Editing gives a lot of perspective about storytelling
He started editing at the young age of 15 and has since honed his skill by being associated with projects ranging from feature films to documentaries and TV shows. Editor Pratik Chitalia, who earlier worked with Director Ketan Mehta on Rang Rasiya, joined hands with him once again for Manjhi – The Mountain Man. In an exclusive chat, Pratik talks about his approach to editing Manjhi, the challenges faced, the importance of perspective in editing and more.
What drew you towards the field of editing? Have you received formal training in the same?
I started editing when I was 15 years old. I quit my studies because I loved filming and was very clear that I wanted to do something in filmmaking itself. I chose not to do my graduation and because of that I could not apply for institutes like FTII or other government recognized institutes. I learnt the software from a private institute and have been learning on the job since. It was the love for filmmaking that drew me into this field. Editing gives you a perspective of all the departments of filmmaking because everything converges on the edit table.
How would you define your style of editing?
Styles change with experience. After spending 15 years in the industry, I think my strong point is that I create things that have a soul, something that touches you. I understand the characters and the story on a deeper level rather than just cutting shots. I would say that I try to add emotions through editing.
Which factors influence the way you treat a film?
Primarily the story. If we talk about Manjhi, it’s the story of a man, who with a single hammer, breaks down a mountain. You can see the story as a painful one or a rural one and make an art house film out of it or you can see it as an epic tale. You need to understand your character and what you are trying to say through the story. In this case we wanted to inspire people. So you work accordingly so that the film conveys the desired message.
Having worked with Ketan Mehta earlier, what was his brief to you for this film? What motivated you to edit Maanjhi?
Ketan and I work on a collaborative level. He is a veteran filmmaker who gave me a break in Bollywood when I was just 19 years old. There are a lot of things that I learnt from him. What I like about Ketan is that he is very open to suggestions. For Manjhi he simply told me that he sees this as a very inspiring and positive film and he wanted that to be visible in every aspect of the film.
I also edit a lot of television shows and documentaries. Manjhi was a story that I was already aware of and was in talks to make a documentary out of it, but that didn’t materialize. So when Ketan shared the story, I was aware of it and knew that it would make a great film.
What softwares do you generally work on? And which one did you use for Manjhi?
The whole film industry has been working on FCP (Final Cut Pro) 7, which is actually an outdated software. We will have to very soon switch to FCP 10 or Adobe Premiere. This film was edited on FCP 7 itself since I was comfortable with the software.
What were the key challenges you encountered on this film?
Manjhi is about this man who breaks a mountain, hammer by hammer, doing the same thing everyday. If you have to observe a laborer, even he follows a similar process, so it is something that people see on a day-to-day basis. So the question is, what’s the interesting part about this character and film? It all boils down to the perspective of the film. We never lost the perspective that this is an inspirational story, so even though he is just hitting his hammer on the rocks, you will feel his emotions behind it and even want to back him and encourage him to break the mountain.
How much time did it take you to edit Manjhi? What is the average time spent on a film?
We finished Manjhi in 6 -7 months. There is no average time as such. Some filmmakers are very clear about what they are making, they might come up with really long takes – one-scene shots and the editor has to simply join them. It depends on the director and the kind of film you’re working on. For example, if it’s a war film, it might take a year or more because you have to join that many shots and join them believably.
Tell us about your association with cinematographer Rajeev Jain and what were his creative inputs on this film like?
Rang Rasiya, my earlier project with Ketan was shot on film. This time they shot digital. In digital you are not concerned about film stock and you can shoot unlimited things and work it out on edit. A very good thing that Rajeev did, which helped us on the edit, was that he covered the entire film with two cameras and different angles. It becomes easier to tell a story when you have different angles, small shots, close ups etc.
What kind of films do you enjoy editing – fiction or documentaries?
As an editor, it is more challenging and satisfying to edit documentaries. Because in documentaries we join random, unplanned footage, which comes to life on the edit table. This skill really helps you in fiction. There are times when we just change the whole screenplay and juxtapose it in such a manner that it looks like a new film and becomes more engrossing. Again, it all comes down to perspective.
Your last project was an American indie film. Would you say that the western sensibilities of editing a film are different from India, especially Hindi cinema?
Yes, they are. I felt that they are more evolved, not just in the scale of films they make but also in terms of understanding acting. Here, the trend is that one person says a dialogue, then you cut to the other guy who reacts to that dialogue. Then we have them looking at each other so that we can add some background music because we are very dramatic (in India). Abroad it’s all very subtle. They approach it in a realistic way and are not looking for too much drama.
What kind of films do you watch to garner inspiration? Any well-edited films that you would recommend?
I like cinema that inspires, that conveys something subtly and in an entertaining manner. People don’t understand that if we make meaningful films, cinema can be used to create a better society in future; that’s my personal belief.
I really like Guy Ritchie’s films, they are very sleek and they (Guy and his editor) introduced a new kind of editing style. They play around a lot and juggle things in such a way that it gets you thinking. On an editing level I also like Wachowski Brothers because my belief for cinema is that it should be inspiring and Wachowski Brothers have done amazing things with V for Vendetta and Cloud Atlas. In India I really loved Haider and many more, it’s a long list.
Do you have a criterion for choosing the films that you’d like to be associated with?
Be it any project – film, TV show or documentary – I firstly like to think about what kind of an experience is it going to be, will it teach me something? Does it give me a new experience like going abroad for the shoot or can I be an active part of the project and contribute my ideas. Or are they giving me a lot of money, which doesn’t really happen (laughs). Also since I come from a school of meaningful cinema it doesn’t mean that I can’t work on a commercial film but my sensibilities are such that even commercial cinema directors will understand that I don’t have the required sensibilities.
Tell us about your upcoming projects. Do you aspire to eventually make your own film?
I am actually directing some cartoon shows. I’m also working on some documentaries. Currently editing a film called Famous Pandey which is again an indie, small budget film but very creative. The ultimate goal is to make my own film, not just for the sake of it, but because I feel that I’m ready and have things to say, stories to tell. I’ve already written three scripts and am looking for people to invest in it. It’s not easy but I am positive that something will work out.
Lastly, with Manjhi being leaked online so close to it’s release, is there a message that you’ d like to give the audience?
The whole team is extremely sad about it but we are positive about the film and request audiences to be responsible and give Ketan, Nawazuddin and the film its due.