Cutting it cold with ace editor, Namrata Rao
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aking an assembly of shots, cutting, and creating scenes is the final act in the creation of a film. It is also the most distinctive. It gives a film its specific form and helps it stand away from and in relation to other films of its time and of the past. Ace film editor, Namrata Rao, speaks to Pandolin about how she went about editing Yash Chopra’s last romance drama, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, and also shares her experiences and views on the strategic significance, variations, aesthetic concerns, and imperatives that drive this most shrewd of cinematic arts called editing in the global filmmaking world.
Could you please talk about your growth as an editor?
I started with a big break in Dibakar Banerjee’s maverick masterpiece, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye. In Dibakar, I met a very good director with really interesting ideas. Working with him was amazing. Each of the films that followed Oye Lucky, e.g. Ishqiya, LSD, Band Baaja Baaraat, Kahaani, and another Dibakar special, Shanghai, helped me grow as an editor in its own special way.
Has the way in which you look aesthetically upon footage changed over a period of time?
That is a very difficult question to answer. To answer it with either a yes or a no is nearly impossible. What I really look for in any footage during editing, e.g. naturalistic performances, spontaneity, multiple takes to find the perfect the perfect one, is still pretty much the same. But yes, I seem to have become faster in sifting through footage and arriving at the desired edit. That pace could have sunk into the edit and become a storytelling and narrative element.
Apart from editing big banner films, you’ve also done documentaries and telefilms too. What’s the central aesthetic element that you look for when you are editing?
Story-telling. I don’t think anything is more important to editing than the emphasis on story-telling. If I am able to organise footage in ways that enable me to tell a story effortlessly and distinctly, I think I’ve done my job and realised what I wanted.
Do you treat every film in its own specific way or do your concepts and ideas of how you could tell a story interlace for different films?
Every film requires its specific kind of editing as it is representative of a director’s individual vision that is different from another’s. My first and foremost responsibility is to be true to my director’s vision and represent it as accurately as possible. I need to understand why he or she is making the film, what he’s trying to articulate, and how much I need to contribute to it. Therefore, it’s important that I work with people who I can connect with, who share my taste, and who tell the kind of stories that I’d also be interested in narrating through my editing skills.
The films that you’ve edited can broadly be categorised as commercial rom-com cinema, niche cinema tilting towards the art-house, and the New Cinema of India that is steeped in a certain localised realism. How is editing for these kinds of films different from each other?
My editing is always guided by my directors’ visions. At a micro level, it is a reaction to a) the rushes, b) how a director has taken a shot, and c) how the director has shaped performance. These are always my primary concerns. At a macro and subconscious level, my editing is a response to the target audience of a film.
My principal emphases during editing are: 1) editing in ways that could make a film stay true to the original shots, scenes and performances; 2) editing in ways to make the story glue together well and work. Overall, I endeavour to produce storytelling that connects with an audience without a glitch. I make sure that the film doesn’t retain portions that stick out and cause its audience to either get disinterested or lose connection with the progression in its story.
The kind of connection a film wants to build with its audience is completely director’s prerogative and an inseparable part of his specific vision on a host of specific issues that the film addresses. Unlike what is commonly thought, a particular director might not want to cater to his audience’s taste completely. He might want to unsettle them or make them uncomfortable or shock them. Some others might want to satisfy their audience completely. With each director and film, therefore, I have to change my approach and try to be as true as possible to his film and perspective.
Is your editing process always tight and low on narrative flab?
(Laughs) I would like to believe so, but I think it differs from film to film. Jab Tak Hai Jaan is a very expansive, mainstream film. It revels in what it depicts, and celebrates larger than life ideas and feelings. Super efficient editing is not its driving force or forte.
Shanghai too didn’t get its strength from a strictly efficient editing process. Instead, it depended upon mood and feel for generating the effects that it did. It didn’t jump from one precise shot to the next to weave its story. On the other hand, LSD got its strength from extremely tight and precise editing. I also had the tools of anarchy available to me for editing it. Band Baaja Baaraat and Kahaani also made use of exactness of editing and removal of flab as major creative elements. Overall, it must be said that whether you tolerate or eliminate narrative flab depends upon the kind of film you are working on.
What was the principal idea that you had for editing Jab Tak Hai Jaan?
The directorial team had two main concerns. Firstly, it wanted to break the stereotypes that Shahrukh, Katrina, and Anushka have been cast in over the years. Therefore, in the film, these three stars play characters which are relatively off-beat compared to their earlier onscreen essays. Secondly, the directorial team of JTJH wanted it to be a film that celebrated a) the tradition of the Bollywood romance drama, b) the things this brand of cinema stood for, and c) the glitter, glamour and lights that are synonymous in India with this genre of filmmaking. It was required that I use my editing sense and skills and strengthen both these objectives.
What kind of montages did you use in JTHJ to underscore your objectives?
The entire film has only two montages. While one of them was scripted, the other was created during editing. Overall, JTJH is not a montage specific film. Rather, it is scene based. It draws its story by moving from one scene to the other. Procedurally, that helps it create both its larger-than-life appeal and immense popular attention. The larger-than-life appeal is ingrained in the very writing of the film. It is there in its story, screenplay, and dialogues, and therefore, does not require an overt editing imperative to cause it to emerge.
What were the principal challenges that you faced while editing JTHJ?
I have worked a lot in the independent film set-up and have done a host of smaller films that relied mostly on content and not on star-power. In that sense, JTJH was my major film with major stars. That changed the equation a little bit. Both the work-ethic and the ways of storytelling changed. As I hadn’t done anything of this sort before, it infused a certain newness into my work. I enjoyed that a lot.
Is there anything that you’d like to highlight from this experience of yours?
I would like to emphasise that editing for JTJH proved a very insightful process. It gave me a very valuable window to the processes that contribute to creating the kind of mainstream Bollywood romance that my friends and I have grown up watching.
Do you have a scene from JTHJ that’s your favourite?
Yes, there are quite a few. The ones that I would want to mention are: a) scenes that explore the interpersonal relationship of Anushka and Shahrukh, b) scenes that show an intimate chemistry between Shahrukh and Katrina, c) the subway scene between Shahrukh and Katrina, d) the park scene that brings Anushka and Katrina face-to-face, and e) the warm scene in which Anushka bids goodbye to Shahrukh and leaves. I like the fifth one the most for its emotional richness.
Did you get to interact with Shahrukh, Katrina, and Anushka?
I did get to interact with them because I travelled with them and was with them on the shoot. We were editing on the spot. Shoots were always followed by edits.
Did they contribute to the editing process in any way?
No, they didn’t. Actors generally never come into play in post.
Did you interact with the colourist of the film?
No. While the DOP, Mr. Anil Mehta, was engaged with the colourist, I was busy editing and introducing last minute edit-changes. Therefore, I hardly got a chance to go to the DI (Digital Intermediate) suite. We were really short on time too. Eventually, we got a DI output from the colourist and watched it in our mixing theatre.
Did you have serious interaction and exchanges with JTHJ’s DOP?
A lot depends in filmmaking upon the equation the editor has with the DOP. I have had a good understanding with almost all my DOPs. I generally tell them what I think about the shoot. As setting up a shot falls completely in their circle of concern, whether they want to proceed with my suggestions or not is always their decision.
I also try to provide the sound department with my suggestions and notes. Yet again, they are the ones who take a final call on whether they want to implement my suggestions or pass them by.
For JTHJ, the DOP and I watched the film together. We then had a detailed discussion about what he thought about the edit. We discussed my notes too. But we did all of this in the edit suite and not in the DI suite. Mr. Anil Mehta’s seniority as a DOP and filmmaker meant that there was a limit after which I could not suggest things.
How much time did the editing of JTHJ take?
The shoot was quite spread out. We started in January of 2012 and shot till the end of September. The editing progressed as the shoot progressed, and got over at the same time as the shoot.
You’ve worked with many filmmakers. Is there one particular person who’s your favourite?
I have enjoyed working with all my directors. From every one of them I have learnt something new about editing and filmmaking. It’s not possible for me to pinpoint one particular person. To say that a particular person is my favourite would be like saying that only a particular part of life is my favourite, and that is a highly absurd sentiment.
The filmmakers I have worked with have all been unique in their own ways and have held differing views of filmmaking and life. When clubbed together, their variety lends to a whole that taps different kinds of audiences and gives life to diverse languages of cinema. As far as personal goals are concerned, I want to be able to add even more variety to my palette.
Which other film editors are doing good work at the moment in the Hindi film industry?
I really like the work of Sridhar, Deepa, Aarti, and Akiv Ali. These editors are the best in business at the moment.