AA: He is an editor as well.
HK: In the late ‘80s and early 2000s, before people like Deepa, Bunty and Akiv came in, editing had become a redundant craft. Directors wanted a DoP who would listen to him and gives him good shots. Editors were replaceable because the director thought he too was an editor. Now we have directors who have a set of editors whom they work with. Earlier, filmmakers were not properly educated in filmmaking.
DB: When I made the first cut of My Name Is Khan for Karan (Johar), he told me, ‘Earlier, all we did was assemble footage and piece it together; we never realised that the material could be transformed.’ So when I would take something and place it somewhere else, they would marvel at the fact, that we could simply push buttons and reinvent the narrative. Now, everybody is much more aware of what can be achieved. And with digital, they themselves can try out things.
RSB: But I must point out that digital gets them confused while shooting. Abhi chai banana hai aapko, bus chai patti daaloge but usme ab tulsi, adrak daaloge aur kya kya kar sakte ho. Ab ingredients toh sab laake diya ab achhi chai banaao. Filmmakers know that the editor will use all these things and deliver a good product. That is an advantage but, then again, editing has become a lot tougher. It takes a heck of a lot of time to edit so much footage.
HK: But I love extra footage.
DB: I too prefer more rather than less because we are equipped to cope with large quantities of material, but young editors are unable to do so. All of you must have been called up to fix things in films because the editor was new and couldn’t handle all the material. I always tell my assistants that editing is like driving a car. Starting mein aap sirf Carter Road ke sidhe stretch pe chala sakte ho. If you take me to Mohammad Ali Road, I won’t be able to drive because the crowds will drive me crazy. So I need to be a driver for five years before I can navigate Mohammad Ali Road. As a young editor, you should take Carter Road type films, where you can take the straight road and navigate easily because you will be able to do it and you will grow. I did not receive any formal training.
HK: None of us have.
DM: We used to do promos, Bunty and I.
AA: I am from Whistling Woods. (Laughs)
HK: You are from Whistling Woods?
AA: No, I meant that as a joke because none of us is trained.
DB: I have found that the young editors who are good are from Whistling Woods.
RSB: Abhi shaayad aaye honge but not earlier. There are so many institutes to train doctors, architects and everybody else but not for editors.
AA: One of the issues plaguing us now is rewriting of films. When I look back just five years, at the scripts vis-à-vis the films that released, there is nothing in the scripts.
BN: What was in the footage was completely different from the stories we told after editing it. Scene bhi changed, dialogue bhi changed.
AA: Yes, I was editing Brothers and I struggled because the climax is an action sequence and it had 24 hours of footage in high speed so maine mere assistant ko bola chal sab normal karde. (Laughs)
DB: I do that too. (Laughs)
AA: Even so, it came down to 12 and a half hours. Storyboard nothing, script one-and-a-half pages to two pages long, and the footage went on and on. I felt this was totally unfair because, eventually, you are giving me nothing. Barfi! was fun because Basu (Anurag Basu, director) doesn’t put that kind of pressure on you. He says, ‘Wait, let me figure it out. Main kuchh karta hoon and then I will tell you.’ But every film can’t be like that. As I said, yaar second writing samajh mein aata hai but what is this rewriting that’s happening?
HK: No, this is like writing for the first time! (Laughs)
AA: And koi scratch hi nahin diya. We talk about remuneration and we talk about time. I think it all begins with the producer. He passes a script that is 200 pages long, then he walks into the editing room and says, two and a half hours mein bana dena. They seem to have a formula of one minute a page. How can that happen? I have to cut 55 minutes from a film.
RSB: Imagine editing those 55 minutes before that.
AA: Exactly. The timeline of one of these films was 1 hour 56 minutes and 12 seconds. I mean, just the first half, it felt as if the first half was the entire film! Then they say, ‘Look into it man, look into it.’ LOOK INTO IT?? Matlab aapne poori picture shoot kar li first half mein and I should look into it! (Laughs)
DB: I press the panic button as soon as I start getting the scenes. As soon as I feel the film will be too long, I say 2 hours 10 minutes is the cutter.
AA: Don’t reveal your secrets.
DB: No, I explain in detail why I think it is too long. They have to understand that I am terrified because, first, audiences have become very restless. If it’s a superstar-driven film like a Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the audience doesn’t mind the length. They love watching big actors. But if you are making a film like Kai Po Che with newcomers, then the audience wants a much shorter film. You also risk earning that favourite line of the critics, ‘Bahut lambi thi, bahut slow thi.’
RSB: Let me share an experience with you. Tashan was the biggest flop of my career but I am proud of that film for the effort we put in. While editing the film, we realised that the style was different. Everybody wanted to get that style from the edit table to the audience, which obviously failed. But we gave it our one hundred per cent. I edited the film till the very last moment. The film was about to release, the print was ready and we still were editing on the screenmate. We knew there was a problem and we had to fix it. Only I know just how hard I worked on that film but, in his review, Khalid Mohamed wrote, ‘Editor is on vacation.’ Just that one line – I was, like, vacation toh nahin bolte. Go check my attendance.
DM: That’s the worst part. Wahaan (filmmakers) se jo material aaya woh bura nahin!
HK: There was this one time I had just 20 minutes’ footage on the editing table, and I had to ask my director, Saket Chaudhary, to shoot the rest of the footage. The only film I was satisfied with was Chandni Bar, which had enough material. After that, I had this strange problem with producers-directors. I used to tell them, ‘Arey shoot toh karo’ because I used to give them maximum 1 hour 20 minutes’ footage after editing whatever they used to provide me. So they would say, ‘But we gave you so much footage,’ and I would tell them, ‘Woh laayak nahin hai’.
AA: If we say laayak nahin hai, they will say, kya baat kar raha hai yaar? It is so annoying when you do the best you can with the footage they give you and then they say, ‘Bhai, tu emotion nahin samjha.’ Main emotion ko samajh raha hoon but aapke emotion ka itna hi daayara hai bhai. Iske aagey nahin ho sakta. I suppose each one of us has directors we sync with well and it is tough working with somebody new and they tell you, ‘We didn’t get it.’ And I am, like, you are the one who didn’t get it. If you have shot a crappy film, I can’t help it.
RSB: They find it very disturbing when we decide what to delete.
RSB: They feel ki we were shooting an hour’s footage all morning, we did not get the location we wanted, we didn’t get proper timings and lighting, and you cut the entire scene! Ek background story aati hai.
DB: I have realised that handholding on the part of a director is also part of editing. If you want to get your way, you have to plan for it. If I don’t like something, I go to any lengths to get it done my way… beg, borrow, manipulate, go down on my knees, write nasty emails to say that, ‘I warned you, so that kal agar film pit gayi you should remember that I had warned you.’ I use every trick in the book and then, I say, ‘okay now I can sleep because I warned you.’
I feel editors often lack the ability to fight, they are not assertive enough. Perhaps we are afraid to fight for our point of view because we believe somebody else knows better. But we are hired to be objective and to offer our point of view. If we don’t have a point of view, what’s the point of this business? Then toh be it `10-20-25 lakh, you don’t deserve anything. You can’t be there to please people. So when I choose a director, I always ask myself whether this person will be receptive. Will he be open to thinking of his film from a different perspective? Can I contribute to the film in any way?
RSB: Initially, I usually edit whatever is given to me, so that they can see exactly what they have shot. Later, I say, now let me edit it the way I see it. I ask them to keep their favourite scenes in their respective lockers.
DM: Everyone does the same thing because that’s the right way to do it. Pehle dikha do what you have shot.
HK: Since I have finally learnt how to burn a DVD, I give them a DVD.
BN: QuickTime is a better option.
AA: I do that only if they insist on including their favourite scenes. I put that on a DVD and I tell them, ‘Sir, I have made a special DVD for you.’
RSB: I realised quite recently that when a film is in post-production, the MOV is like a God to them. I advise them to lock at least 90 per cent of the edit and then give it out so that everybody is on the same page. I have watched my assistants struggle all night aur so gaye, galat render ho gaya, it’s chaotic. Digital has actually made work more difficult for an editor. Film was much better. Negative ka process alag tha.