We Spent 300 Hours On Perfecting The Sound: Asvins director Tarun Teja On The Impact Of Sound In Horror

With his feature debut, Asvins set to hit the screens this Friday, filmmaker Tarun Teja tells us why sound plays a major role in his horror film
Tarun Teja on Asvins
Tarun Teja on Asvins

Like many of us, Tarun Teja’s life was drastically impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Tarun, who had a job as a Noise Vibration Harshness test engineer in Germany, got stuck in India during the outbreak due to the cancellation of flights. “Test engineers don’t have the work-from-home option since our job necessitates laboratory equipment and I couldn’t go back. If you stay away from a country for more than six months, you have to revisit your VISA situation.” 

Amidst the chaos, something cool happened. “I wanted to block the noise and make a short film. I had a small GoPro3 and a flashlight at home. I video-called my friend, wrote a script and made Asvins, the short film.” The short eventually reached producer Bapineedu B, who, impressed with the film, gave Tarun an opportunity to adapt it into a feature. “I just had a week to narrate the full version,” Tarun says, revealing that the origin of the film’s title is pretty arbitrary. “While making the short, I was looking for props and I just had two horse dolls at home. I wanted the story to have a mythological connection and when I looked it up on the internet, I learned about Ashwins from Rigveda, the twin gods of medicine, health and sciences.”

Vasanth Ravi in Asvins
Vasanth Ravi in Asvins

Excerpts from the interview:

How did your education and professional background help your craft?

I did my masters in automotive engineering and PhD in industrial engineering. My main subject in PhD was noise and vibration, and we developed a testing machine to study an automotive system. This is where I learned about sound and how it impacts a person. And since I was passionate about filmmaking, I would make shorts while doing a day job. I applied the knowledge I accumulated from my education in my films.

Did you employ sound to create a visceral impact in Asvins?

Exactly. In horror, sound is a weapon. It’s a double-edged sword. If you use it well, you can get into the psyche of the viewer. Fear is a very primal emotion and we have to trigger it. The threshold of fear among people while watching horror films varies. While there are many ways to communicate the story like visuals, colours, and dialogues, I feel that sound is a big advantage. For instance, if you are in an empty, silent house and suddenly hear a footstep, this sound will start playing a game inside your mind once it becomes conscious of another presence. There's a horror science involved here and if you use sound effectively, horror will also be effective. And since I was a test engineer, I knew how our bodies process certain frequencies. I wrote the entire script using different sounds with the idea to translate it into a big cinematic experience.


How long did you spend on the film’s post-production, perfecting the sound?

(laughs) We worked for a long time. The film was shot in 23 days out of which 19 days were spent in London and four days in Chennai and Vishakapatnam. But we spent quite a bit of time on post-production. To give you an idea, Harish, our mixing engineer, who balances and tunes the sound effects, the score and dialogues, worked for over 300 hours to create the final sound mix.

What’s the conventional timeframe?

(laughs) I really don’t want to share, please. But to paint a clear picture, I was told by our mixing engineer, that a conventional film has around 150 tracks, meaning, layers of sound like dialogues, songs, ambiance, effects, etc. Our film had close to 500 tracks.

A still from Asvins
A still from Asvins

That sounds like a lot.

Right. We wanted to give the audience the ultimate horror experience. I understand that not everybody gets scared by horror films but we, the actors and technicians, will get to you. You will experience chills in some places.

What’s the best set-up to relish the film like you and your team intended?

Any theatre equipped with Dolby Atmos.

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