The Best Cut

Once considered a male bastion,today women have become some of the finest film editors in Bollywood.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | New Delhi | Published: March 4, 2012 12:00 am

Once considered a male bastion,today women have become some of the finest film editors in Bollywood.

Till recently,glamour defined the Indian cinema industry for both the viewer and the aspirant. Only education,sometimes informal,coupled with experience,would lead enthusiasts to discover the fascinating world of film editing where the way the raw footage is put together can decide the narrative and lend meaning to the film.

Over the last five years,some of the most critically acclaimed films have been made by women editors who are emerging as the most successful names in the profession. Here are four such leading ladies.

Namrata Rao

She wanted to be an actor,was actively involved with theatre,ended up with a degree in IT,landed a job as a graphic designer,followed it up with one at NDTV,and then gave it all up to go to a film school. Namrata Rao’s resume can be quite misleading. Today among the more prolific film editors in the industry,with films like Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!,Love Sex Aur Dhokha,Ishqiya and Band Baaja Baaraat to her credit,the 31-year-old’s rise in the industry followed this initial confusion.

She was born to a middle-class family in Delhi. “Films were entertainment so one didn’t waste time or money watching them and a career meant something serious,like information technology,” she says,casually swiveling her chair as she watches her team working on the edit of Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai. “But I found it too boring and decided that I’ll give film school a shot.”

Rao discovered her love for editing quite by chance when she opted to major in sound design but was discouraged by the discovery that the course required physics. “Then I literally did an inky-pinky-ponky and found myself in the editing classroom,” she says with a laugh.

Banerjee can take credit for having “discovered” Rao after he saw a documentary I am the very Beautiful by Shyamal Karmakar edited by her. The young editor has now been signed on Yash Chopra’s untitled directorial venture. “I used to watch Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and thought about it for days on end. Now I am editing Shah Rukh Khan’s film. He doesn’t look the same today,but it is still unbelievable.”

Being a successful woman in the male-dominated industry has never meant much to Namrata Rao. “Editors the world over are mostly women and late Renu Saluja has been the biggest name in Bollywood as far as editing is concerned. Perhaps because once the film has been shot,editors,like mothers,nurture and shape it to look like the end product,” she says. Rao says that to be a good editor,it is important to understand each director’s ambition and vision. “I could not have edited Band Baaja Baaraat the way I edited Love Sex Aur Dhokha,” she says.

While other industry members often hope that the audience will realise that there is more to filmmaking than the hero,heroine and the director,Rao is glad that her job is invisible. “A film should be able to remove the audience from reality,they should be able to believe in the dialogues and scenes for the magic to happen. But if the audience knows too much about the process of filmmaking,like they have begun to these days,that illusion will be lost.”

Aarti Bajaj

Aarti Bajaj had been enjoying editing Rockstar until she reached the second half. “I couldn’t connect with the film. After so many years of experience,I once again had butterflies in my stomach and told the director Imtiaz Ali that I cannot finish this project,” she says. That is when Ali sat her down and they watched the raw footage together. He told her about Jordan (Ranbir Kapoor) as they watched the visuals. By the end of it,Bajaj was in tears. “But from then on,Jordan’s tumultuous journey,which even he is unaware of,took shape in my head. It was important because as an editor,I needed to undertake that journey before expecting my audience to connect with it,” she says.

Bajaj can perhaps be dubbed as the reigning editor of Bollywood’s new wave cinema,having worked on films like Black Friday,Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd,Jab We Met,Aamir,Dev.D and Do Dooni Chaar. And while the journey is enviable,the 39-year-old also believes she is a victim of her own image. “I started my career doing my ex-husband Anurag Kashyap’s films and have worked on almost all his projects. But this has typecast me and other filmmakers hardly approach me since they presume I work only in that space,” she confesses.

While her real space is “films that explore complicated relationships”,it is not incorrect to say that some of Bajaj’s best work has been on Kashyap’s films,after the two parted ways in 2006 after a long courtship but a brief marriage. “The last six years have been an amazing journey. I had given up on myself when Nikhil Advani approached me for Salaam-e-Ishq. The film helped me make important decisions and ever since,I have enjoyed every moment of my work.”

A single mother in the city,Bajaj shuttles between work and home. The nature of her work allows her the flexibility to spend time with Aaliyah,her 10-year-old daughter. “I don’t know how to be a mother; Aaliyah and I are friends,” she says.

It is these nuances and experiences that have given Bajaj the instinct to edit. “To be good at what I do,I need to get under the skin of the characters. Only then can I find their space in each scene without unnecessarily cutting it.”

Deepa Bhatia

Every time she feels overwhelmed by work,Deepa Bhatia takes off for the countryside to research for her documentaries. The award-winning director of the critically-acclaimed documentary on farmer suicides,Nero’s Guests,the 39-year-old is among the few who walks the thin line between mainstream Bollywood and socially conscious cinema. “Every commercial film I do provides me with the means to undertake my creative journey,” she says,“Nero’s Guests was a home production and the money from the DVD sales goes to the farmers’ families.”

Growing up,Bhatia was only exposed to mainstream cinema. “I would watch everything that came on TV and fight with my dad to let me go for Amitabh Bachchan’s first-day-first-shows,” she says. But her exposure to cinema at Mumbai’s Sophia College changed that. The Hungarian film You by Istvan Szabo,which strings a series of images without a fixed narrative,made Bhatia realise the space she wanted to inhabit in movie-making.

Her skill at editing was spotted by filmmaker Govind Nihalani,who insisted that she should try cutting his Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa,though she was an assistant director. Bhatia grew under his mentorship and her husband,filmmaker Amole Gupte’s inclinations,furthered her interest.

In 2002,she took a sabbatical to gain an academic approach to editing. Her son Partho was born during this time and Bhatia also focussed her energies on reading,watching and making films,all with a studious approach to editing. “When I returned to do Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara,I came back wiser and the film remains one of my better-cut works,” says the editor,who wanted to document India’s first female editor,Renu Saluja. “She was the best we had but unfortunately,we lost her to cancer before I could begin the project.”

Despite her passion for documentaries,this editor loves and respects the mainstream idiom and appreciates movies like Chak De India! and the Munnabhai series that sensitise the audience while being commercial.

She helped her husband write Taare Zameen Par and is currently working on Ferrari Ki Sawari. Her next film,however,is Karan Johar’s commercial Student of the Year. “Karan’s like family now. And the film will give me the opportunity to explore areas I haven’t before.”

Hemanti Sarkar

Born to Bengali artist parents,Hemanti Sarkar had early exposure to film greats like Akira Kurosawa,Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman. And while she instinctively wanted to be a part of the filmmaking process,being shy and socially awkward made her opt for biochemistry instead. “Then my dad insisted that I should try going to a film school and I applied to the Film and Television Institute of India. There,I discovered that editing best suited my nature without taking away from the joy of the filmmaking process,” she says.

The privacy and anonymity of editing,works to Sarkar’s benefit. “I cannot imagine dealing with people on the sets. When I have to talk to more than two-three people I haven’t met before,I get quite jittery. So the editing room is my solace,” she explains.

The 41-year-old editor’s filmography however,gives only a partial view of her work. While it lists the mainstream productions that she edited,most of her work — which comprises feature films and documentaries that travel the festival circuit and don’t release in India — do not find mention. But that is Sarkar’s conscious choice. “I do only offbeat films,even in the mainstream space,because they allow me to experiment with the narrative. I do only one film at a time so I can give time to my 13-year-old son.”

Sarkar’s work often involved hours of live footage like Peepli Live,which had more than 30-hours of footage. This is the part she finds most challenging but also satisfying.

Her USP,however,lies in the sensitivity she brings to films. “This is what my directors often say in their feedback. Sankat City is quite a bizarre film. But the director,the late Pankaj Advani told me I had made a more emotional film and thus it was far more accessible. But it does not necessarily work for every film. When Anusha Rizvi said the same about my work on Peepli Live,she said it with some disappointment,for she had wanted the film to be a lot more stark.”

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