Editing is about your internal rhythm – Antara Lahiri
“Finding a connect with the script and with the director is of utmost importance “ says film editor Antara Lahiri. In a tete-a-tete with Pandolin, the talented lady takes us through the process of putting together a film, her experiences and everything that happens on the edit table.
Please tell us about your foray into the field of editing?
I’m from Kolkata and did a Mass Communication course there. I moved to Mumbai looking for a job and worked for about a year and a half with a production house on an MTV show. During this time I realised that more than directing the show I was inclined to the edit, as everything came together on the edit table. I went on to do a three year diploma course from FTII and then started assisting a few editors in Mumbai. Post that I started working independently. In films you work dedicatedly for almost four to six months on a project and I think that process and pace is something I am more comfortable with.
As an editor how do you visualise and approach a film? What is the key element that you concentrate on while working on a film?
You always discuss the script before hand with the director and that is of primary importance. You need to find a connect with the script and with the director and for me that comes over and above everything else. At the end of the day you are sharing a vision with the director, it is a collaborative medium. Thereafter I do my own cut first and see in what way I can contribute, maybe enhance or give a new direction to the edit. After the first cut, once the director comes, then its just a matter of working towards telling the story right.
Can you take our readers through your work flow – the editing process, of a film. How would you define your editing style?
The first step is when the assistant gets all the footage together and integrates it into the project. Different editors have different ways of organising the project. Once that is done, I come in, do a first cut, work individually with the scenes, addressing each scene and then putting them all together, because you get a different perspective as soon as the scenes are put together. Then the director comes in and you further enhance, or change things. You may even change the perspective with which you have approached the edit.
The style essentially varies from one film to another. For instance, my first film, Gattu, was a children’s film, then I’ve done an out-and-out comedy like Mere Dad Ki Maruti followed by a rom com and so on. It is kind of difficult to retain one kind of style. But editing is also about your internal rhythm and in general I feel that I speak fast, think rapidly and that in some way translates into my work also. So I do end up with quick pace and crisp edits.
You have worked across various genres of films. How do you treat these different films? Does the scale of a film, for example a Gattu, compared to a Ghajini, impact your role in any way?
I personally try to not think about the scale of the film and focus on telling that particular story in the best possible way. If I start thinking of the scale, or a star versus a non-star film, it might bog me down in some way when I’m trying to work. So I always go back to the notion of telling a story, like we have been hearing since childhood. It’s the clarity of narration and being able to draw in your audience which is important.
You have also worked on an international collaborative project, The Owner. Were there any specifications that had to be treated differently? Was it more challenging than editing a full length feature?
It was very early on in my career and one of the most refreshing experiences I’ve had. It was also a good time to experiment with various formats of storytelling. What is really different is that you are working with very limited footage and secondly you are working on a very short film which is eventually going to be tied to a number of other films. And when you juxtapose one story with another it kind of takes on a very different context. In the film you are following the story of a backpack which travels all through the world, so that takes on a different perspective when you see it with all the other films. It was not really difficult, because again, we are telling a story and by virtue of that particular format, some of the directors were in contact with each other, but the editors were pretty much working blind. So it was very exciting as a project in itself.
Tell us about your principal thought for your latest film Bewakoofiyan? How was the overall approach to this light-hearted film?
The approach was to make sure that you are aware of the script and at the same time ensure that a lot of the humour that is intended, should be highlighted during the edit. Also my director Nupur Asthana wanted the humour to be fairly subtle as it was not an outright comedy. So you need to also align yourself with the way the director is thinking. I say that because I was coming right out of Mere Dad Ki Maruti, which was an out-and-out comedy and working with Ashima (Chibber) vis-a-vis working with Nupur was a very different experience as they are both very different directors. So for me it was fantastic to work on a variation of comedy, a rom com.
What according to you is the most complex narrative to deal with from the perspective of an editor?
I think comedy is really very challenging. It is really hard to make people laugh particularly because different people have a different sense of humour. While editing you also have to realise that there could be many things that you don’t find funny but someone else might find it extremely hilarious and vice versa. Editing a comedy was great fun but immensely challenging.
Very seldom have I got to interact with the cinematographer because they move on and the edit is a very closeted space with just the editor and the director sitting. You do on occasion get to talk to them, say during the shoot, if they are discussing formats for example, like would it be a problem to shoot on a GoPro or Canon 5D etc. So there is a technical input that you give at that point. There are some cinematographers who do come in during the edit and you get a different perspective on things.
What is the average time that goes into the editing of a film?
From my experience, that depends a lot on the budget of the film. For instance, Gattu was completed in like 2 months while Bewakoofiyan we edited for almost six to seven months. While assisting I have even been on projects that have been in edit for almost a year and a half. One is the budget factor, then it is also about how much you want to relook, you can endlessly go on editing film. So it depends on various things.
What are the kind of challenges that you have faced in your projects? Which has been the most complex one?
Each film poses a different challenge depending on various factors – the budget, who you are working with and so on. There are a lot of things which you cannot pre-empt. If you have learnt something on one project, you may not necessarily be able to apply it on another one, every project is unique. One of the projects that I am currently working on is fairly challenging. I think films that are to do with kids are a little tricky to deal with. We are not children plus my childhood would be very different from that of a 12 or 13-year-old now. So to be up-to-date with their thinking and make sure that the film will be appealing to them, can get challenging. At the end of the day you need to remember that you are making a children’s film for children, not for adults. That is something that we really need to address and that is what I strongly feel about. It is a very tricky sort of genre but that is what makes it all the more fun.
Any advice that you would like to give aspiring editors?
I speak from very personal experience here. A lot of people want to get into film schools, just for the stamp when they get out and start working. I think it shouldn’t be treated as just a step forward in your career, it is like a life choice you make, a major decision. So I’d advice people, not just aspiring editors, but anyone wanting to get into the industry, to consider that.
What genres of film do you look forward to work on? Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I would love to do a thriller or a mystery film. I’m currently working on a coming of age film called Time Out, directed by Rikhil Bahadur. It’s a co-production between Viacom18 and Aexor Entertainment.
Lastly, which are the films that you would recommend for every filmmaker to watch?
I’m a massive fan of Guy Ritchie. All his films are beautifully executed and that is the kind of film that I would like to work on. Also I’m a huge fan of Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak’s films. I wouldn’t partition it just for editing since at the end of the day we are all filmmakers and I think as a filmmaker I would highly recommend watching these works.