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Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

When Resul Pookutty received the Academy Awards Awards for best sound mixing for his work in the movie Slumdog millionaire many of us came to know the existence of department of Sound mixing in movies and the background score is not just limited to background music but also includes sound mixing.

Resul Pookutty receiving academy award
Resul Pookutty receiving academy award

In this week’s Friday Fundas we will see one of the basic ways of classifying the sounds in movies. It is done in the following two ways

  1. Diegetic Sounds
  2. Non-Diegetic Sounds

Diegetic sound is basically the sound that arises from the elements of the surroundings. These are natural and realistic sounds of the particular scene. Often this is confused as recording the real sounds during shooting. Actually diegetic sound can be composed, mixed and recorded during the dubbing of the movie. But they would represent the typical sound that would arise in the scene. For example the character is sitting in the hall, reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. The ceiling fan is turned on. The sounds of a ceiling fan, turning pages of a newspaper and placing of the coffee cup onto the table are all diegetic sounds for this sequence. These sounds can be recorded live or created later in the studio.  These are sounds that can be heard by the characters on the screen. The opening scene in Slumdog millionaire where Jamal is interrogated by a police officer is an example of Diegetic sound. The sound you hear is from the police office blowing the smoke on Jamal’s face. In the Korean movie The Chaser diegetic sound is used predominantly to build the suspense of the scene.

Non-Diegetic sound arises from outside the story space. Usually this is used to create a specific mood to the scene. For instance in the above sequence where the character is reading a newspaper, he is seeing a news article that is shocking, now a background music conveying the shock of the character is added to the scene. This coupled with the reaction of the character helps in creating the mood for the scene. These are sounds that cannot be heard by the characters on screen. Other sound elements like narrators voice is also a non-diegetic sound in the context of the movie. In the Tamil movie 7G Rainbow Colony Yuvanshankar Raja composed a background music using a symphony orchestra that goes well with the mood of the scene. As director Selvaraghavan explains it, even if you are not watching the visual the background music would convey the mood of the film. This is an example of Non-diegetic sound.

Film is a visual media and to connect the audience to the images on the screen sound mixing plays a vital role. Diegetic sounds connect the audience to the environment of the scene while Non-diegetic sounds connect the audience to the mood of the film. Normally in a movie you would have a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Next time you watch a scene from a movie identify the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Read more Friday Fundas

Irandaam Ulagam

Irandaam Ulagam – is a Romance and Fantasy Tamil movie released in 2013.  The story happens in parallel across two planets Earth and an unknown planet. The unknown planet is inhabited by people who are like humans and still ruled by Kings. There is greed, fear, slavery and war spread over the race and there is absence of Love. The divine mother in the race believes a true love would bring in peace and build culture to the race. Meanwhile in Earth a medical student and a mathematician fall in love. At one point of time the two worlds connect and there is an opportunity to establish true love to the extra-terrestrial race. Was true love established, did it bring in order to their world is the rest of the plot.

Have you ever woken from a dream and thought how strange it was? That is the feeling you would get after watching Irandaam Ulagam. It is a never seen story line and canvas for Tamil Cinema. Selvaraghavan should be lauded for thinking of such a story line and putting in efforts to bring it on screen. Where the movie falters is in the screenplay and dialogues. You talk about true, divine love and hear dialogues of what you would hear in movies like 7G Rainbow Colony, Kadhal Kondaen it kind of creates a clichéd product output. He could have completely avoided that for this movie as it did not fit the bill. The movie doesn’t let you engage with it for long as too many things are happening on screen that is ethereal in nature. It is hard to make films of such demanding visual effects and still make it commercially viable for Tamil Cinema. Unfortunately that is harsh reality and our film makers are caught in this dilemma currently. To make this work, pre-production as a discipline should get well established in the industry to pre-plan and prototype good enough output that is convincing to the audience. This movie has done that to a good extent but they have missed out big time on casting, make up and detailing. Till this is got right there will be a disconnect. Overall the movie has taken the same route as what Baba took, its struggle to tell a compelling message to the audience vs trying to force in commercial elements into it. If you are willing to keep the distractions away and able to see the actual message that has been told and appreciate the efforts of a film maker to bring his dream on to the screen then you should definitely watch this once if not you can skip it.

Note: Please read the review completely before taking a call

Can Skip it – unless you are willing look beyond the on screen performances for the deep message in the movie.