His films might not be about superfluous Bollywood melodrama, but film writer and editor Apurva Asrani, speaks with a candour you would associate with one of those colourful characters that inhabit our drawing room conversations. After the critically feted and National Award decorated Shahid, Asrani is enjoying a great season at the movies. His work in the upcoming CityLights and Children of War has generated a lot of buzz. In a robust conversation punctuated by a toothy grin, he goes to the early years of his affair with invented reality.
“It happened when my uncle gave me a video camera. It was in the ’80s and I was around eight-nine-years-old. That’s perhaps the greatest gift I got,” he says. From his house in Worli, Mumbai, the camera took him outside, to the slums where he started capturing people. When he was pursuing his first year of degree course at Jai Hind College, Mumbai, he took part in an intercollegiate contest and made a music video juxtaposing images of children on John Lennon’s Imagine. The video earned him an award and an internship for BPL Oye, one of the earliest countdown shows on TV. “I chose to study what I wanted to,” he adds, explaining why he left college in the first year itself.
A few years down the line, he started getting recognition with Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya, for which he won the National Award, and the visually arresting Snip! but then a few choices derailed his consistency. “I don’t blame the films. I came to a point where I wanted to taste commercial success. I am talking about a time when multiplexes were not the norm. Films like Chhal or Snip! would have definitely benefitted from multiplexes,” says the 36-year-old.
Shahid’s overwhelming acclaim has given a new boost to his instinctive approach towards cutting a film. “My approach has a lot of to do with me insisting that I am not part of the filming process. It colours one’s judgement,” he says. When Asrani is attached to a film, he refuses to be seduced by factors like what compromises the director has made to get a specific shot or how an actor has evolved during the shoot. “I want to just react to the material in terms of a black space,” he says. He doesn’t regard the film’s script as a bible and likes to discover the film as he goes about working on it. “I tend to not refer to the script. I look at the material, try to find a certain rhythm within, and based on that, start putting the film together,” he says.
Editing a film is not just cut and paste, if done well, it can turn out to be quite physically demanding. To stare at a screen in a confinement of a small room has its health hazards. “Earlier I used to work day and night like somebody possessed, spending weeks in office, sleeping barely 3-4 hours a day. Now I work 9-10 hours a day, try to eat right, swim regularly, meditate and do yoga,” he says.
Asrani is currently co-writing Hansal Mehta’s next, which is again a human rights story. The only pre-condition is that he would not be present on the sets, since he is going to edit it too. Another potential editing assignment might be the official remake of The Infidel, the British comedy that released in 2010.
For now he is excited about his next releases, Children of War and CityLights. While the former deals with the genocide and rapes during the liberation of Bangladesh, the latter is the official adaptation of British film Metro Manila, by the same team behind Shahid. “I think CityLights is my best work. Since it is my most recent work, I have evolved as a professional, as an individual, so I see a reflection of that in the way I have cut the film. I enjoy music a lot and using songs as a part of the narrative was very exciting,” he says.