The Sound Story

Do not ask the boy his opinion unless you really want it. A rule to live by, the relevance of which I will reveal shortly.

See, 'cause he has the microphones...
“WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

The Boy had a meeting in North Hollywood and wanted to catch a film but nothing was at the right time. I noted that the bargain theater (which gives us a second chance to see movies we didn’t want to see the first time around) was playing an odd little film called The Sound Story, the tale of OscarTM-winning Resul Pookutty in his adventure to record the Thrissur Pooram, a big festival in his part of India.

This appears to be a dramatization of actual events played out by the people who lived those events. In it, Pookutty reveals at the get-go that he’s always wanted to record Pooram, but he’s busily working, especially after his success with Slumdog Millionaire. His “best friend” emotionally blackmails him into the project in part in order to demonstrate value to a producer called George. George, in turn, is playing the importance game and parading Pookutty in front of everyone he can, to the detriment of the actual work. George is so obnoxious, he ticks off his own thugs, who then decide to sabotage the recording. This is after a fight where Pookutty decides to abandon the project, but then discovers that a school full of blind people want nothing more than to hear the festival, so he turns around and decides to do it all on his own. (But since George has a contract, he’ll still own the film, which is why his thugs disrupt it.)

There’s a happy ending where everyone learns a few things and grows, which is one reason I think the actors are playing themselves.

'cause that's what he does.
I hope you like lots of pictures a guy holding mics.

The Boy was high off of just seeing 2.0, an Indian superhero movie that is apparently so spectacularly nuts it wraps around to being good again. He’s been talking it up to everyone he meets. (Pookutty actually did the sound for it.) And he mentioned that there are safety-warning overlaid across the movie when a character does something the Indian government (presumably) doesn’t approve of. Like drink, smoke, or ride in a car without wearing a seatbelt.

When we exited the theater, a lovely woman (whom I would describe as Indian-American, but for all the confusion that would cause) asked us our opinions about the film. I said, “The sound design was amazing!” because it was, and I hadn’t really sorted out how I felt about the rest of it. The Boy did not. He felt the characters cartoonish, the visuals annoying, etc. A lot of the traits which added to his lunatic enjoyment of 2.0 were mere annoyances here. I felt a little bad for the young lady, who was there collecting accolades to pitch the film for some sort of Oscar award. The Boy wasn’t that crazy about the sound design, frankly, because he felt it was too loud. (I discount “too loud” mostly because it’s beyond the filmmaker’s control, unless they’re doing extreme quiet and extreme loud, a la most of Brad Bird’s movies.)

But as I say: You don’t ask The Boy his opinion unless you really want it. He’s not mean, but he’s not going to soft-soap it.

The thing is, I was sort of expecting what I got. It was kind of amazing how amateurish the acting was, to the extent where you could tell even if you didn’t speak the language (a mix of English and probably multiple Indian languages). Some of the visuals are quite good but when it comes to the sabotage at the festival—shown at the beginning of the film in a way that suggests bad karma, and later revealed to be genuine sabotage—there’s a series of shots followed by fade-outs which drove me to distraction. (That technique may or may not have worked in John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, but it irritates greatly here.)

I liked the story, but it wasn’t tightly laid out. The whole MacGuffin is the live performance, but it’s unclear how long the festival actually runs for, if the plan was to record all of it or just this one particular group that’s featured, and given that the group plays it again afterwards so that Pookutty can record it, the whole question of what (if anything) was at stake is murky. Resul is presented as a pretty enlightened guy throughout (whereas several of the other characters are jerks) which means that his revelation of the importance of the recording to other people (the blind) has less impact than it might.

But I think what it all comes down to is this: It was unfocused. It was not a documentary about the festival, because we only learn a little about that. It’s not quite a travelogue of that part of India, though it’s quite beautiful from what you see. It’s not quite a drama because the characters are subordinated to these other festival and travelogue elements in a way that diminishes the narrative effect.

The sound design is amazing, though, and really a lot of fun. The movie focuses so much on the little symphonies of real life, artfully shaped in ways are soothing and even meditative. I think I was enough invested in that to not really care much about the rest, but The Boy’s reaction is probably closer to how most people would feel. Also, without a good sound system, like on a standard TV set up, that effect will be largely lost.

Serves you right.
Horns that you blow at yourself.

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