Mangesh Desai working
Sound Man Mangesh Desai at work

Every art form in itself is a universe. Like it is intriguing to know about the beginning and evolution of the universe, the same is equally true for the universe of any individual art form. And there was a man who taught the Indian film industry that sound is an art. The man was – Mangesh Desai.

“The Sound Man Mangesh Desai” docu-feature by a renowned sound man of current generation Mr. Subhash Shahoo, is a tribute by the current generation to the past master who defined the craft and took it to the level of art through the works of his lifetime.

The Sound Man Mangesh Desai” screened at Mumbai Film Festival

The story starts with a caricature sketch, by another Indian legend, Animator Mr. Ram Mohan, that introduced Mr. Sahoo to the only superstar of his art, Mr. Mangesh Desai. The sketch shows a queue of producers bowing down to the frail-looking man with a fragile frame while he enters his empire, the mixing studio. Such respect, terror and love for a sound technician made Mr. Sahoo curious about this past master and he kept collecting all the information about him through various sources, which resulted in this incredible documentation about this man of sonic wonders.

After recognizing the enormous contribution of this small big man to the Indian film industry, Mr. Sahoo decided to make a documentary on him, resulting in this docu-feature. This film documents the journey of a common man from the day he arrived to Mumbai to learn and make a career in sound, till the day he left this earth, after making a priceless contribution to Indian film industry.

Mangesh Desai Sketch by Ram Mohan
Sketch by Ram Mohan on Mangesh Desai at work

There are many sound recordists in the world now and there were many (though few in numbers) in his era too. But in an era when film sound was limited to dialogues, background score, and songs, Mangesh Desai pushed the envelope by doing what can be done instead of what minimum is required of him. In this process, when any film came to his table, he used to own it and go beyond his department. Many times, he adamantly demanded the filmmakers give him what he thought will complete the film, which could be a reshoot of a day or 2.

There is one such example given by another legend of Indian Cinema, Late Mr. Yash Chopra where he mentions that no one believed that his film “Kabhi Kabhi” will work for Indian audience, but Mr. Mangesh told him to believe himself and suggested him to tell the story linearly so that the audience understands it easily. This demanded additional shoot of 2 days but Yash Chopra did it and the film is regarded as a milestone in Indian Cinema.

Such insight about how every department of cinema works and applying that knowledge while doing the sound for the film was rare and this passion for perfection and understanding of Indian mass audience, made Mangesh Desai, the only star technician of Indian film industry. Every big producer and director used to line up before his studio for his dates and the release dates of the film were decided on his availability.

Mangesh Desai was a passionate and obsessive workaholic who was devoted to making his work the best. If things weren’t perfect, he used to shout at anyone and rush out of the studio. No one had the courage to confront him and he even shouted on every big filmmaker of yore except Satyajit Ray. But this was all because of his love for cinema and making it SOUND perfect.

A non-fiction work or documentary needs to tell the story in an intriguing and engaging manner, without the aid or freedom of re-creating the events and moments in the subject’s life like fiction films do. It can use that method for re-creating a few moments or events but in parts and not whole, otherwise, it will be fiction instead of a documentary. This creates a challenge for any documentary filmmaker to find out different tools which will aid him in telling the story in an equally engaging manner.

In this film, Mr. Sahoo uses hosts of different tools, like the sketches on Mangesh Desai by famous animator Mr. Ram Mohan, opening credits of the films on which he worked, posters and covers of the LPs and old photographs, etc. He also uses footage from actual movies where his exceptional contribution is highlighted by an interviewee. Interviews of his family members and the people who worked closely with him and on-location shots of studios he worked or equipment he used are other raw materials which also comes handy. Another big aid comes to his help in the form of the book written by Mangesh’s daughter on her father, and also the letters were written to him or by him to others.

A document of person who lived through a glorious era also brings out insights on many legends of those times and also highlights how things were done those days. Here too, we get to know about many legendary personalities like music director Vasant Desai, ace filmmaker V. Shantaram, famous directors like Yash Chopra, Subhash Ghai, Mahesh Bhat and many more. The nostalgia generated while watching the old film footage, posters, LP covers of old classics, the stories about all these, is an added bonus.

Mangesh Desai with Amitabh Bachchan
Mangesh Desai at work while Amitabh Bachchan is watching

The film rightly focuses more on the sound career of Mr. Mangesh and touches his personal and past life briefly. One such interesting piece of information is his participation in Independence movement and his belief in armed revolution than the then-popular non-violent path. This nationalistic nature of his was also the driving force behind his determination to do everything possible in India only.

There are few insights about his personal life too, but it would have been better to know a bit more about is his habit of having personal recreation time with his card-playing friends every Sunday. One or two interviews from those friends would have completed the coverage of all aspects of his life.

To sum it up, “The Sound Man Mangesh Desai” is a befitting tribute to the only superstar technician in Indian film industry. It not only takes us through the man’s journey from an eager to learn intern to the most sought-after sound technician but also gives us a tour of the bygone golden days of Indian Cinema and its masters.