Padmaavat isn’t the first time National Award-winning sound designer Biswadeep Chatterjee is working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. “We know each other from our FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) days. I’ve recorded songs for his film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Devdas (2002),” says Biswadeep, who thinks their collaboration works on account of their shared sensibilities. “He has detailed knowledge in every department including sound. And I like to work only with directors who understand the scope of sound for a film.”
Biswadeep says that the foremost challenge of Padmaavat was in recreating the sounds of a bygone era. “There are no contemporary sounds you’d associate with a modern city. A metro city, for example, has a soundscape of its own. You’ll know Kolkata, thanks to the sounds of trams and cars, for example. So we had to research the sounds and imagine what the soundscape of that era would have been.”
Biswadeep used his experience of being to different countries to create the sounds. “For Padmaavat, we decided on the sounds of places like Afghanistan, Rajasthan, and to an extent, Delhi. The forest scenes were easier as things in the forest haven’t changed much (laughs),” he says. “But Afghanistan is a cold place and has little flora and fauna. So we were careful not to use bird sounds. It’s supposed to feel ominous. We used the sounds of birds of prey for Khilji’s environment. Rajasthan, meanwhile, is full of sounds of the wind, dessert and birds like peacock. There’s folk music too. For Delhi, the soundscape is more Islamic,” explains Biswadeep.
With such ideas, the sound designer gets started and lets his imagination flow. The challenges were plenty. “ Even the indoor shots are elaborate and that’s how Sanjay works. Most of the fights including the face-off between Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji were done in the studios and graphically created.” But the sound designer is clear that the sounds should always enhance the experience and not overpower a film. “The challenge is to remain discreet and people should read between the lines to see my work. If it doesn’t gel well with the film, it’ll be easily noticed and that means I’ve failed.”
Biswadeep Chatterjee has also worked in documentaries, short films and ads. He remembers Sachin Tendulkar’s docudrama, Sachin: A Billion Dreams, as a memorable experience. “In fiction, we have complete control. In a documentary like Sachin, a lot of footage we got were from different countries. The frame rates would be different, the sounds from the 80s wouldn’t be clean, the camera angles would be different… it was a technical nightmare,” says Biswadeep.
Thanks to advancement in technology such as Dolby Atmos, Biswadeep feels that sounds have more importance and consequently, responsibility, than ever before. “Before the era of digital sound, there were lots of limitations. We used to optically record sound on the film track and that had a narrow dynamic range. Today, the spectrum has increased. So apart from dialogue and music, we have a huge canvas that can be complemented with sound.
As everything can be heard now, it’s far more challenging to make sure the sounds don’t sound fake.” Biswadeep used Dolby Atmos in Madras Cafe back in 2013, making it the first Indian film to use the technology. “During Madras Cafe, not many understood it, and to be honest, even we didn’t understand how to go about it. Then I got speakers added to my studio to figure out how they work and that created magic. That’s why the sounds in Baajirao Mastani, 3 Idiots, Pink and Piku, are so great.”
He is convinced that Indian technicians are ahead of the curve, in comparison with their Western contemporaries. “We make more than 1,000 films a year. Whatever Hollywood studios take nine months, we’re getting it done in one and a half months,” says Biswadeep. “I shouldn’t be saying this but with all the protest Padmaavat faced I think the sound and graphics department were the happiest, as it gave us a plenty of time to perfect the product.”
Biswadeep is now heading South for his first Malayalam film, My Story, starring Prithviraj and Parvathy. Is a Tamil film in the offing? “I did my schooling in Ooty and I’m familiar with Coimbatore and the Pollachi area. I’ve seen my fair share of Tamil films and I can’t wait to do a Tamil film. I’m only waiting for someone to call me for a project and say ‘nee sound pannu saar’.”