National award winning editor Apurva Asrani, known for films such as Satya, Shahid, Children Of War, and more recently City Lights, shares his insights and experiences as a film editor.

Editor Apurva

Editor Apurva

How and when did editing films become a full time profession? Describe the journey before your first film editing assignment.

I was involved in dramatics, elocution and craft in school and found arithmetic and biology tedious. Reading essays to the class was something I was extremely fond of. As a teenager, I worked at a retail store before my first assisting job on a countdown show for channel V in 1995. While doing promos for Khamoshi and Daud I met Director, Ramgopal Varma who was excited by my non-linear style of editing and and offered me Satya. I sometimes accompanied Ramuji on his movie Daud’s edit sessions. He was using Steenbeck which is a brand that has become synonymous with a flatbed editing suite and though fascinated, found the system of handling prints and sound too laborious. I suggested that he should try going digital with his next film. While working on Satya, I found that Ramuji was very receptive to the suggestions of his crew. He gave me a lot of creative freedom to shape the narrative of Satya and it’s his unflinching faith in me that kept me going.

In your television days, you worked with hardcore commercial filmmakers such as Sajid Khan and Farah Khan. How did you end up working with Hansal Mehta and do you now prefer working on more serious and non-commercial films?

Sajid is a hardcore movie buff and so is Hansal. The audience they choose to reach is different, but they are both very passionate. I worked with Sajid on a TV countdown show and we had great fun making it. He had a lot of faith in me and suggested me to Farah Khan for projects when the TV show ended. Farah recommended me to Mahesh Bhatt and I got a job at Plus Channel. Although I didn’t stay there very long, I met the wonderful Renu Saluja. A few years later, after working on Satya, Manoj Bajpayee referred me to Hansal Mehta, and we collaborated on the promos of Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar and subsequently Chhal, a stylised gangster movie. I didn’t go looking specifically for Sajid or Hansal, I was only seeking passionate collaborators and it’s people like Manoj Bajpayee, Sajid and Farah Khan who gently held my hand at crossroads.

Does editing require a lot of patience?

Yes. You have to know the content in it’s entirety and there are no shortcuts.

Is editing a thankless job?

It is thankless, if you’re looking for thank you’s from the audience. It’s rewarding if you’re looking for recognition from your peers and cinema literate people.

What are the different kinds of editing styles you’ve used in your projects? 

Satya was stylised; there were several cuts and lots of background music. The film also had multiple characters. Shahid was clean with far less cuts, the timeline was softer and the transitions were subtle. Children of War is probably my most stylised work in recent times. It is also where I cut full song videos to great music and really tripped on that stuff. Citylights balances two genres; an emotional family drama and a noir thriller. It was a difficult film to cut, but extremely rewarding.


You have received writing credits for Shahid. Tell us about your script writing experience and the kind of film writing that comes naturally to you?

Since my childhood days, I have always enjoyed dark and twisted tales. I loved Roald Dahl and enjoyed reading Guy De Maupassant and Jeffrey Archer. Comedies and satire also interested me. I have added material on several films while editing. Sometimes I write scenes during the edit that are either dubbed or shot later. On Shahid, I changed the order of the scenes and wrote some dialogues like ‘apne aap ko Gandhi samajhta hain kya? jihadiyon ka Gandhi!’. Hansal is the only director after Kalpana Lajmi who has given me additional screenplay credit.

Tell us about your work as a television director?

Before I got into film editing, I directed several episodes of Khauff, a horror series for Sab TV. I wrote and produced these myself and it mostly starred my buddy, the awesome Prashant Narayanan. I also directed music videos for the album Tera Mera Pyar by Sony, which featured a young couple’s romance blooming in cinema hall. These videos launched the career of Nimrat Kaur.

What happened to the film you were planning to direct with Vivek Vaswani?

I haven’t directed a film of my own. I was a co-director on a film once, but that film does not reflect my sensibility.

What does winning a National Award mean to you? 

Winning a National Award means that I cannot rest as I have higher mountains to climb.

Lessons you have learnt in your years of experience as an editor?

Insist on a signing amount, be punctual, be objective, take a proper lunch break, never argue with the director in front of his unit, distance yourself from the edit before the final cut and don’t rest on your laurels.

What are the essential qualities required to become an editor?

Patience, the courage to re-imagine a story and love for air conditioning!

Who are your favourite editors?

Akira Kurosawa, Vijay Anand, Renu Saluja, Thelma Schoonmaker

– By Priyanka Jain