Roundtable – Editors

Hemal Kothari (HK): Let’s start by discussing the fact that editors have no point to prove in the dates they allot. With other technicians, like cameramen and actors, you buy their time but editors are supposed to be cousins of producers, who just keep doing their job till the film releases.

Deepa Bhatia (DB): I think there are two end points to the filming process, writing and editing. Both of them tend to linger. Mentally, it is one single contemplative process, like writing. You go back to the drawing board and ideas keep flowing. I think there is no running away. It is inherent in nature.

Bunty Nagi (BN): And with digital coming in, technicians are experimenting even more today.

DB: But, it has also increased the quantity of material one has to process.

Rameshwar S Bhagat (RSB): Filmmakers don’t think it is an experiment; they believe they have a canvas and so they keep shooting. So, for instance, the climax in Bajrangi Bhaijaan lasted around 10 minutes but do you know how much footage I received? 12 hours! I was sitting there and some guy handed me a hard disk. When I ask what was on it, he said the background-plex and it was 15 hours long! So I had 12 hours of footage and 15 hours of background-plex and they want us to compress it into 10 minutes. That is inhuman.

DB: Apart from the quantum of material, we wield a complicated skill. I think it is the most abstract skill in the industry.

Akiv Ali (AA): It is also the most undervalued because when a film comes together, it is supposed to be part of the process! But when a film doesn’t work, it is easiest to blame it on its length, and guess who gets the blame for that? For the 35 films I have worked on, I have not received a single good review. They always say, ‘Editing could have been tighter’.

Devendra Murdeshwar (DM): Ditto for me. ‘Editing could have been tighter’, chalegi picture toh bhi tighter nahin chalegi toh bhi tighter!

AA: Editors are the most undervalued lot and I think that is tragic for young editors. They start working in this field and they are told that things are ‘like this only’ in this field. This younger generation is really feeling the impact of the never-ending job that editing has become. You can’t actually tell someone that we have hired you, so now you will keep cutting our film till you die.

RSB: Never mind that we are given excessive footage, there are times when we are even asked to spend time on the sets.

AA: It is better to not be present on the shoot because that is how you get ideas.

RSB: Online editing is a different entity altogether. There are people who specialise in their job, who show a rough cut, and that is part of their job.

DB: Exactly, we have to reinvent.

RSB: It takes a lot of convincing when we try and explain that going to the set doesn’t make any sense. When shooting is underway, how can I take a decision on which shot to include or discard? I have to see a shot repeatedly to understand whether I can use it or not.

HK: And you invariably end up with footage that does not match your creativity.

RSB: That will always happen.

DB: I have never seen the online edit of any film that I have cut to date. I always tell them to not even show it to me.

RSB: You have to be a little brutal with them.

DB: I try to be very tough with the director and the producer. I believe you have to draw a line somewhere, else you can so easily get pushed around. You have to be firm about your dos and don’ts, and your timings. If you are good at your job, you will reach home at a reasonable time. I have noticed that there are many editors in the business who are not worth their salt. Unfortunately, that gives all of us a bad name.

AA: Today, anyone who knows how to operate the edit machine is an editor. Aapko kya aata hai…

DM: FCP aata hai toh chalo editor ho. (Laughs)

RSB: Recently, I met this guy who wanted to work with me, I told him to just sit and observe for a month, to get an idea of how things work. After about 20 days, I asked him what he had learnt and he replied, ‘Sir, you can import with MXF, then take it to this.’ I told him, ‘Forget it. What you are telling me is useless. I wanted you to understand the concept of editing, which you still don’t know. Instead of the craft, you are giving me technicalities.’

AA: I can’t handle today’s youth who come armed with Google search. They Google everything and believe they know it all.

HK: I learnt how to burn a DVD only last year. (Laughs)

DB: Our job is to tell a story. This craft is all about how we do it in the best possible way and how equipped we are. When I hire someone to assist, I always ask them what they read, what they watch on television, what they observe or whether they observe anything at all. For instance, if you like watching people while travelling by train, you will probably be a good editor because it means you are curious. These questions are not related to technology.

HK: Nowadays, kids have very poor knowledge of literature.

BN: All they want is a job and money.

RSB: There are times when I feel ki main unka nahin woh mera interview le rahe hain.

DB: In fact, many filmmakers also do this… I will not take names.

HK: You have to take names.

DB: (Laughs) Pstttt…. Guess who? Well, there was this one big filmmaker – and this was very early in my career and I was still editing alternative films of Govind Nihalani and Jahnu Barua. And he asked me what exactly it is that I do. I told him I am an editor. He said, ‘No the director edits, and every film of his has been too long. Every film…’ I said, ‘No, a director cannot edit. A director can direct but…’

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