“Silence is the best way to use sound effectively” – Shajith Koyeri, sound designer, Talvar

There is a scene is in Talvar where Irrfan Khan questions the parents of the murdered girl why they could not hear the murder in progress and they blame it on the loud AC in their room. He then gets his team to make loud noises in the girl’s room while he switches the AC on in parent’s room.

Shajith Koyeri, sound designer of the movie had to manipulate these auditory details well so that audience could relate to these nuances, and he did it so well that he won the National Film Awards 2016 for the film’s sound designing. He tells Vinita Bhatia that the job was not easy because since the movie was about dramatization of real life events and he had to use silence to convey emotions effectively.

How did you plan the sound designing for Talvar? Did you have gameplan in mind?

We did not plan for the sound in Talvar as there was no extra sound script written specially for it. The crucial parts were mentioned, but nothing was given in detail. I took around five months to finish Talvar, trying to use the maximum sync sound in the film correctly and added only what is required from my library.

I had a detailed discussion with Meghna Gulzar (director) in this regard because it is a highly emotional movie where we present a neutral perspective of the incidents and also show the parent’s emotional trauma. We hardly used any kind of ambient sound at home other than the dialogue.

Throughout the film we used very little music; inserting it only wherever essential. Since the movie was a dramatization of real life events, the sound had to be very organic. We wanted to play with a lot of silence in the film, because it is heavy and emotional film.

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Since the movie was a dramatization of real life events, the sound had to be very organic. We wanted to play with a lot of silence in the film, because it is heavy and emotional film.” – Shajith Koyeri

You say you played with silence while designing sound for the movie; isn’t that contradictory?

When I say silence, I do not mean absolute silence; we did use some kind of sound to give the impression of silence to the audience.

In Talvar, the same scenes were replayed at several points and then perceived differently by various characters in the movie. Did this mean you had to modulate sounds differently to translate relative emotions?

Yes, there were some scenes like the maid coming home in the morning after the death, which was replayed around three times in the movie. We had to be very careful how this was translated in the movie like using very little sound, because it was early morning.

In the scene where the parents are mourning with many people, or during the cremation, we used silence rather than lot of noise. I could have used surrounding sound, but I purposely avoided it. I instead used peripheral sounds like a distant train passing by.

Then there was a very crucial scene, where the parents said that the AC in their room was too loud. So when the actual killing happened in the film, when the servant’s friends enter the girl’s room, we had to keep in mind that the AC was heard in the background. These small details had to be adhered because they play a key role in this movie.

I went through all these these elements related to sound, many times with Meghna. She took great interest in the way the sound was used in Talvar and she and I went through the entire sound designing – redoing and undoing it many times as we were working. It was especially pertinent because with a movie like Talvar, which had a well written script, so the director and I could not go wrong with elements like the AC’s sound, the girl’s screams being stifled, the servant’s friends talking in his room, etc.

It is easy to play with sound where loud emotions are displayed in a movie, but Talvar was more of a docu-drama. How difficult was it to design sound for such a movie where you had to evoke emotions through sound in drab and dry situations?

The film is supposed to be neutral as it is not taking the parents side or that of the law enforcers. We just wanted to put the series of incidents that took place and support the progression of these incidents through the sound and music, and sometimes through silence. I believe silence is the best way to use sound effectively.

In movies like Haider or Omkara too, you have used silence effectively. Is this your signature stamp?

I believe in using sound only if it is enhancing a particular scene in the movie, not otherwise. Music should be used at the right moment; if it is used earlier or later, it loses its impact.

Which projects are you working on currently?

I am working on ‘Te3n’, which will be released in July 2016. Then I am working on Rahul Bose’s ‘Kuch Parbat Hilayein’. I will also be working on Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Rangoon’ and Nitesh Tiwari’s ‘Dangal’.

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