Continued from Part 1
NR: Oh yes. There is a huge change. I was coming from LSD where we were about to change the world and all that. With BBB I was wondering what I would do. They had songs and I’d never edited songs before. I decided to take it all as an experience. I like to work with interesting directors because if they are as passionate about making a good film then the story or the genre doesn’t matter. I just went with my gut feeling after Maneesh Sharma narrated the script to me in a very interesting way. I had trouble adjusting only for the first few days.
Namrata Rao on the sets of one of her films
NR: All of us were apprehensive at first. They didn’t know how an ‘art film’ editor would fare on their project and I wasn’t sure of myself either. They had shot a lot of random footage of junior artists which I used in the ‘Baari barsi’ song. When Adi (Aditya Chopra) liked it, I was reassured that I could do things my way. Slowly I discovered that they are quite open and don’t sit on your back. I was never present on the set, but had started editing while they were shooting.
DD: How do you approach the editing process?
NR: When I do a scene I try to enhance the performance of the actor. Based on my understanding of the script, I try to make the best out of the footage. It’s better if the director has narrated it to me, because it has to be his vision. The first edit is always about the performances. Later, as one gets further into the process it’s about the story and the emotions and the rhythm. I enjoy the process we call micro-editing where you make scenes and put them all together and they become one. That’s what editing can really give to a film. I love to watch and observe people. That’s what attracted me to it in the first place—I can flesh out characters, I can make them behave in a certain way. Most of the times, actors don’t perform in a consolidated way. They give you bits and pieces and you put them together.
VP: Have you ever felt that you need to flag the pace in a particular film?
NR: The biggest criticism I’ve got for Kahaani is that I haven’t flagged it at all. But I was very insecure about this film because I thought the story was very thin. In the first half very little happens, except this woman going to different people and trying to convince the audience that her missing husband exists and he is not to be found. I couldn’t have flagged it. I couldn’t let you breathe, because if you did, you would see through it.
DD: What do you think of the idea of deception in Kahaani and Ishqiya? As an editor, how did you work that into your technique?
There is one particular shot in Ishqiya where Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi have arrived at Vidya Balan’s house, and they watch her go into the room and close the door. To me it gave away the fact that she was playacting before them. She walks right in front of them, goes into the room, closes the door. A woman would do that only when she wants to draw attention to herself. It was a very small sequence which we extended and it turned out to be a revealing moment. On the level of deception, Kahaani works more for me because the deception in Ishqiya is secondary to the story of the two men who are actually at the centre of the narrative.
VP: What do you think of the way sound is used in our films? And are you involved with the process of sound editing as well?
NR: You cannot edit images if you’re not editing sound. Because then you don’t have an accurate perception of what you are doing. I don’t know how people work without sound in our country.
VP: Hollywood masters like Ang Lee employ sparseness of sound to convey emotions directly. Do you think sound is necessary to lead the audience into the action?
NR: In India, we have the concept of the single screen and the multiplex. Films don’t work in single screens if they don’t have background music, because people need to be cued emotionally—not because they can’t understand what’s happening but because they are used to it. It’s just a habit. Even in Kahaani, I completely edited to music but that was not for the sake of emotions, but for the kick I got out of it. Once it came out of background I think it became more palatable, more ‘massy’. There were cues for you to feel sad or thrilled or scared.
VP: Purely at an aesthetic level are there scenes you think could have done without the embellishment?
NR: I don’t know. I am very confused about the background music aspect in our cinema. In BBB there is a pre-interval scene where Bittu and Shruti are about to kiss. She goes for it and they are unsure about whether to go ahead or not. It worked beautifully when it was silent. In fact, it became very uncomfortable, because you were right there in the moment with them. But Adi insisted that it wouldn’t work and that people would start hooting. We are very uncomfortable with sexuality. If you present sexuality in silence, people won’t take it. Maneesh and I were adamant. Finally, we put a wine-glass effect and when we saw it in Chandan Cinema, that scene seemed so long! Adi’s point-of-view was, if you have music people will sit through it. Otherwise they lose patience.
The prelude to a kiss in Band Baaja Baraat
DD: Did you have a similar experience with LSD? It’s a problematic film because while it’s critiquing a voyeuristic culture, it is itself offering titillation for an audience that may want to consume it.
NR: In LSD, the lovemaking scene had people laughing. I saw it in different kinds of cinema halls. I remember watching a film called Irreversible where Monica Belucci gets raped and it goes on for 18 minutes. It’s an uncut sequence and one of the most painful things I’ve seen on film. The possibility that something like this can happen to you as a woman haunts you. The man rapes her in an underground subway and smashes her face with a hand pump or something. I have seen men enjoy that scene. We are becoming so insensitive that imagery doesn’t affect us as much as shock does, even if it’s for a short while. Films like LSD represent our times. They cannot be sensitive, because none of us are.
Kahaani's climax sequence
DD: Delhi and Kolkata have played an elemental role in films like Oye Lucky and Kahaani. How do you perceive the city as a character and bring it to the forefront of the narrative?
NR: Both in Oye Lucky and Kahaani the characters are very local. In Kahaani, everyone is a Bengali. The lehjaa of the people, the way they dress and speak gives you the impression of actually getting transported to the city. In BBB, and to an extent in Kahaani, they shot a lot of the city. Weaving it into the film happened at the editing stage. I had a great time doing it, because the whole Durga Puja sequence had so much scope to pop out of the story while still being a part of it. I took a long time working on the climax of Kahaani because they had shot so much footage, it wasn’t possible to use everything from there and a lot of random footage was added and mixed. Even in BBB, that whole montage of Bittu and Shruti setting up their office and becoming successful was done at the editing table.
DD: What is your view about the pacing of films? Do you think there are times when a script requires minimal editorial intervention and scenes should be held to their logical length instead of brisk cutting in keeping with the times?
NR: Shanghai has limited intervention in terms of cuts, although editing isn’t just about cuts. They’ve shot in a way that the camera is motivated by the characters’ actions rather than anything else. In Shanghai we had a lot of debates about what is more important—content or form, or both and how you find a balance. I will find out the answer very soon when the film releases. There’s this sequence where Emraan Hashmi and Kalki Koechlin are running through a curfew. It is a really long scene. You can sense that the city is going through a bad time. Only vagrants and cops are to be seen. Everything is broken. It’s a very long shot and many times Dibakar and I have argued about it. I find it very difficult to watch and he is sure that it needs to be watched through its length.
I always wonder who I am editing the film for. Is it for the audience who are becoming more and more numb and whose attention span is shrinking? But because they are the one’s watching the film one has to cater to them. Or am I doing it for cinema because this is the way the director or I or enjoy our cinema? This is a tussle and I don’t know the answer.
In Kahaani I made Sujoy Ghosh remove a brilliant Mahalaya sequence. I still don’t know if it was right or wrong. As a non-Bengali I didn’t even know what the significance of Mahalaya was. That’s why I felt that it gets a little documentary-like. It was beautiful—the sun rising on the Ganges and thousands of people praying together. It was brilliant to watch. Because the film worked, I’m sure now even Sujoy's confused. It’s a very difficult question. Who are you editing the film for?
The leading men of Shanghai, Namrata's new film
DD: What do you think of the interval point in Kahaani? While the rest of the red herrings in the film are ok, this particular moment is fraudulent.
NR: When I was doing it, I wasn’t being very purist. In retrospect I understand there can be a problem with these things. I did lots of things in that film for kicks. This scene was planned in the script itself.
VP: What is your view on whodunits and misleading clues such as the ones in Kahaani?
NR: In Kahaani, I was conscious of the fact that she’s not pregnant. There was this sequence of her sitting in the room and exercising like a pregnant woman in private. Sujoy’s logic was that she has started believing that she’s pregnant as she says in the end. But I found it ridiculous. I was very conscious of the flashbacks.
VP: What about the flashbacks with the wrong guy?
NR: They are not shown from her point of view, but from that of the people she is narrating the story to. When she thinks of the man in solitude—which is only once—you don't see him.
VP: Is there such a thing as a director's and editor's cut of a film?
NR: I was thrown out of my first film and that was the only time I had a huge problem with my director, or perhaps the other way round. Ultimately it is the director’s baby and I try to understand and support his vision. That’s why I don’t work with directors I don’t like.
VP: Would you like to direct your own film at some point? Do you think being an editor will make you more economical with the footage you shoot?
NR: I want to direct, but I don’t know if it should be fiction or non-fiction. There is too much money involved with feature films. But documentaries are great fun. You need to understand the script inside out to be economical. The advantage would be that the understanding of emotions might be greater. I know what moments work. But I’m not sure, since I haven’t done it. ✑