S. Neelakantan, academic counsellor (electronic media) at the Madras University and Anna University, has contributed his technical skills to enable the growth of Audio World, a digital recording studio at Mylapore in the city. A profile.
AFTER 29 YEARS of service, S. Neelakantan left the services of Doordarshan to join Saudi Arabian Television as zonal engineer. However, the new assignment turned out to be a harrowing 14 months for him. "I had very little work and it was really a torture, especially when I had spent most of my career thinking on my feet as it were. Also, I found the atmosphere so stifling. Sometimes, it is only when we leave our country that we begin to value freedom. Abroad, language was a major problem for me - they did not seem to understand English or Hindi. To make matters worse, I had an Egyptian driver. Desperate to return to India, to be among friends and to get back to the work he loved, Neelakantan put in his papers and repeatedly appealed to his bosses to relieve him. "It was so difficult. I was like a prisoner because they had my passport and visa. Finally, it was my immediate boss, a Pakistani, who came to my rescue. The day I was leaving, there was a problem at the office and even in the airport, I was nervous, wondering if my departure would be stopped. It was only when the plane took off that I started breathing normally."
After joining the Guwahati station of All India Radio in 1969 as an engineering assistant, Neelakantan climbed up the ranks, moving to Doordarshan in 1982 as assistant engineer, then on to Mandi House as assistant director, before finally quitting service after a three-year stint at the chief engineer's office in Chennai as assistant director-Maintenance and Inspection.
His experience was varied - he was instrumental in setting up transmission centres in Cuttack and Pondicherry, and was involved in several special telecasts and live coverages - the New Delhi Asian Games (1982), the Reliance Cup cricket tournament and Rajiv's Gandhi's funeral.
"Those 29 years were the best in my life. Most satisfying was the success gained by working as part of a team. We were taught to think proactively and trained for emergency operations. We were given a lot of responsibility and there was accountability as well. Most of all, it was the freedom given to us to perform our duties that we cherished," states Neelakantan.
It was after his return to India in 2000 that Neelakantan decided to contribute his technical skills to the growth of Audio World, a digital recording studio set up at Karpagambal Nagar, Mylapore, by his friend Jayamkondan three years earlier. "We converted it into a state-of-the-art studio, employing Soundscape, a versatile software for sound recording, editing, providing special effects, mixing and producing CD masters," he says. The studio can record as many as 32 tracks at a time. "Although we specialised in content development, programmes could not be made because of paucity of funds," he points out.
Audio World has dubbed English cartoons into Tamil for Cartoon Network and produced one-hour Tamil programmes for the National Geographic Channel. Its expertise was sought in the dubbing of television serials "Chinna Thirai" (Raj TV) and "Alaigal" (Sun TV). The studio has recorded title songs, provided background music scores and special effects for many television serials.
"What we also specialise in is language dubbing, a cumbersome process by which film (24 frames a second) is transferred to video (25 frames a second). Using Soundscape, we remove unnecessary sound and record each voice on a separate track. The lip sync is crucial, as it has to gel exactly within the seconds of time available. And that is what quality dubbing is all about," stresses Neelakantan.
Audio World has produced educational CDs for Madras University and Anna University, and the Audio Visual Research Institute for its UGC programmes. The studio has recorded sound for corporate films and for radio programming on the FM Channel. Recently, for the Madras Museum, audio on 78-rpm records was successfully transferred with greater clarity to CDs.
Neelakantan, an academic counsellor (electronic media) at the Madras University and the Anna University, regrets that although technology has been upgraded in India, there is lack of skilled manpower. "There is no professional training institute and that is a pity when you consider the excellent career potential multimedia offers. Several bright youngsters, after apprenticing with people like us, are hell-bent on going abroad. My experience at least should tell them that there is nothing like working in our own country, enjoying what we do. Don't we owe something to our country for making us what we are?" he wonders, striking a poignant note.
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