Sukanta Majumdar: Sound records everything; image records frames only

Posted by Kaahon Desk On December 22, 2017

One of the key persons of contemporary art house Bengali films, Sukanta Majumdar is an award-winning audiographer and sound designer of films and theatre, based in Kolkata. He had over the years, collaborated with several filmmakers and artistes from around the world working in cinema, music and sound installations, etc. He met Moushumi Bhowmik in 2004 when she had just begun her research on expressions and interpretations of Biraho (longing in separation) Bengali folk music. Their journey together took them to various nooks and corners of Bengal, the north-eastern states and Bangladesh where Sukanta Majumdar worked as a field recordist. The result of their work is being put together and disseminated under the title ‘Travelling Archive’. His filmography includes such varied and recognized works such as Opium War, Kangal MalshatKalkimanthankatha and Lady of the Lake among several others.

When it comes to designing, he relies mostly on the first impression of sound he gets from the images and the film in general. He talks in detail about his method, which is more instinctive. It deviates slightly when it comes to documentary and nonfiction films, due to the prevalent chance factor. But it attracts him because of recording opportunities since he is strictly against using stock sounds. It is a matter of both authenticity as well as organic link to his work. He shares his experience of working on a particular film sequence and the way he designed the sound to contextualize an otherwise arbitrary scene into a specific political and historical reality of a region. For Sukanta Majumdar, it’s this job of weaving together unheard and untold stories within the main narrative, which makes it a gratifying accomplishment for a sound designer.

As far as the dominant practices in mainstream industries are concerned, Sukanta Majumdar refuses to accept them as sound design for cinema. He shares an anecdote about Amitabh Bachchan and states that within a star driven system, the entire priorities are different and cinema with all the technicalities and aesthetics takes a back seat. Interestingly, there is also a curious ix of audience who consume mainstream as well as alternative cinema and for them the index of merit or reception for both these kinds of films are quite different. He talks in detail regarding his approach citing a particular sequence from ‘Kalkimanthankatha’ by Ashish Avikunthak and also another instance from Haobam Paban Kumar’s ‘Lady of the Lake’ to explain the manipulation of various sounds in order to create or at times avoid creating a parallel narrative.

The discussion about sound design steers towards the idea of sonic journalism, as practiced by Sukanta Majumdar’s guru and friend Peter Cusack. Both in terms of recording as well as disseminating the work, sonic journalism looks at sound from a more social science perspective. Sukanta talks in detail about the significance of the sonic experience in everyday lives and the emergence of heavy weight technologies such as Dolby Atmos which have endless channels and speakers, delivering a larger than life experience of sound in theatres. While there is no denying the spectacle value and thus the logic of profit made possible, the more significant question to be raised is whether the listening experience at all needs to be so grand.

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