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Interview Team : Jyothsna; Jeevakaran; Abishek Raaja; Venkat

Here is a detailed interview with Audiographer Uday Kumar who talks about the mixing process for Ajith’s Vedalam, Visaaranai being a dream project  and also the unknown nuances of sound engineering.  

Do you get to hear the world in a better quality? What is the most fascinating sound you’ve ever heard?

Sound of Nature is my favorite. I love travelling to the hill stations. We tend to avoid noise on the whole when we take a break from work. Since birth I was brought up here, the sound of the hills has no substitute. The sound of the air chipped by the trees is the most fascinating sound I’ve ever heard.

Tell us about your start. From where did you get an idea to become an audiographer?


Hailing from a middle class family, I unlike my friends took up arts stream during college. Then through an advertisement in the newspaper, I came to know about film studies and that’s how I joined the course and completed in the year 1998 and then joined ‘Four frames’ as an apprentice. When it was a big deal to become the legend Deepan Chatterjee’s assistant, I had the golden opportunity to be his third hand and learn innumerable, countless stuff about sound designing. He was the one who mixed for Oomai Vizhigal. Just like Resul, he was the face of sound designers in the early 80’s.

How will you explain about your work to a layman? What do you actually do?

Half the people in my locality, don’t know what I’m up to. Even my relatives find it hard to interpret what I actually do. If somebody asks about me, they stick to, ‘He works in the Tamil film industry’. What we do is way too technical for people to understand. Nobody has a clue about the kind of impact we bring to a film. Only the educated or probably the ones who might have read about us will have an understanding.
In simple terms, anything that you hear, i.e. from dialogues to music to background sound, we place it accordingly, mix it and set levels. If films are an audio-visual medium, leaving out the visuals, we give you the audio/sound part of it. If to be detailed, we record the pilot track with a Nagra during the shoot. After the final edit, artists will be called for dubbing. Then the music director will start the background score work. After that, sound effects need to be done. When all these three are given to us by the sound designer, we the mixers sit and work on the final output. So whatever you hear in the theatre, it is finalized by us.
If a scene has to be musical or if it is to be controlled by the sound effects, we and the director decide it.

Whatever you hear in the theatre, it is finalized by us.


Why do we still get to see the lip-sync issues when so much of work goes into all this?


There was a time when only Tamil speaking artists were acting. Now we have the rest of the world acting for us. Language problem and prompting are two major reasons behind such issues. Also the changes made in the final dialogues bring about an effect on lip-sync. Artists might have paused between dialogues in a different manner. During the dubbing, director might have wanted an alternate output. To be precise, comedians have the habit to improvise during dubbing.
If not for sync-sound, that is shooting live, we will forever see lip-sync issues. If you have closely watched Vedalam teaser, the actual dialogue Ajith told was different from what he dubbed. Siva and I argued for about 2 hours and then finally decided on what you saw.  

The actual dialogue Ajith told was different from what he dubbed


When will we start shooting with sync-sound?


We need artists who can talk the language. Complete silence needs to be maintained on the sets. Lots of logistic complications need to be planned out. You basically need discipline and ethics to be able to do sync-sound.


Which technological advancement has made your work easy?


We had a tough time to get ambience sounds in those days but now we have sample bits for everything. I can just select the region and then copy it a million times. But years before, we used to record it in a quarter inch tape and then record till we wanted it. Software and equipments have definitely brought down the intensity of our work.

What is the signature element or effect you like using?

Nothing of those sorts, but my signature element would be the extra detailing I like to give. For example, in Anjathey, there was a sequence with just the footsteps filling the space. We spent a lot of time on getting the right kind of sound for that. Even in Polladhavan, the climax fight required lots of inputs from the sound design. Critical of everything was the rooster fight in Aadukalam. We used dinosaur footsteps for cock’s legs. Though technically being wrong, we wanted to create that blow. To emphasize the drama, we brought in such nuances. Since most of those scenes were graphically interfaced, we had to work round the clock to get the exact kind of noises the birds would generate.
Radha Mohan would want the complete contrast. He wants it all to be pleasant and soothing. If a scene has the screeching chalk piece, he will want us to mellow it down or even mute it. But in Rajesh kind of films, importance will only be given to the dialogues. If the punch lines are properly heard, the basic needs are fulfilled.
Directors like Hari, Sundar C, Siruthai Siva will ask for a different template. To the sound effects I reacted as a kid while watching mass-masala films, those are the kind of tools I use here.
Suseenthiran directed Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu also had some extensive work. We had to get ambience samples and use it accordingly. How will the crowd respond in an open arena, how will the same crowd react to an indoor match, such things were noticed and used.   
But beating all of it, Visaaranai demanded the most from us. For almost a year we’ve been working on it. It’s a dream project for all the engineers. Without the involvement of music, every single frame falls on our shoulders. Initially, it wasn’t part of the plan. We thought the BGM will fill the gaps. But later, Vetri asked me if we could go without the music. I was excited, but beyond a point, it was a huge task to come up with new ideas to give life to every little thing on the screen. When director Priyadharshan sir watched it, he said he could pretty much get the feel of the raw footage. 

Visaaranai demanded the most from us

Who is your favourite dubbing artist?

I forget her name. A lady from Mysore came to the studios around 11 pm and finished her portions before 2 am. She dubbed for Jyothika in Chandramukhi. We were all spell-bound by her expertise. She was really thin and I was surprised with the kind of range she could touch.
Saritha ma’am, Nizhalgar Ravi sir are all thorough professionals. They never overshoot and it’s a delight to record them.

Anybody’s work you enjoyed in the recent past?


I loved Ruben’s brilliant work in Madras. I could feel the ambience.


Your hard work that went unnoticed, tell us about that.


In Naan Mahaan Alla climax, Yuvan sir had given us the music already. According to that tempo, we made the edits. Then there was a cut during the censor certification. The cut created a change that had to be mended to bring back the tempo. It took almost a day for us to settle it.


Authenticity in your work, please explain.

There was a time when for the sound of a door opening, engineers were using the opening and closing of a suitcase to replace it. But later, my guru recorded all of it for real. Even the kind of shoes you wear and where you walk matters a lot. You can’t be using the same preset for everything. Hero and villain might be using different guns, but the sound will be the same. We tell the directors to pay attention to all that. Even punching on the face will differ to a kick on the stomach. Sound designing and mixing is supposed to be an authentic job.


Why is Resul seen as a big phenomenon?


Deepan sir and Shridhar sir were the face of sound designers at some point. Only after the Oscars, people knew how sacred our work is. In films like Enthiran, Resul sir would ask for about 100 people to jump on a floor. All such needs and demands will not be meted out for others. Our work basically requires time and support from the directors. In Madras, we were waiting for a sound which was supposed to be given either by the sound designer or the music director. Till the end, nothing reached us. But later, Ranjith gave us the time to actually go record and use it later. Resul’s impact on our field has brought about a change in perception of our job description.

Our work basically requires time

How do you provide sound to something that doesn’t exist?

Puli was one such challenging film for us to create a whole new set of sounds. Since the film was based on fantasy, we had to break our heads to provide sounds for the talking bird, the horses, their accessories, the tortoise, chithrakullan’s voice and lot more. Chimbu Deven was of great support and he gave us the time. At one point, systems crashed due to heavy load. Puli was an interesting film in my career.
We should take it as a chance to establish our talent. Job satisfaction is the highest in such projects.

Puli was an interesting film in my career.

Your first project and how many films have you done till date?


Daas was my first un-credited film. Emtan Mahan was officially the first film. I have done about 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi till date.

What has gone into Vedalam?


To elevate the scenes and match Ajith’s screen presence, we’ve done everything. From stunt sequences to adding reverb to the dialogues, Vedalam will be a ride all together.

By being the unsung hero, what gets you going?


I love my job and that is why I’m able to confine myself to a studio and work for days. I always want to associate myself with good projects and will want to know in what ways I can contribute to the product. But something that I have lost is, spending time with family. There has not been an occasion when I’ve been with them on time.  My ticket will never be booked. I’m always a question mark when outings are planned. By the time I go home, everybody will be asleep.

How does it feel when your work goes for a toss?


That is the most saddening part of being an audiographer. Half the theatres lack the equipments and we can’t blame them. I went to a cinema hall to watch one of my works and I was shocked to realize one of the speakers not working. If the other speaker hasn’t worked, even the dialogues would have been audible. We spend so much time on panning and effects and this is the state of our work and we should be ready to deal with it. But at a subconscious level, we keep all kind of theatres in mind before bouncing the final track.

Your recent Hollywood favorite.




Projects you have worked so far.

Idam Porul Yaeval, Eeti, Miruthan, Rajini Murugan, Visaaranai, Aranmanai 2 and few more on the dotted line.



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