sound person I think it is a really good time. From short films to web series there is so much happening online. There is a lot more work from when we started. You can go crazy with online stuff because there are no guidelines.