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Interview with Seenu of sound effects duo Arun Seenu of Super Deluxe ft Vijay Sethupathi Thiagarajan Kumararaja

Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe is winning a lot of love and appreciation from critics and audiences. The film has created a whimsical, unpredictable world within existing locales. One of the major contributors to this aspect is the work done by the film’s sound department. In an interaction with one of Super Deluxe’s audiographers Seenu (of the well-known sound design duo Arun-Seenu), we present you some of the excerpts from the telephonic conversation.

We started to clear the air amongst certain members of the audience (that includes me too) over the role of a sound designer in a film “We (Arun-Seenu) work as sound effects designers. The role of a sound designer is to create an aural atmosphere for the film, from start to finish, starting from even a minute tap of the foot by a character. For instance, if a scene unfolds in the vicinity of a playground or an airport, even if there is no visual information to suggest that. A sound designer can create an ambiance of that location to compensate for the former. After seeing the basic cut, it is the job of the sound designer to find places to insert sound cues and effects in that scene. The sound mixer synchronizes the audio track with the film and decides on giving additional plugins to the track."  It is noted that Super Deluxe was sound mixed by Tapas Nayak.

When asked about Super Deluxe's experience, Seenu said “We have used live-recorded sounds to the maximum and the sounds are matched according to the atmosphere shown in the scene’s locations. For an exterior sequence in railway tracks involving Vaembu and Mugil, the scene was shot near Ennore power mills. After shooting, the director told us to visit the location to absorb the sounds emanating from the place. Upon visiting the area, we noticed a hum noise coming from the electrical transmission lines once power passes through them. We have used such intricate sounds to a greater extent.”

When asked about the continuum, even in terms of sound design between Super Deluxe and the director’s first film, Aaranya Kaandam, Seenu broke into a laugh, saying “I guess there are sequels in sound effects too”, He further added that “ We also worked as Sound designers for Aaranya Kaandam. The director wanted us to portray the (building quarters) location in a way similar to the Gajendran-Pasupathy standoff scene in Aaranya Kaandam. In the latter, the scene was set amidst a location where construction works of a building were happening. Whereas in ‘Super Deluxe’, the scene was set in an area where the tunnel work of Chennai Metro was happening. There is also a blue-coloured board indicating it if you look closer into the scene. So we decided to fill the portion with a hammering sound (akin to the one featured in Aaranya Kaandam) without providing absolute silence.”

When asked about the director’s brief given to the sound design department, He said “The director emphasized on delivering a realistic sound design and gave higher importance to sound over music. He encouraged us to use a lot of reverberating-effect in the film, a tool normally deployed in cinema to create pathos-evoking background score”. An example of the aforementioned approach was the police station sequence, about which he said  “We employed a lot of machinery sounds, especially the sound coming from Lathe and drilling machines as there was a mechanical workshop nearby. We created composite layers of the machinery sounds and used the reverb effect to amplify the effect.”

Seenu further added that “Rumbling sounds were used to an optimum. In the subway sequence, the elongated vibration of vehicles that is felt in a subway was used, and the rumbling sounds of the swaying asbestos sheets were used during warehouse sequence in the end and similarly, metallic frictional sounds were used in the station sequence”

The director’s ear for a realistic aural atmosphere was meticulous in even the most surrealistic sequence of the film, the alien appearing sequence. About the conception of the scene’s sound design, Seenu said “A majority of foley sounds were used during the cloning sequence, coupled with machinery and rumble sounds. We even refrained from using a lot of electronic sounds as we wanted the focus to be on the sounds coming from the outside, from that of the crowds and the traffic.”

In one of the most standout scenes of the film was the haunting subway sequence, in which the aural information, particularly the music and sound design, worked in complete harmony with each other. When enquired about the duo’s working relationship with the film’s music director Yuvan Shankar Raja in that film, Seenu jovially remarked “Even we wanted to meet him (Yuvan Shankar Raja). We haven’t had any discussions during the film. The credit (for the sequence) goes to the director, as he extracted work from us and the music department in a precise way, with a clarity of vision.”

Super Deluxe stood out from a majority of Tamil film in terms of audiography in the interior sequences, especially the scenes that unfold in Mugil’s apartment, with marvelous stretches of audio-visual comedy (The audio of comedian Vadivelu’s dialogue interplays between an argument between Mugil and Vaembu). He told that those minor flourishes were pre-planned. "The director had already planned to use the clip in that sequence and be in sync with the characters’ dialogue.” Seenu also told that it was the director’s idea to insert the siren sound at the moment where Vaembu whispers in Mugil’s ear as if she was blowing a conch in his ear. Initially, the siren was supposed to just exist as a perfunctory sound bit in that scene.

The sound designer also commented on the creative freedom bestowed upon them by the film’s director, Thiagarajan Kumararaja. He said “Super Deluxe is our second collaboration with the director (after Aaranya Kaandam) and working with him in Aaranya Kaandam was a learning experience. The director gave a lot of time for us to work on the sound design. Usually, filmmakers give us a month’s time, but on the contrary, they expect us to deliver results within a week. It is like wanting to dress well for an event, but as time constraints near, one just settles with an ordinary attire. But that was not the case with working in this film. The director was very particular about what he wanted from the sound department when he screened the film in our studio for the first time.”

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