Fleshing out the form with Editor, Antara Lahiri
From editing her award winning FTII diploma film, Narmeen, to a few recent Yash Raj productions in her armour, Antara Lahiri has a gamut of work to her credit. The Editor who is extremely excited for us to watch her latest editorial venture Time Out, an independent feature distributed by Viacom 18 talks about her life, work and more.
What’s the difference in your experience of working on a film in FTII and for the market?
To begin with, the films we made at FTII had a running length of 20, maximum…30 minutes. We were shooting with limited stock and working within a limited timeframe. For obvious reasons the industry workflow is quite different. We edit for 6 months almost, sometimes even a year, sometimes even more! The experience of editing a full length feature is also stressful and exhilarating at the same time, largely
because of the sheer quantum of footage available to you. To make a film compelling enough to captivate an audience for 2/2.5 hours is a massive challenge. Add to that the fact that there are crores riding on the success and failure of a film. What is wonderful about the FTII experience is that it gave me an opportunity to make my mistakes and learn from them. Working in the film industry, there is practically zero room for error, since a single mistake can potentially cost me or other departments several man hours and/or a lot of money.
How do you become better at your art, as an editor, every time you edit a film? How did you grow as an editor… Film to film?
I believe that besides your inherent abilities, practice is what makes you perfect. I remember as a child, while I was good with drawing faces, I was terrible at drawing hands and feet. My mother gave me a book of Nandalal Bose’s drawings of hands and feet. You had to draw the rough demarcations first, then mark the proportions of toes to feet, and fingers to hands, then sketch away one step at a time, fleshing out the form. I think editing is also somewhat similar to this process. My first film was overwhelming. It made me realise how different editing a feature film with 90-100 scenes was, as opposed to a short film which would have 8-10 scenes. My second film taught me the importance of objectivity as an editor. Some films taught me people management, while others taught me to walk out when you know you’ve switched off from the project.
Then as someone who was a director, but now is an editor. What changes?
The medium for one. I was directing non-fiction for Television – that absolutely relentless, deadline-crunching monster! Direction in any medium is a Herculean task. Apart from one’s directorial skills, I think the ability to get the best out of your crew is a rare but important quality. As an editor, I’m now dealing with fewer people, therefore fewer egos! One has the comfort of working within the solitary confines of the edit room, as opposed to a director who has to unify a crew of hundreds to work towards her/his vision.
What is the difference between editing documentaries and feature films?
The one big difference here would be that with documentary, one is working around a concept rather than a written script. It allows for immense flexibility in the structure and process. Mainstream feature films tend to be more template driven- First reel for set up, interval point at a heart-in-mouth moment, 7 songs (at least one in every reel).
With indie films, we have been able to escape that template to an extent, but one is still bound by the the script and the footage, by virtue of costume continuity, location, dialogues etc. Having said that one is occasionally lucky enough to work on feature films that really let you fly beyond written words and captured images.
What are your inspirations for your art?
I think the very fact that I get to do what I do is inspiration enough. I don’t think I’d be able to get out of bed in the morning if I was doing any other job.
Tell us about your association with the director of Time Out – Rikhil Bahadur? Why did you choose to edit this film?
I met Rikhil and Shachi when they approached me for Time Out. It was an easy script to like. I have always been interested in editing children’s films. It had been a while since I had edited Gattu and I was keen to work on a film that targeted a young, school going audience. The script also constructed its narrative around a concept I feel very strongly towards….To live free and to live life on one’s own terms, regardless of peer and family pressure.
I really appreciate the fact that the director Rikhil Bahadur has chosen not to talk down to communicate with his audience, and that he and Shachi (the producer) have put in tremendous effort to put out a non starcast film in a star-driven industry. I think we need more films like Time Out. It’s a pity children are growing up watching and imbibing content made for adults and most of us think there’s nothing wrong with that!
I came across another interview of yours where you mentioned that the result of a strict ideological Bengali upbringing led you to wanting to study films. What is it that you found along your way?
I’m often asked what lead me to pick a career in films. I wish I could think of some romanticised explanation but the fact of the matter is that I joined the Mass Communication course at St. Xavier’s, Kolkata to have easy access to films and TV. My father like most Bengali dads is a disciplinarian of epic standards. So I grew up with no cable, no VCR, having watched maybe 3 Hindi films, a few English and Bengali ones, with just enough time to watch Chitrahaar at 7:30pm before my father got home at 8. I fought, manipulated and negotiated my way to Xavier’s, then to Mumbai to get a job and finally to FTII. I think it’s only in the last five years that my father has developed some understanding of my profession. So some part of me is glad I didn’t get the easy way out. Keeps me motivated and focused!
How was assisting in films an important process to you/for you as an editor?
I think assisting helped me get a feel of the professional industry after graduating from FTII. The shift from analog to digital happened around then so I was lucky to have assisted on projects shot entirely on film, projects shot on digital, as well as ones shot on a combination of both. This gave me an insight into the entire post production process.. What follows what… What exports to send where… In which format; the importance of idiotproofing my workflow and organizing my project and footage.
However, this is strictly speaking from my experience. I wouldn’t say it’s compulsory for everyone to assist.
(continuing from the above question) If you had to, what would you replace it with?
Honestly, to my mind, the experience of assisting is irreplaceable.
What are you currently working on?
A film for T- Series called Junooniyat; an Indo- British co-production called Bombairiya; and a four part web series on gender equality which is produced by Y-Films (the youth films division of Yash Raj Films) for the United Nations.
Lastly, why should one watch Time Out?
Watch Time Out if you’re looking for a film that is courageous in its storytelling. I don’t remember any children’s film made in India that has actually explored sexuality and sexual orientation. Adolescents are subject to so much information and misinformation flying around on the internet, with very little filtration or clarification. Very few parents even have the birds and bees talk with their children. Puberty, raging hormones and a society’s that refuses to talk about sex is a recipe for disaster. Time Out takes that all important step to bring that conversation out in the open.