Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Sound Of Success


Seeing an advertisement of the Film and Television Institute of India was a turning point for sound designer Resul Pookutty

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Resul Pookutty was in Class five, he had jaundice. “It became so serious that I became like a mad person,” he says. “I started biting people.” He was rushed to the nearest hospital at his hometown of Vilakkupara, 58 kms from Kollam.

When his condition worsened, the hospital authorities told the distraught parents to take Resul away. As he lay on the bed, at home, his aunt put a few drops of milk in his mouth. Resul’s throat moved as he swallowed. “The boy is alive,” she exclaimed. He was rushed to the Medical College Hospital at Thiruvananthapuram. An emergency blood transfusion was done. Resul was unconscious for nine days.

When he awoke, one of the first sights he saw was of the fan above his head. “I could hear its whirring sound,” he says. “I knew immediately I was not at home, because this was a fan I had not seen before.”

The sound of the fan remained etched in his mind. Many years later, when he was working as a sound designer for Rajat Kapoor’s ‘Mixed Doubles’, there is a scene at the climax which shows a fan moving.

“I wanted to put the sound of a fan,” he says. His assistants made him hear various kinds of fan sounds, but he kept rejecting them. Then Resul went to a friend’s house. “He had a very old fan, and I said this is the sound that I want,” he says. “In every movie there are some sounds that trigger memories in me.”

When Resul was growing up, he wanted to be a detective, after reading many detective novels. Then, at the insistence of his mother, he decided to become a doctor, but he failed in his MBBS entrance exams.

Then he studied for B Sc at MSM College at Kayamkulam and had aspirations to become a physicist. But he was unable to get admission for the M. Sc course because the seats were few and his family did not have the money to pay a donation. So, he opted for law at Trivandrum Law College.

One day, in 1990, two classmates told Resul that a newspaper advertisement of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) had appeared. They were looking for applications for a course in sound engineering. The minimum qualification was a B.Sc in physics. “So I decided to apply,” says Resul.

He got through the written examination and the FTII conducted an orientation course for cinema for the short-listed candidates. “This was where I first became aware of cinema as an art medium,” he says. “I was instantly attracted.”

Resul did not win final selection, but when he returned to Thiruvananthapuram, he began reading everything he could about cinema. “Every day of the week I was watching films,” he says. Resul saw movies at the Chalachitra Film Society, Soorya Film Society, the Tagore theatre, Gorky Bhavan, and the Film Society run by the journalism students of Kerala University.

“Not getting admitted was a turning point in my life,” he says. “It gave me a chance to immerse myself in films.” The next year, a determined Resul wrote the exam again, and secured the first rank. This enabled him to get Central and Kerala state government scholarships totalling Rs 800 a month.

After an eventful three years, Resul graduated, in 1995 and came to Thiruvananthapuram to look for work. But nothing happened. Then he moved to Chennai. Again he drew a blank. “I decided I would leave films and try something else,” he says. But before that Resul decided to attend a film festival at Mumbai.

Once there, when he was about to watch a film, there was an announcement: “Resul Pookutty, please come out.” When he stepped outside, he saw a friend, Prakash, who studied with him at FTII, with another person.

“This is Aravind Dave, our senior,” said Prakash. “He is an associate director in a television serial which is going to be shot in Uran in Raigad district and they want you to do the sound.”

So that was how Resul got his first assignment. He stayed on Mumbai and began getting jobs regularly. His turning point came when he did the sound for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’ in 2005. “I did ‘Black’ because I wanted to reach out to a wider audience,” he says. The sound was recorded while the film was being shot.

“I remember a letter-reading sequence,” he says. “Amitabh Bachchan was reading it out loud. The only sound I created was of the actor speaking. It had a good impact”

Following ‘Black’, Resul did work on ‘Musafir’, ‘Zinda’, ‘Gandhi, My Father’ and ‘Saawariya’.

And then came his momentous meeting with Danny Boyle, the director of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in 2008. At the interview Danny was holding a piece of paper. It was Resul’s resume. He looked at it and said, “Which of these movies of yours I should watch?” Resul said, “You can see any film. You will find me in all of them one way or the other.”

Resul was selected and told to get the sounds of the city into the film. The rest, of course, is cinematic history. ‘Slumdog’ became a huge hit, won eight Academy Awards in 2009, including Best Sound Mixing for Resul.

“It was the greatest moment of my life,” he says.

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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