The actor is joined by producer Mantra Mugdh, and the duo chat about creating the chilling paranormal world’ I Hear You’
For years, Aahana Kumra faced a lot of rejection when she auditioned for voice-acting, so the actor steered clear of such projects. Then radio personality and producer Mantra Mugdh reached out to her with a possible collaboration. Shaking her head during a video call, Aahana recalls, “I went over, looking forward to a casual chat, but he suddenly put me straight into the recording room!” Mantra, who believes Aahana has a great voice, explained that the project was like an audio web-series. After a little direction here and there from Mantra, Aahana was ready to start podcasting for the paranormal-thriller podcast I Hear You.
Also Read | Get ‘First Day First Show’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox. You can subscribe for free here
The podcast, which is available in both English and Hindi, is currently in its first season, with one episode (made of two parts) per week, for 13 weeks, says Mantra, and new episodes are released every Wednesday.
To make the most of the sound-driven experience of a podcast, it seemed right to have the main character, Detective Priyamvada, a clairaudient. This opens up the plotline possibilities, points out Mantra, since “fiction thrillers are the flavour of the season”. The trailer for the show touches upon the female detective’s origin story: she gets into an accident and this awakens clairaudient powers, which helps her solve crimes in unusual ways.
Given this is Aahana’s first foray into the audio space (we have seen her in Lipstick Under My Burkha, The Accidental Prime Minister and Khuda Haafiz), getting into the skin of the character required a different approach. “With the closed environment of the studio, your imagination can run wild when it is just audio,” Aahana explains, “it is such a new world and space for me. I have the best in the business, Mantra, to hold my hand through it. He understands where I come from. As actors, we think we are good at performing in front of a camera, but we do not think of other mediums.”
The power of the microphone was leveraged big time for I Hear You, say Aahana and Mantra. “The first time Mantra put me in front of the microphone, it was very overwhelming because it wasn’t just dubbing. I had to imagine spaces and objects which you can act out in front of a camera,” says Aahana. “Mantra informed me about the technical aspects of using a mic such as what happens when you lean in or go further back. With the first episodes being very emotional as Priyamvada is trying to figure out why she’s hearing these voices as she resumes her job, so understanding the exact space in the first two episodes was crucial.”
To create the immersive headspace of paranormal activity in the real world, infusing environmental noises for I Hear You helps enhance the narrative. “That’s one element I spend a lot of time with,” agrees Mantra, who looks back on his early years visiting Foley Studios to learn about these types of sound effects. “There was no Internet back then when you could look up these sounds, you had to make them yourself. For example, typing bricks to your hands to make footstep noises, or using aluminium sheets to create thunderstorm sounds. With technology as well as my theatre experience, I have learned a lot about binaural effects to create three-dimensional sounds, so you really feel it is happening around you.” Mantra points out there are scenes in the podcasts of no dialogue but actually just Detective Priyamvada breathing and experiencing unusual things – voices, in particular – happening around her in a given location.
Speaking of theatre and its very hands-on approach to any sort of acting, Mantra and Aahana were keen to bring on theatre actors to guest star in the podcast. “I’m part of a few theatre groups, and these actors always want to venture into different mediums, because they want to see what they can do with different voices,” says Aahana.
“Aahana is unofficially our casting director (laughs),” jokes Mantra, “because after doing one episode, she goes and tells all her friends. Then she comes the next day with a couple of friends who want to be a part of it. I’ve seen a lot of television and film actors end up being very uncomfortable in front of a microphone; this is where they find out the power of dialogue and projection. They say ‘you’re sorted if the camera loves you,’ but here, if you’re friends with the microphone, that’s special.”
Are Mantra and Aahana open to expanding to a television medium? Mantra simply concludes that the power of listening would not get the same desired effect if a visual component was present. The ‘limitation’ of audio podcasts is actually liberating and, ultimately, can propel new ways of storytelling.