Utpal Borpujari

February 24, 2009

Birth of a cinematic romance with India?

Thanks to new-age iconic British director Danny Boyle and his globe-scorching film “Slumdog Millionaire”, India was firmly under the spotlight at the 81st

Academy Awards. In the history of the Academy Awards, only another film with an India backdrop had created such a flutter – Richard Attenborough all-time classic “Gandhi” in 1982. India’s only competitive Oscar till today had been that of Bhanu Athaiya’s, which she had won for the film that captured the life of the Father of the Nation in a grand but most-realistic way. Suddenly, there are three more names in that list – A R Rahman, Resul Pookutty and Gulzar. Rahman is already considered a master composer in domestic cinema and his brilliance has got a few earlier international windows too –the Mandarin Chinese film “Warriors of Heaven and Earth”, Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth – the Golden Age” and stage musicals “Bollywood Dreams” and “The Lord of the Rings”.


The Oscar win, capping the BAFTA and the Golden Globe, ensures that Rahman has now arrived truly and surely in the international arena. But it is the wins by Pookutty and Gulzar which are probably more significant, simply because hardly any non-Hollywood, non-British technician or song writer even gets nominated in these English-language dominated awards. While Gulzar has continued to rule the hearts in India through his poetics amidst growing trend to use nonsensical lyrics, Pookutty’s win underlines the ability of the new breed of Indian technicians to do international quality work.

While the film’s backdrop has elicited some criticism, the most prominent among them being that of allegedly pedalling ‘poverty porn’, it is its positive spirit that has won the world over. But it will be completely wrong to assume that the success of this film will lead to a spate of India-centric films by

Hollywood. There have been Hollywood or foreign films that have had India as their backdrop, such as David Lean’s “A Passage to India”, Steven Spielberg’s “Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom”, the James Bond film “Octopussy” or the recent “Darjeeling Express”, which ironically was shot in Rajasthan and not in the famous hill station. Merchant-Ivory Productions built up its entire reputation through India-centric English films, though they were far removed in sensibility from the Hollywood variety. But Hollywood’s affair with India has always been sporadic, depending on the interest level of specific directors in specific themes. However, if “Slumdog” leads to a sudden growth in Western filmmakers’ interest in India, it would be positive in one aspect – technicians like Pookutty, apart from, of course, Indian actors, will get more opportunities to display their wares in the global film bazaar – because, for the first time, a foreign director showed confidence in using so much of Indian talent.

(Editorial in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 24-02-2009)



I long to win the National Award: Pookutty

Resul Pookutty, along with A R Rahman and Gulzar, have brought glory to India, winning the most-glamorous film award in the world, joining the ranks of Bhanu Athaiya, who had won the Best Costume Design Oscar for Gandhi and Satyajit Ray, who was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

Kerala-born Pookutty, who has the Canaries Post Sound studio  in Mumbai with his partner Akhilesh Acharya, has travelled a long way since he made his debut in the world of films through Rajat Kapoor’s “Private Detective – Two Plus Two Plus One” in 1997. Since then, he has worked in good mix of both mainstream and art house films, rising to become one of the most highly-rated sound designers of India.

It is “Slumdog Millionaire”, for which he has won the Oscar for Sound Mixing jointly with Ian Tapp and Richard Pryke, that has catapulted him to international fame, though he has already achieved a great range of work in films like “Split Wide Open”, “Everybody Says I’m Fine!”, “Raghu Romeo”, “Mathrubhumi”, “Musafir”, “Amu”, “Black”, “Bluffmaster”, “Traffic Signal”, “Gandhi My Father”, “Sawaariya” and “Ghazini”.

Here are Pookutty’s thoughts, post Oscar win, exclusively for Deccan Herald readers:

On the win: This is an incredible moment. Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would get such a big honour, just as I had not imagined in my wildest dreams that Slumdog Millionaire would become such a wild success. I am really proud that I could bring this honour to my country.

Future aspirations: I long to win the National Award, as that is what my country gives to the best among those in the field of cinema.


On the other awards he has won: On a professional level, the Cinema Audio Society (CAS) Award is the ultimate win for me, as the society has an exclusive membership of 500 best sound technicians of the world. It is the award given by your peers, the best in the business. BAFTA was definitely big, but on a popular level, of course, nothing can beat the Oscar as it is the most well-known award worldwide. This will help taking a technician like me to make the common film viewer understand the importance of my work.


His most satisfying work: Gandhi My Father, because this film gave me the opportunity to work with a huge responsibility. The sensibility of an artist is displayed also in he should not do. This film was about a man whose philosophy had been simplicity and truthfulness. So, I had taken a conscious decision of not manipulating audience feelings in that film. I was very truthful and genuine.


The Slumdog experience: My first reaction when Danny Boyle gave me the script to read was like ‘my god, this is a full on Hindi film’, completely unlike what he’d done before. He studied our films and followed that path, and I have great respect for that man. One week into the shoot, I found this was not an easy film to shoot. I had to reinvent myself as it as technically a very difficult film. Being a technician, you reach a level of sophistication with time, and I realised if I approach it in the conventional way of recording sound, it won’t work. So, I decided to record the soundscape of the city of Mumbai for this film. I had to use a different mindset. Many a time I had to think in terms of how human perceptions work, and stimulate those things by multi-track recording in this film.


His plans: I am in the process of appointing an agent in Hollywood, but I am not interested in doing small films there. I am doing a combination work here, of mainstream and independent cinema. I am more interested in doing work here and taking it there. I am also interested in working in regional cinema, but nobody has called me from Kerala, my home state, till now. However, I am doing a Marathi film which has a fantastic script. It’s director is Jayprad Desai, and I am lucky to be working with such young people with lot of spark in them, and also a lot of truth and genuineness.


Most humbling experience: When I met the legendary Ben Burtt at the CAS award ceremony. He was nominated for “Wall-E” (he lost to Pookutty in the Oscars too). He is a legend in sound technology, and much of what we know in cinema sound is thanks to him. He himself came up to me, and said ‘I am honoured to meet you’. Such humility in such a great man. They have shown me such great respect. I am yet to do work of the level that people like him have done, but what humbles me is the appreciation they have shown towards my work.


(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 24-02-2009)



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