The Sound of Dangal – Part 1 – Sound Design

Happy New Year Everyone!! Hope you all have a great year with loads of creativity and ideas to experiment!

Dangal, directed by Nitesh Tiwari and starring Aamir Khan in the lead with Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra, was one of the most inspiring movies I have seen this year. The story is a biography based on an ex-wrestler who trains his daughters, barring all odds, in a Male dominated society, to win national and international championships and medals. One of the most striking thing in the movie was the way the sound was handled. It was subtle, yet, something that sounds very rustic and unique. This is a multi-part blog in the conversation series, that will deal with the Sound Design, mixing and other aspects of the movie.

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Sound Credit

Debajit Changmai Re-Recording mixer
Boloy Kumar Doloi Associate re-recording mixer
Siddharth Dubey promo re-recording mixer
Sanal George Assistant Sound Recordist
Sanjay Kurian K. Production Sound Mixer
Rahul Karpe associate re-recording mixer
Shajith Koyeri Sound Designer
Sanjay Kurian Sound Mixer
Kingshuk Moran Associate sound designer / foley mixer
Savitha Nambrath sound editor
Sudeepta Sadhukhan dialogue promo mixer

Source: IMDB

I am starting off with a conversation I had with Shajith Koyeri. Shajith is a long time friend, Multiple Award winning and an outrageously good sound designer. Films like Kaminey, Ishqiya, Omkara, Talvar, Haider and many more should explain who this is! To be honest, the first time I saw him work around 14 years back, the only thing I could hear was the clanking of the mechanical apple keyboards and the speed with which sounds were coming to life on screen. He is a very sharp sound editor as well as a sound designer.

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L to R: Ballu Saluja, Shajith Koyeri, Pritam Chakraborty, Debajit Changmai, Aamir Khan, Nitesh Tiwari, Kingshuk Moran at Futureworks Sound City, Mumbai

 

What was the most inspiring part in this for you?

It was interesting because the most inspiring part was also the most challenging part. I usually do not feel that challenged when I watch the first cut of a movie. This was different. It was very inspiring to see the lengths the team went to get perfection in the movie. Even when watching this with the pilot track, it was so effective and bought tears to the ones watching it. I was inspired too. But was also tensed initially thinking of how I can add to it and yet not overload or take away from the scene. This was my first thoughts when I saw the movie and decided I need to do something outside of what I usually do.

Being a film on wrestling, the most obvious question is the wrestling sound. What did you do that was unique in this?

One of the interesting things I noticed when I saw the wrestling in front of my eyes and not through a TV screen is that we miss a lot of sounds through the TV. Wrestling is a very real action sport and the sounds that you hear when they hit each other or grip or fall is too realistic to the point that you don’t believe the sounds when you watch it live. This was what I wanted to give the audience too. I was sure that like me there were many people who haven’t watched wrestling live and at the same time I had to justify the sounds to the ones who did! That was not an easy task.
The sounds were equally from the location as well as foley. There were two kinds of wrestling in the movie. In an open space and in a stadium. There were a few things that would change in this case. The Wrestlers, space and the floor. Getting an original sound of a pit whose mud is made with sand and Ghee, to be recorded outside in Mumbai is very difficult purely because of the traffic that we would face. Much of this was done as Foley by Karan Arjun Singh and his team at both Just Foley and YashRaj Studios. We got the original mats used in competition and also had competitive wrestlers come to perform the body falls and grips. We did record a lot of body falls in multiple mics to get the sound we wanted and layered this with the location sounds. This gave a good bout of realism. Because it’s important to understand that while these sounds are great on their own, when you introduce music, for the drama/excitement, the sounds that once made up the body of the fall and the grip, are not heard anymore. This is when they had to be enhanced. And once you knew what the original sounds were it was easy for me to find the layers to add to what was missing.
We recorded a lot of sounds in a training centre as well. This gave it the feel of the body falls in the real space. We then enhanced some of this with reverbs and some compression to get out the meat of the sounds. Layering was what took time and personally for me the effort has paid off.
My team is a very closely knit team and also is like my extension. They understand what I have in mind and the path of communication with the Director. Like all my projects, Dangal too is a team effort.

What about the body sounds? They were something that stood out.

Yeah! I loved those squeaky sounds too. Usually, you hear them in a basketball match but those are too sharp to be used in this instance. We managed to get good recordings as well as did foley for this. This was one sound that took me a lot of effort to get right. If it wasn’t, they would be muted off straight, but I wanted to make sure that we get to hear that. Usually by the time the session hits the mix stage my work is done. But the first time, I wasn’t able to send the last 2 reels because of these sounds. I spent a lot of time tweaking fixing, redoing and again layering these sounds! I am sure the foley guys hated me at that time! But it’s great when you are friends with them and have a beer later!

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Shajith Koyeri

What was the most challenging part in this?

One of the most challenging thing in the movie was to be able to convey the emotions as well as the realism in the same time. For this the approach I took was minimalism. When you approach something in a minimalistic way, it is extremely difficult because every single sound and layer you put has to have a purpose and design. If you don’t miss it when you mute it, it’s out, no matter how much time you spent choosing that sound. This exercise in itself was a huge task. And also, you were not limited by what was accessible. The production was so great that you got what you needed and so when that is provided, the challenge is to provide top of the line and something that hasn’t been done before. And doing something that hasn’t been done before is a challenge in itself partially because you need to come up with something and partially because you aren’t sure if the effort will work or not until it’s placed in the session along with the visuals. Well, I guess then it means the whole movie was challenging and I wouldn’t deny that. But still, at the end of the whole challenge with ups and downs, it’s the experience we remember and have stories to say about, although it may not always have been easy!

If you wanted to change anything now, what would you?

Ha ha! You know me long enough to know the answer to that! I am rarely satisfied! But over the years, you need to know when to let go of your baby. In this case, while I was extremely happy with what I have overall, there may be some minor things that maybe given the chance I would have done differently. Say like the first office fight body falls. It’s a cement floor on the ground floor level. Maybe a bit sharper falls or more surface area contact would be something I would have done. I spent a whole lot of time in that scene to get it. I couldn’t add low end because it wasn’t on the first floor of an office in the scene and so it wouldn’t resonate. I couldn’t make it brighter because then I was losing the body weight of the falls. I tried recording many many variations of the falls. But I guess, like everything in art, you need to know when that’s done.

How did you handle the crowd for the movie?

Crowds were recorded both on location by Sanjay as well as some in a wrestling stadium here in Mumbai. But there was a lot of elements from my effects library as well. Spending a lot of time getting the timing right was what worked. If you notice, the way the stadium and the number of people in the Haryana would keep changing depending on the match. For example, for the quarter-finals in the Commonwealth games, the stadium wasn’t full and was different towards the finals. This was also very important to get to. Another very interesting thing for me was the referee whistles. We tried many different whistles and none of them seemed to work. In the end, we got a referee and a national coach to do this for us. I never realised that this would be the case and how much of a difference it would make for the scenes and the accuracy. The way they blow the whistles and the way they sound are completely different when done by a professional. I am not saying that we went beyond all things to get something done but the option of doing this was provided and it was really great of the production to give us the signal to go all out for this.

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How much of the movie is ADR?

To be honest, close to nothing. Sanjay Kurian did a fabulous job on location. Given the fact that it was challenging to record this in the given set, what he managed to get was really good. In fact, I didn’t even bother doing noise reduction in a lot of scenes just because the ambience and the location tracks worked beautifully. Not to mention that a lot of Production Effects also made it into the mix. The only scenes we had to do ADR was for the Voice Over, Diction changes because of the specific flavour of Hindi used as well as some design elements for the Slow Motion scenes in the film.

How was working with Aamir? You were also with him during mangal Pandey which I too was during the mix!

Aamir is a gem and the best thing is he knows exactly what he wants. With him and Nitesh Tiwari, it was a great experience. He is a perfectionist and everyone in the industry knows that. The good thing is he lets your creativity flow and then gently lets you know of its working or not. That’s what you need. Sometimes you end up being so creative and go all out for a scene but it may not exactly fit the whole cinema in context. Aamir is very good at pointing that out. There was a scene in Dangal where after the fight between Mahavir and Geeta, they have dinner and it is one without any conversation. I added their chewing sounds to break the silence. Aamir came and saw and immediately asked to reduce or remove that as it breaks the flow. All that remained was the sound of a lizard which in villages is not considered a good omen. There was another incident after mixing the trailer, where Debu and I  went to check it in a cinema hall before showing it to the team. As we heard the mixes, the 5.1 was sounding great but the 7.1 had a drop in the LFE level by around a dB or so. We knew it was the cinema hall response and decided to leave it at that. Aamir heard it once and after the trailer immediately turned to us and said, “The LFE is low by a dB or so right? It’s ok. Let’s leave it at that.” We were literally stunned to hear those words from Aamir. Finding a difference in sound is one thing. Finding a difference in the Low-Frequency spectrum needs really trained ears or a keen sense of judgement. Well, that’s Aamir for you!

That is also Shajith Koyeri and the sound design of Dangal for you! A gem of a person and a very unique talent in sound in the Bollywood industry. Next up, the mix of Dangal in Dolby Atmos with Debajit Changmai.