The view that most people hold when it comes to cinema, especially its technological aspects, is that the best prevails only in Bollywood and that film industries elsewhere in the country come only a distant second.
However, not many know that Chennai is quite well-known for its sound design specialists, not just in India, but around the world. In fact, the sound design of several foreign films, including European, American, Australian and Chinese, is done silently here in Chennai.
Meet Vijay Rathinam, one of the well-known sound design specialists from Chennai who jokingly says that he makes his bread and butter primarily by working on the sound design of foreign films.
“In a year, if we do 20 films, say 15-17 are foreign films. We do three to five Indian films and that includes all languages. Our daily bread comes from overseas films,” he informs.
But how did it all start?
Says the man with a Masters degree in Advanced Music from the University of Glamorgan, “Facebook was the biggest revolution. After the arrival of the Internet, I started connecting with so many other sound designers, supervising sound editors, other mixers from all around the world via Facebook. I was able to get films from so many other countries.
“I am now working on Russian, Chinese, British, some American, Australian and European films. I have even done two Syrian films. And I am talking about reasonably big films,” says Vijay Rathinam, who goes on to give details of some of the works he has done in recent times.
“The last Chinese film I did was that of Tony Leung, a popular Chinese star. I did the sound design for his film ‘Fox Hunt’. Then, I worked on the sound design of a film called ‘Iron Mask’, featuring Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I also got an opportunity to work on ‘Tenet’. I did the sound recording tasks of the Indian portions of ‘Tenet’,” he says, listing one after the other.
“I have worked as the sound effects editor on ‘Domino’, the last film of director Brian De Palma, who is known for making films like ‘Scarface’ and ‘Mission Impossible’,” Vijay says, as he goes on to explain that sound engineers here play different roles depending on the tasks.
The man explains that in some films, they handle certain aspects of sound editing while in some others, they handle all aspects.
“For instance, I recently worked on an American independent English film called ‘Operation Seawolf’. This is a World War II film, the story of which is set in Germany of 1944. Except for dialogue recordings, which were shot on sets, everything else has been done in Chennai. This is to say the complete audio post-production of this film — from dialogue editing to sound effects editing to sound design — has been done in Chennai. Now, we are working on two more big Chinese films.”
So, what is it that Chennai has that others don’t have that makes people from other countries come flocking here?
Says Vijay, “At one point in time, when I started as an intern in 2002, setting up a studio was a costly affair. But over a period of time, technology has developed so much and made things very affordable. At one point in time, when one had to succeed in this industry, there was a difference between the ‘have’ and the ‘have nots’.
“For instance, if you want to be a good writer, you first need to have a good pen and lots of paper to constantly practice writing and become good at what you do. Similarly, in our case too, the computers we use, the technology we use are like a pen in the hands of a writer.
“At one point, the access to the pen and paper wasn’t available. But after a period of time, technology has put this power in everybody’s hands. Technology-wise, there is no difference. Technology has made the whole world a level playing field. So, when the tools are similar and everybody has access to it, what makes the difference is the skill.
“Simply put, when everybody has the same tools, what sets people apart is the skill that you possess and the biggest skill is how you support a film’s narrative with sound.”