AA: I agree. Also, when you start a film, you are given a release date. Then, in the middle of the process, they suddenly say that the release has been advanced by two months. Did they even consult the editor on whether he could do justice to the edit in the compressed time frame? But they are, like, ‘Kar lenge yaar, VFX waalon se baat ho gayi hai.’ Hello, so why did they hire us in the first place?
I understand the economics and logistics of it and a lot of these things come from the producers. You okayed a script which is long, then shooting is still underway, shooting can get extended, it keeps getting postponed, they feel ki edit kaun dekhta hai yaar, chhodo na, ho jayegi. And when a film works, everybody is, like, it’s mind-blowing and the actors, director and producer get all the credit, which is fair enough. But when a film doesn’t work, the editor is almost always blamed. Why should we carry that burden?
DM: What you’re saying is that it is not only from the producers’ side but also from the critics.
AA: An editor can only do what he can with the material he is given. You’re holding him liable for something that has been written by somebody else, has been shot by somebody else, has been directed by somebody else, and the only person held liable is the person who is finally putting it together. They can always say to the editor, ‘I give you two weeks, show me a cut, and make it work.’ But people don’t have this mindset. They simply say ki nahin ho raha and will get somebody else.
HK: This may be hard to believe but when they say this to me, I always send them back to re-shoot.
AA: Editors are undervalued. I have realised that people come for screening, random people, and apne views de ke jayenge. Length kum kar dena, arey bhai aap aao baitho aur kaato. No one else knows how to actually do it.
DB: One of my earlier films was Thakshak with Govind Nihalani. I was his assistant and later graduated to being an editor. You know how it is, you can’t tell your boss that this is not right. So I could not really assert it. The film released and Deepa Gahlot in her review wrote: ‘The film could have been 45 minutes shorter.’ And I was like find 45 minutes of this film and I will change my career… 45 minutes, can you imagine!
RSB: A director once told me the first cut was done, the first half and second half were also done. So we started with the first half and we sat on it for two days. I did exactly as told and we deleted only one and a half minutes. I just stared at him in disbelief. I told him to lock the film because one couldn’t even make out what had been removed. We actually needed to delete 20-30 minutes of footage. I finally convinced him to give me 4-5 days more and told him I would give him my first cut but without asking him what he wanted. I said he could take it or leave it.
HK: Is there anything in the contract that empowers editors to say that the final cut is theirs and not someone else’s?
AA: I would agree that in Hollywood they do it where 90 per cent of the time the producer hires the editor. Here, we usually work on the kind of relationships we have with our directors because that’s how our industry is structured. But it also gives the impression that we are the villains. You hired me for my skill, right? Then let me show you my skill. I think we still have to fight for that, regardless of our seniority.
DM: I show them the first cut and then we discuss it.
DB: There is this erroneous notion that everyone can edit. Second, editors end up doing multiple films at a time, which is a dangerous exercise. You cannot do justice to a film if your attention is divided. But editors take up multiple projects as they are not paid enough. I think if the remuneration improves, then editors will put their soul into a film.
RSB: Yes, he is not doing it by choice.
AA: Filmmakers don’t mind investing in a film yet we are undervalued and underpaid because the idea is agar film nikal gayi whether it a `5 lakh editor or a `2 lakh editor, they will say, ‘Kya kaam kiya hai boss!’ And if it doesn’t work, they think they will hire a ‘good’ editor next time. Now that is tragic, even after you invest so much and the film doesn’t work, you blame the editor.
DM: When you meet people, they literally say ki arrey sir aap kya itna paisa maang rahe ho? Aap hi ke jaisa humara dost hai woh toh itne paise mein karne ko tayaar hai. I tell them ki ussi se karva lo.
DB: The fact is that so many films miss the bus because of bad editing. You feel ki woh film itni achi thi ek 15-20 minute koi sharp kar deta ya phir change kar deta toh sahi ho jati. As an editor, I tell myself that every film should reach its own potential.
AA: The funniest thing is when I am asked to clean up the job done by another editor. In such cases, I don’t get into the nitty-gritty like takes and performance, woh sab mein dekhta hi nahin. I watch it and think about it for a week and delete, say, 22 minutes, and I remove one or two antaras from the songs. After a week or 10 days, the director says, ‘I am happy and now we will sit.’
Usually, in these cases, I hire an associate who works on the machines. I say that this is my guy and you can start putting the edited version back and, guess what, of those 22 deleted minutes, 12 minutes come back! The person who got me on board was an EP friend. I told him that basically you have given me free money, I am very happy as I will buy a new car but you are wasting your resources. You have called me but have not considered my inputs. So why did you call me in the first place? Eventually, they went with the original cut. And if you wanted to cut only 5 minutes, toh woh aap hi kaat lete.
DB: That is the problem, now, it is a very abstract art. People are so objective aap kis kisko samjhaaoge, you have to explain ki iske baad iska magic yeh hai. Some directors are very smart about editing and they know their stuff but it is a very subjective art form. In camerawork, you can see beautiful shots, production designer ka set bhi dikhta hai but editing is very abstract.
AA: I believe the only person who knows your true value is a good director. He would know that yaar isne meri bachai hai.
AA: And a producer who is genuinely involved in the project will be able to gauge the editor’s contribution.
DB: Most editors don’t like to talk about what they do because it might undermine the director on that film. It is a subtle process and no one really knows what you do. You are alone in that room aur aap kuchh kar rahe ho. When you have a Eureka moment, there is no one to share it with, there is only you and the material you are provided.
AA: When I was starting out, I would do two versions and I used to delete if the filmaker didn’t like it. But then that kept happening. So I realised ki rakhna padta hai.
DM: I save everything, from my first version to the tenth, because you never know what they will want.
AA: I sometimes go, like, man, I had done that, now I have to do it all over again, and the worst part is sometimes you don’t get the same thing back.
DM: This is what I tell the director, that sometimes when it happens it is magical, so from here on, don’t cut a single frame because it won’t happen again; it only comes once.
DB: Yes, exactly. You sometimes get something that just looks perfect, and then it’s gone because you messed around.
DM: Some directors ask, usme kya tha? And I say, sir, let it be, this is it. And most of the time they keep it. Like I said, that’s because I work with the same directors, so they understand and don’t question.
HK: Very strangely, from Chandni Bar until now, I never have had to have this conversation (with a director).
DB: The hardest time I had was on My Name Is Khan, because Karan (Johar) shoots a lot, and that too in a very larger-than-life manner. From September until the moment of its release, I was working on the last 20 minutes. Karan and everyone else had also invested so much in the film. My Name Is Khan is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and I also had to do the international cut. In three days, I brought it down to 2 hours, because I had known all along that those 40 minutes had to go. But, at times, you’re afraid because the ideas you have are so radical that you’re scared to say, yeh poora nikal jayega. But you actually should have the courage to throw it out there rather than realise later that it was a useful idea.
DM: Even I have started doing a brutal first cut and then either I live with it or we go back.
DB: I usually do my edit, but I never show it to the director because the first time they watch their scenes, they want to see them in all their glory. Then, after six months, when the footage is assembled, that first cut helps a lot in getting everything down to a shorter length. Repetition is a big problem.
HK: The youth have no patience.
AA: I was standing outside during one of the screenings of Brothers, and that’s a 2-hour, 38-minute film, but the true length was 2 hours and 20 minutes. 10 to 11 minutes were added because of the credit rolls and all that taamjhaam, and a trailer was also attached to it.
I was standing right there and a woman came along and said, ‘Haye haye!’ I was wondering what the matter was because she hadn’t even gone in yet! It was a free screening and she was standing outside and saying, ‘Haye haye, yeh toh do ghanta chalees minute ki picture hai, haye!’ This is what the audience is like today. Even if it is a free screening, they look at the length first.
HK: I think Barfi! was a beautiful movie.
DB: It was breathtaking. It would have been fine even if it was 10 minutes longer.
HK: It was impactful. The climax of Kai Po Che too… I wouldn’t change a single thing. It’s one of the best action sequences in an Indian film that I have seen in my life. What an emotional action sequence. My point is, this whole sharpening thing is overrated. Sometimes they say, yeh scene thoda chhota kar de, but chhota karne ke baad bhi kya woh meaning hold kar payega? The problem is not sharpening; the problem is that there is nothing in it when it comes to us. Shoot again, my friend.
DM: When you get to the cinema and see the final cut, you should love it!
RSB: I also don’t understand why an editor works on a film for a minimum of six months and then the promo guy comes along and he is paid more than you are.
DB: There is so much disparity in remuneration.
HK: I find that very offensive… that somebody who comes and cuts the promos walks away with more money than I earn!
RSB: Offensive and harmful. With so many disparities, you are killing this breed of technicians because the new generation will go only where the money is.
AA: Yahi ho gaya hai na. The new generation wants to cut promos because they are getting more money for that.
HK: The worst was in my film Raanjhanaa. I rejected all the trailers because I was given the right to by the production house, and then I cut the promo myself. For Tanu Weds Manu Returns, I rejected about 17 trailers and then did it myself. And still the promo cutters get paid more! So that is my problem. For Chandni Bar, I cut the trailer; for Guzaarish, I cut the trailer. The good thing is that the people I work with give me the right to do that.
AA: No one is undermining the work that the promo person does, but the problem is, and I remember this during Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Ayan (Mukerji) was sitting with me and he said, ‘You are not making as much money as the Paddas (Ravi and Binny Padda, the promo cutters)’.
DB: That is typical Ayan. (Laughs)
AA: Ayan would always say things like that. So I said, no, I’m not. He asked me how long I’d been working on the film. I told him I had started in November and it was a May release. Then he asked me how long they (Paddas) would be working on the film and I said, maybe a month and a half. He replied, ‘Don’t you think you are a fool?’ He was obviously on my side; he told me that I had to start pushing against this because I was contributing much more to the film.
DM: But they feel the audience looks at the promos and goes to watch a film.
HK: This has happened primarily because of a couple of companies in this country and also the corporate system. It doesn’t affect producers or directors.
DB: What is it like in the West? Does anyone have an idea?
BN: It is completely different.
AA: Over there, editors are paid well.
BOI: If all of you feel so strongly and unanimously, why don’t you take this up collectively?
DB: Actually, this is the first time we have talked about it together.