It took multiple appointments to get Sajida Khan for a phone interview. Spending most of her time inside her music studio 6HTZ at Banjara Hills, she is currently busy working on an audio book, letting school children record their poems in their own voices.
“I do not care if their voices are too soft or coarse, what’s important is that the students get a chance to recite their own poems because no one else can do a better job in articulating with such ease,” Sajida says.
Sajida, a resident of Hyderabad’s Moula Ali, is an audio engineer who has worked for over 60 movies, advertisements, award shows and audio books. Making her mark in a completely male dominated bastion, Sajida has come a long way in becoming one of the few women audio technicians in the country today.
In 2018, among many other women achievers, she was recognised as the first female music technician in India in the First Ladies Award presented by President Ram Nath Kovind. Having started her music journey as a child, Sajida speaks to TNM about being an audio engineer and why the industry still has very few women professionals in the field.
Sajida says her passion for music was ignited during her school days when she was part of many music bands.
“We used to often go for programmes at Ravindra Bharathi, to take part in folk music competitions. I learnt playing Veena for a brief while after which I became more interested in playing folk instruments. These instruments are mostly carved out of wood, and have a lot of beads which make them quite different from the conventional musical instruments typically used for melody. I never was trained professionally in music, until I passed my Class 12 and decided to join a music studio during my free time,” Sajida says.
The audio technician, like many women during her time, never thought of turning her interest in music into a career.
“In Indian homes, your passion can never be your profession. So, when I first joined Geetanjali Studios after my junior college, it was strictly viewed as a 'hobby' to pass time during the two-month gap before joining college. But my experience at the studio opened to me a new world which made me serious about turning music into my career,” Sajida says.
Due to the lack of proper institutions that offer courses on audio engineering, Sajida finished her education in multiple institutes. After finishing her courses, she started freelancing and working for several studios.
“During this time, I started taking up all kinds of work. For example, due to lack of time, in India, the audio work for a film is handled by different people at a film studio. This is mostly because the filmmakers put the onus on their post-production team to release the movie on time and technicians would spend sleepless nights to bring the final output you see at the theatres. I started catering to all departments - from dubbing to recording and audio mixing - where except for a friend and myself, all other technicians were men,” Sajida says.
Though her friends chose other career options later, Sajida was sure of pursuing her passion and in 10 years, she has worked for over 60 films. Many of these films are dubbed versions of Tamil and Malayalam films into Telugu and there are original ones too including Guri, Slokam, Wallposter, Keka, Andhrawala, Lava Kusa, June 9 and others.
“Lava Kusa was one of the most prestigious projects I could be a part of. The animation film directed by Dhavala Satyam took almost four years to materialise and dubbing for the film was a once in a lifetime experience. The film was originally made in Telugu and Hindi simultaneously, which meant a lot of work for the studio,” Sajida says.
She has also worked for film directors like Dasari Narayana Rao, Teja, Puri Jagannadh and has even handled dubbing for many Bhojpuri films. In the past 14 years, Sajida has worked for musical albums (political and devotional), jingles, tele serials, documentaries, All India Radio recordings and radio serials, and award shows where she creates sequences for the nomination categories.
“I started my own studio 6HTZ only in 2018 after which I worked for the Andhra Pradesh government for their tourism ads. Currently, I haven’t been taking up films because of my audio book which I am planning to complete this year,” Sajida says.
Sajida is helping around 40 students from the Nagari government school in Andhra Pradesh to record their poems in the audio format and release it on YouTube.
“I happened to come across the compilation Tholi Mogulu at a book exhibition where it was sold for Rs 20. But the piece of literature certainly was more worthy. The person who compiled the poems put me in touch with the students. I have finished recording three poems and once the book is done, I'm planning to release it on YouTube where anyone can listen to the compilation,” Sajida says.
In addition to the President’s Award, Sajida was also awarded the Visishta Mahila Award from the Telangana government in 2018. Despite many laurels coming her way, Sajida opines it’s a long way ahead before people start acknowledging audio technicians and more women come into the field.
“I do not say this because I wish to see my name in the credit rolls. But there are less institutes and minimum exposure which make it difficult for an ordinary person to pursue it as a profession. Being a woman, I haven’t faced any discrimination but people have trusted me with more work because we do it better. But for more people, especially women to come into the profession, it’s still a long way ahead for the audio industry to acknowledge all the hard work we put into making a piece of art come to life,” Sajida says.