A commercial film is generally made keeping the audience’s perception in mind. The director, writer and the team shoot the film with this sole purpose. It is not just the visuals but also the sound projected in the movie that has to be in sync with the filmmaker’s vision. One of the most important person in the sound department is the mixing engineer.
“As a mixing engineer I have to visualise the film from the audience point of view. I cannot force my thoughts on them,” said the 2019 IIFA Best Sound Mixing award winner Ajaykumar PB. He won the award for the thriller, Andhadhun.
After completing his FTII course, Ajay joined Satheesh P M and Resul Pookutty as an assistant location recordist in 1996. He later learnt the tricks of the trade from stalwarts like Daman Sood, Avinash Oak and Anup Dev. Since then Ajay has worked on mono, Dolby SR, Dolby Digital and now Atmos technologies. He has been a location recordist, sound mixing engineer, sound engineer, sound designer, acoustic consultant and studio designer.
“I am very lucky that I have worked through all the technological change-over. I self-taught all of them,” quipped Ajay.
“I enjoy being a mixing engineer. Actual music mixing for stereo is quite difficult compared to film music mixing on 5.1. Having said that I have also worked on live recording for movies with a full-fledged orchestra. We would have just one rehearsal and then record. It was very challenging.”
During his time in Hyderabad, Ajay worked on movies which were opposite to his demeanour. The soft spoken mixing engineer was working on movies which were, to put it in a word, loud. His professional approach saw him prevail and grow as a technician.
“At times the director’s and your wavelength does not match which I faced in Hyderabad. They like things loud which would make me feel awkward. But as a professional you just do your work and ensure others are happy. Still, there are a lot of movies I try to avoid but if it involves a good director, I do it. But then I do not use my brains much while working on it,” said Ajay.
Open for challenges
The mixing engineer’s forte are the festival movies. He has worked on movies like Aligarh, Mukti Bhavan, Ajji, Bhonsle which were all selected for the prestigious Busan Film Festival. Alongside these movies Ajay has also worked on numerous commercial films. In fact he worked on two completely different movies, Loveratri and Andhadhun, simultaneously.
“The main challenge is to work on all types of movies. Every film should sound different and so should be your approach to it. That is professionalism. Festival movies are very subtle where every sound is important. Commercial songs and movies are made as people enjoy them. You have to create loud dynamics and at times unrealistic, which is also difficult. It is as creative as any genre. A movie like Andhadhun, a thriller, needs different treatment,” asserted Ajay.
Mixing engineer and sound designer
Andhadhun is one of the most critically acclaimed films in recent times. His work on the film was very well received by the mixing engineer’s fraternity.
“Sonically, Andhadhun has a lot of mistakes. The scene when the hero is playing the piano was the most difficult scene for me to do. It was a long scene with no other sound except the piano and the footsteps, so to keep the audience engaged was very tough,” smiled Ajay.
Being a sound designer makes it relatively easier for Ajay to create sounds which are largely unheard by the common ears. The topic swerved to the movie Gravity. The movie has subtle sounds of space which not many humans have heard. It can be a daunting task to create something that no one is aware of. But Ajay has a different take on it.
“The easiest sound to design is what people have not heard. You can just design it the way you want. How you create it, is important. It should support the scene, mood and perspective of the film. Sometimes you have to break the perspective depending on the film. One has to take cinematic liberties and connect with the audience,” explained Ajay.
Tight schedule but no due credit
With a paradigm shift in technology aiding the post production, the film makers expect the work to be wrapped up as soon as possible. Movies are now completed on a tight schedule. Ajay feels this is a big problem now because digital workstations and digital flow of work has spoiled the market. The tight schedule also hampers the creativity of mixing engineers. The audience may not understand the finer detailing but the technically inclined do.
“Initially we would have to handle 24 tracks which was easier, now tracks run in 1000s. The amount of work has increased for the mixing engineer but schedule has become tighter. We are expected to complete the work within a month so we are paid according to that. If we are given more time the job can be done better. In a movie’s success, sound plays a very important role. People do not understand this. The behind the scene technicians are not given due credit,” asserted Ajay.