Q:1 What kind of equipment did you use for location sound recording for “Madras Cafe” and why did you opt for those specific models ?
Nihar: I generally use the Zaxcom Deva 5.8 recorder. It is a 10 multi track digital recorder and Lectrosonic radio microphones with Sanken –cos11D tops and Schoeps CMIT-5u and CMC 641and Nueman KMR-81i and 82i as boom microphone. Zaxcom Deva software is very user friendly while I am working on locations and the pre amplifier of the zaxcom also provides more headroom and mirroring in external hard drives for backups.
Q:2 How much percentage of the entire location sound was used and how much the dubbing of the dialogues was done and what were the various reasons for dubbing?
Nihar: “Madras Café” was a very difficult film from sync sound recording POV as story was told in war zone background and most of the shoots were out door and the shoot was done on real locations. There was nothing like studios or sets. All the indoors and outdoors were real live locations. It was challenge for me to capture all emotions and cohesive performances on such locations. So if you consider all these parts, I think 20% dubbing has been done and that includes the creative decisions of changing the scripted dialogue. Moreover, they also wanted to change the voice of some actors due to accent problem as the story was based in south India. Very few scenes have been dubbed due to sound recording issues, for example, if the dialogues are not being heard clearly due to heavy winds or external noises. If you have seen that boat sequence when Vikram meets Jaya, that sequence has been dubbed. Again, Bangkok fish market scene where Vikram is meeting another spy agent, that part is also dubbed.
The Director preferred dubbing for certain parts as he wanted to change the voice of a few actors because of their dialogue delivery. This film is a political thriller but they wanted to have changes for politically correct words. For instance, if someone has said “TLF” then they wanted to change it to “PLF”. As such some sort of patch dubbing has been done.
Q: 3 What were the problems faced due to existing noise and how they were tackled?
Nihar: In “Madras Café” there were multiple problems as many a times we were shooting very near to the road sides and back waters in Kerala. So frequent motor boats and ship movements were great issues for me. We shot in Kochi, Athirapuli jungle, Delhi & Ramoji film city. While shooting in Kochi it was very noisy as lots of diesel autos and huge crowds gathered to see the shooting. As you know the film has been narrated in flashbacks during the period of 80’s, so it is supposed to be in Jaffana (Sri Lanka). Now my great challenge was to record clean dialogue without people’s voices and less of traffic sounds. I didn’t have the production support for the sync security to have control over crowds and traffic. Some houses where interior scenes have been shot were very close to roads. I was under lots of pressure to get my work done properly.
Q: 4 How much cleaning of the sound was required in post production?
Nihar: If you have seen my earlier films you will notice that I don’t do much of cleaning because I work so hard on the location itself that I don’t have to use more of noise reduction on my dialogue tracks. Noise reduction artifacts create more hassle and change the voice tonality of characters which becomes clearly noticeable in big speakers.
I do much of my homework in the beginning right from pre production till shooting so that I may get neat and clean dialogues on the location itself. My prime motive is always to record neat & clean dialogues as much as possible. I also try to interpret existing ambience in dialogue tracks to final ambience of that location. In case of in-door situation for live location reverb and delays were great challenges for me to get dialogues with less of reverb as you know reverb kills the clarity and voice presence. I used various patterns of boom microphone and mic techniques like putting floor mats and hanging sound blankets on walls and ceilings in order to minimize the reverb in dialogue track as much as possible. Because of sync sound the performances of all new actors have been appreciated by the audience.
Q: 5 What was the contribution of costume designer in supporting the choosing of fabrics which don’t gives rumble or rustle etc?
Nihar Before going for shooting I would visit the costume department and they showed all the fabrics and the uniforms in detail. Now what Vikram (John Abraham) was wearing a thicker material, which was creating a problem — not the rustle but it was giving a muffled sound. So by changing different mic positions I was able to get more openness of dialogue tracks. Wardrobe people are always very helpful to modify some costumes for positioning radio mics and thus help the sound dept.
Q: 6 Did you face any problems due to camera/lights like HMI rumble etc?
Nihar: Yes, these problems always exist in every shoot due to HMI booster and light dimmers. In India we have got all these latest Arri light gadgets but they don’t have much of accessories. I always fight for the noise free HMI booster, especially in the in-door scenes. Fan of ballistics creates more hiss-sound and it becomes rather difficult to kill it in later stages.
Each member of the camera department and light-men in the unit has to be helpful to get a better sync sound. So I had to meet them individually to rectify all these issues and they really helped a lot. Camera department has done a lot of contribution to get the better sync sound. Apart from that the film is always shot in the candid way with multiple cameras and my work suffers because when wide and telephoto lenses are used simultaneously, it restricts the boom mics to reach proper headspace of actors. I need to depend upon radio mics tracks. I always talk to DOP and the Director to minimize the use of extreme wide angle shots. For close ups shots I insist upon them to shoot with single camera.
Q:7 Since it is the directors vision which you take it forward, how much was Shoojit Sircar involved in terms of sound?
Nihar: I always prefer that my Director should feel very much comfortable with me. I was very much comfortable with Shoojit Sircar as a director. He was very keen for sound and gives liberty to work for perfection. For retakes for sound he doesn’t have any issues. Except some emotional scenes, most of the time he goes for a retake if I need one. Sometimes he will also ask me if the performance is correct or not. Without my consent, he never says OK and that is the best part of working with Shoojit Sircar. Before going to shoot, we had a meeting and he showed some of the films. He gives a clear idea what he wants from us. In fact he had made some sort of audio visual montages before going to the shoot. But this is my third film with Shoojit Sircar and he knows my involvement in projects. He always insists that I should take sounds at all locations. In Athirapalli jungle and back-water areas, all the jungle sounds have been recorded differently.
In “Madras Café” he has chosen very less background music & all the ambience and sound effects being used have come out very well with sync sound in the film. It elevates character performance and emotions and moods even if they are new actors. Because of the DOLBY ATMOS, all the soundscape we have designed in depth and in very detailed & multi-layers of voices.
Q: 8 What according to you were unique features of the film” Madras Cafe” in terms of sound that the Filmfare jury decided to give the award to “Madras Cafe” rather than to any other film?
Nihar: “Madras Café” was a very special film for us because of multi-layered sound elements used for telling the story. Sound played a very important role in engaging the audience effectively and giving it more information to get lucidity in changing space and time of the film. Sound does not play larger than life. It is rather realistic in nature & sometimes sound does not follow objectively to the visual. Sound had its own dimension to narrate the story. If you see “Madras Café”, sound elements have also been used to elevate psychological journey of the main protagonist while he is in nightmare and sound helps the audience to keep in mind the war zone space constantly. These war zone sounds keep disturbing Vikram as the main actor. For example, in an opening scene, we hear the helicopter sounds and blast sounds. The use of silence in sound tracks also interpreted very intelligently to enhance character psychosis. Also we always have radio voices coming and going so as to engage the audience in each frame. Sound elements used in “Madras Café” make the audience perceive visuals in a much faster and elaborate way by getting its realistic nature. I really appreciate Shjoojit that he gave us the freedom to deliver our best.