History was created at the Thrissur Pooram temple festival in Kerala on Friday as Oscar-winning sound editor Resul Pookutty recorded the sounds of the celebrations at the Vaddakumnathan temple to take them to the world and save them for posterity.
Pookutty is working with a team of technicians to record the diverse sounds of the festival – from drum beats to firecrackers and parading elephants – in high-quality 5.1 surround sound.
“It has been my lifelong dream and wish to record the Pooram, one of the biggest sound events in the world,” Pookutty told Scroll.in on Friday. Pookutty hails from Kollam, and grew up seeing the Thrissur Pooram, the largest and most popular temple festival in the state held in the Malayalam calendar month of medom, which fails in April or May. This year’s main celebrations are on Friday and Saturday.
Despite the heat, Pookutty looked relaxed in an open-collar shirt and trousers. His aviators didn’t come off even for a second. “This is fun,” he said. “I have my team of people who have helped me put it together. There are technicians from Germany and France on my team.”
The sounds, which will later be edited and mixed, will go into Pookutty’s collections and will also be used for a docu-drama on the festival.
Pookutty is no stranger to sonic feats. His sound mixing on Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire won him an an Academy Award in 2009. But recording the Pooram was a massive challenge. “But I was determined to give people a real sense of being here at the festival without actually being here,” Pookutty said.
He recorded on 172 tracks simultaneously. “We recorded 20-24 tracks in one go for Slumdog – just so that you have an idea of how big this is.”
The equipment and software were sourced from different parts of the world. Rajeev Panakal, a Malayali living in the US, has sponsored the project.
Are we going to hear it soon somewhere? “I’m going to keep it in my archives, but the people funding me have plans to use it to tell the story of the festival in a fictionalised docu-drama,” Pookutty said.
Sights and sounds
The Thrissur Pooram was the brainchild of the former Kochi ruler Raja Rama Varma and was first held in 1798. It has since evolved into one of the world’s largest multicultural and secular gatherings. The festival depicts the mythical visit of gods and goddesses to Shiva, the resident deity of the Vaddakumnathan temple. The deities are placed on top of elephants who are decked in colourful headresses and gold ornaments. least a 100 elephants are involved in the festival.
Over two lakh visitors from around the world visited the Pooram in 2016. At least 3,500 policemen from around Kerala have been deployed at the event this year.
One of the events Pookutty recorded is the Ilanjitharam Melam, held in the courtyard of the Vaddakumnathan temple. Ilanji is a tree where Kerala’s traditional percussion artists gather. The instruments that were played this year included 100 chendas (drums), 75 elathalams (cymbals), 21 kombu (a horn found in Kerala and Tamil Nadu) and 21 kurumkuzhal (a wind instrument).
Pookutty’s next big project is a light and sound show in Nagpur. In 2014, he produced a similar show at Ross Island in Andaman and Nicobar with actress and director Revathy. “Next on my list is this huge light and sound show at Futala lake in Nagpur, based on the life of Swami Vivekananda,” Pookutty said. “Revathy is directing it. The show will rival the one in Las Vegas. It will be the best one in the world.”