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Interviews |  28 Jan 2010 18:53 |  By chiragsutar

Resul Pookutty - After the Oscar, people are scared of me, I am losing out on work!

Almost a week before Resul Pookutty was honoured with a Padma Shri on India's 60th Republic Day,'s Chirag Sutar dropped into Resul Pookutty's suburban Mumbai studio - uninvited- for an interview. To Chirag's pleasant surprise, within five minutes a casually dressed bearded man walked in and introduced himself as 'Resul' - no airs- while he chattered away in Malayalam with his staff.

The well known sound engineer who made headlines through 2009 probably believed in 'atithi devo bhavo'? Or was Chirag just plain lucky? Either way, Pookutty, who has almost made history by being the first Indian to win an Academy award in 80 years of its history, gamely fielded questions on Rahman's Grammy nomination (he sounded very confident about Rahman winning the award), how life changed after winning the Oscars, and the responsibilities that recognitions bring.

Excerpts from a short conversation....

What makes you so confident that A R Rahman will win the Grammy?

I think on an international level, a song has never been celebrated like this. No other motion picture soundtrack has been as well received as Jai Ho and that gives me the confidence that Rahman will pick the Grammy for this - there is no doubt about it... The last time an Indian won a Grammy was Pt. Vishwamohan Bhatt and I still remember the nature of the track that they played, and compared to that, this is 110 times more of a celebration of life - it's todays sound, today's energy, that's what the world is looking out for - to celebrate life and love and that's what Jai Ho is all about - what a stupendous energy that song has!

Don't you think the west is just discovering Rahman's music?

Exactly.. because we have heard Rahman's music. I feel very proud to say that I have worked with him closely because Rahman taught us... the entire generation about how to love and respect other traditions... even when he is working on a Bollywood masala flick with a great star and all that ... the music and its soul is not compromised... you take the example of the tracks of Dil Se which has a superstar but he is always trying to find and explore more and learn from other traditions.

For example, in Dil Se he used a lot of North Indian sounds, (cuts in) (remember, he is a South Indian) he is using the sounds of different cultures and bringing an element of Sufism and spirituality into his very 'mainstream work'. when I hear Rahman's music, I feel I have heard it somewhere - it has a quality of triggering a nostalgia at one level, so for me his music becomes memorable. I think his music has the greatest ability to poke my memory at one level and mind it - he doing all this while working in mainstream - what we call 'the popular culture'.

I understand that classical musicians have a great tradition, but it is also very niche, but Rahman is able to provoke people in a larger context - so for me, that makes me feel that music per se is no longer a complex thing - it's very accessible for everybody and that I think is the biggest contribution of Rahman. He has done that it in India, and now he is doing that internationally...

And now he is also nominated for the Oscars for Couples' Retreat sound track...

Yes.. the songs in that film have Tamil words in it.. it's amazing.. and the west is grooving to it. You see, suddenly language is being introduced as a sound and it's crossing international barriers and that's exactly what what the politicians and visionaries are trying to do - cross barriers. On one hand, technological developments are diminishing international barriers and borders, but Rahman has done that with sound - and at a much deeper level. For me, that's his biggest contribution as an artiste. I can see that he will bring Oscars to the country like he has collected Filmfares, he is already there in the run and I can see that he is going to make the entire country and its people proud.

Speaking about Grammys and Oscars... most musicians back here believe that one has to work with an American in order to get a Grammy - it's very biased in that sense. Agree?

See, an award is an recognition, and especially when it comes from outside your country, it means that a certain section of people have noticed your work and they think that your work was important 'to the time that you are living in' - that's how I look at recognitions. We can't make such allegations because there is bias  in every award - we can say it's there in Filmfares and even the National Awards. Did you know it's a rule that the National Award has never been given to a foreigner? Even if he has done stupendous work? Doesn't it mean that we have a bias?

The fact that the award committee's in the west have agreed to see our work means they are looking at our excellence - rest, everything is a problem of their system - I don't want to look into that.

If someone is recognised at a given point, whatever that is - small or big... it is still a statement from a section that they are looking up to you, therefore, I will respect every award that is given to me, and I will respect every award that is being given to anybody else.

OK... after receiving these awards... in what way has life changed for you?

Now, you came out of nowhere and said you want to do an interview - that is a great change for me. If you look at this from another level... you know I am a technician, an artiste who uses technology as a tool, and we have been looked down upon for a long time - and I think all that is changing with these awards.

If you look at 80 years of the Academy's history, not a single Asian has won an Oscar for 'sound mixing' - it took 80 years for us to get that and Rahman is only the third Asian to win an Oscar Award - I don't thing it's a small achievement.

Do you feel the awards bring with them a lot of responsibility?

Of course, with the awards, a lot of responsibility comes in, for me, the most important thing is that a lot of youngsters are looking up to me and I am very proud to say that I am a product of a public school - I have never been to an English medium school, I could barely speak English when I joined the FTII and then I went on to win an Oscar... and my speech was selected as the most eloquent speech of the evening at the Oscars by the American Broadcast Corporation - it was a long way, and that of course people have taken in a positive light.

Wherever I go, whichever college I visit, I get a lot of appreciation from the youngsters... but that comes with a lot of responsibility because one has to also live up to people's expectations by conduct and by the way you practise your craft and your life - then the recognition you have achieved glitters more with your light. So well, this is an added responsibility that I have but otherwise, I am doing the same kind of movie... of course, I have better say these days... and also people are scared of me (laughs) I am losing out on work (laughs) people think that I have gone too big.... I just the same person.

Are there any international projects that you are working on at present?

The nature of my work is such that I am already booked for the next year... I just finished my last commitment that I had taken before I received the Oscars. I will start shooting from January onwards for an independent production from Los Angeles and I am also doing an big international project that is going to be shot in India. Besides that, I am beginning to start an association in Los Angeles so that I can have a foothold there because it's very difficult to break into the technical community there and to be accepted there. Of course, with the Oscar recognition I am readily accepted, but one has to be there and work there .. otherwise you are only a visiting face.

Do you plan to shift your base then?

No, I don't want to leave India, I'll never leave India to earn big bucks. Since 97' I have been working in various international studios in London, Los Angeles, Australia and France. I have worked in all these places, but I never left India because the moment you leave your country you become a second hand citizen - I never wanted to do that no matter what that country has to offer me. In India, I am a free bird, and can do whatever I want and whatever problems this country has are also my problems, and I am very proud of that. But having said that, I definitely would like to build associations internationally and share with the younger generation whatever I have learnt and seen - I would like to pass that on to the younger generation.

When I work, I basically execute all my work sitting in Mumbai, or I can sit in LA and work in my studio in Mumbai - we are that equipped and we have been working like that. Some of the big studios are opening their doors for me and Rahman to work there because they want us - it's a great change- but I am not shifting my base.

In the west, sound engineers receive an equal cut from the film's profits, don't you think that's missing here? And is it possible to introduce such models here?

There's a huge difference in how one gets professionally paid abroad and here. In the west, they call it 'sharing a creative pie' - so, there's a creative pie and a producers pie and that kind of a model has obviously not come in here, but we have attempted it, for example with small budget films like Mithya, Mixed Doubles and Bheja fry we had shared our profits equally, and I hope such a model will be adapted more often.

Professionally too, we are changing. See, I look at it this way... I began to work in a film industry in 1995 and not a single film was shot in live sound then. Now more than 40 per cent of the movies are shot live sound, and in 14 years we have won an Oscar in that category. For me, it only shows one thing - my fraternity is willing to except challenges and I think as a fraternity we have been great at it. Looking at the fair share of what we are putting in, my industry will accept new models like these also - I want to believe that it's going to come and I want to believe that my country is no less than any other country.

Are we technically at par with the rest of the world when it comes to sound?

If you asked me this question 10 years ago... I would have told you that 'we are 10 years behind', but fortunately... that's not the case today, we have access to the latest technology. When I was working on Blue, a microphone company had designed a microphone for me. For the new film that I will be doing now, again a company is designing a microphone for me. Even when I was working on Black, a new hard disk based workstation was introduced and I was one of the five technicians around the world to field test the product and I recorded Black in machine - you know people are looking up to us - the difference is only in the way we are using it.

What kind of difference?

You know .. sound mixes don't sound they same (as in the west) because we have a set pattern, or people don't want to change, or don't want to take risks. In the west, the first concern is that you make a 'creatively satisfactory' product, and then they think about selling it, but here you make a package first.. we try to sell it first.

And the remuneration that technicians get now, has that been changed?

Compared to what it was - there is a huge change. I won't say we are paid badly - but we are not paid on par with the west.