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Interview Team : Kaushik L M

After bagging the National Award for his editing work in director Arivazhagan’s Vallinam, V.J. Sabu Joseph is in the spotlight. This soft-spoken young man takes time out from his busy schedule for this chat with Kaushik on his career thus far, the unforgettable Vallinam experience and also his other insights and opinions regarding the editing craft.

How was the National Awards ceremony?

The ceremony was great, it was fun. I was able to meet all the big technicians, sound engineers and directors from all around the country. It was a pleasant feeling to get to meet all these talented people. 


How was the response to Vallinam from the Awards jury? 

The jury found the movie to be very good, they appreciated it a lot. They lauded the director’s script and the producer for funding such a path-breaking effort. They were able to recall Vallinam whenever it was mentioned, even though they must have seen about 350 films from around the country. I guess this was the first time that a commercial film got such a good response from the National Award committee. 

The jury was able to recall Vallinam even though they must have seen about 350 films.


Did you expect this Award? 

Though I wasn’t sure that the film’s editing would be recognized, I was sure that Vallinam would be noted in some way, because the script was such. It was an out-of-the-ordinary, wholesome film. The entire cast and crew waited patiently for the release despite the long delay, as we had full faith and belief in the product. 


What was your first reaction when you came to know about the National Awards honor? 

I was truly surprised and was happy beyond words. There were other worthy films and I had a slight doubt whether Vallinam would make it. When the award was announced I thought it was a fitting reward to the hard work that we all had done.


The people that you would like to credit

I would like to dedicate this award to team Vallinam, starting with director Arivazhagan for his different vision and producer Aascar Ravi sir for having full belief in the director. Also DoP Bhaskar came up with such good visuals despite harsh weather conditions. All of them played a big part.

My family stood by my side and supported me all along. And I believe my 8 months old daughter Tanya is my good luck charm as the long-delayed film finally released and also got me my first award, only after her birth.

My wife is also an editor and we both have a lot of discussions and arguments about films. She is my first critic and is very frank in her opinions. Of course, Almighty God is the reason for all of this.

I also wish to say sorry to my friends. They have helped me a lot but after I got busy in cinema, I couldn’t participate in their lives’ happy moments.

I believe my 8 months old daughter Tanya is my good luck charm


Has the Award compensated the frustrating delay in the film’s release? 

Each day that I worked on this film, gave me a new experience and a good feeling. Positive vibrations were there all along and I never felt disgusted or vexed by the long delay.

But the fast TV premiere was a bit disappointing because had the film hung around in theaters for a bit more time, the National Award would have surely boosted the theatrical business and more people would have seen the movie in theaters.

The fast TV premiere was a bit disappointing


Now tell us about your background, your initiation to cinema and your early days in the industry

I am from an orthodox Christian family which didn’t have anything to do with cinema. I did visual communication as I wanted to do something different. My family then supported my decision to get into cinema and learn editing. It was 2002 and that was the time when editing was transitioning from manual to digital. I got to learn manual editing too, from Udhay Shankar an acclaimed editor. His associate, Ravichandran, helped me a lot.

I then joined Sathish and Harsha, the editors of Autograph and Thiruda Thirudi, through Ravichandran sir. I worked as an apprentice in Autograph and gained valuable experience.

I then got the opportunity to work with Anthony sir in movies like Manmadhan and Four the People. The Kannada movie ‘My Autograph’ starring Sudeep was also part of my learning curve.

Pallikoodam and Satham Podadhey were two other important films in my learning period as I got to work with master directors, Thankar Bachan and Vasanth. I learnt about a lot of aspects from both of them and started believing that I could venture out on my own as an editor.

Aanmai Thavarael was my first film as an individual editor and it got good critical acclaim. Before this film, I also got the opportunity to work on the trailer of Arivazhagan’s Eeram, which was even appreciated by Rajini sir during the music launch function when he was discussing with Shankar sir. The Eeram trailer was the biggest break in my life and it gave me great belief that I could also make it as an editor in the industry. This was an important stepping stone for me to get the Vallinam offer which was the second film which I committed to.

Today I am working on 4 to 5 films and they are all the result of my work and experience in Vallinam. They are Yagavarayinum Na Kaaka, Vennila Veedu, Thamizhukku Yen Ondrai Azhuthavum, Naalu Policeum Nalla Irundha Oorum and Lakshmi Ramakrishnan’s Nerungivaa Muthamidadhe. All these films are different from each other and have given me valuable experiences.

Today I am working on 4 to 5 films and they are all the result of my work and experience in Vallinam.


What is your editing style? How do you approach a film’s edits?

I will decide my style based on the genre and theme of the film. Based on the film, I will adapt my style and approach. I don’t wish to lock one particular pattern or template as my style. 


What is your criterion to accept a new film? 

During my start-up days, I got new offers through my network of friends, who were of great help. Word of mouth was a big factor in my initial days. Now, I wish to associate myself with good production houses and promising directors. I am able to sync well with the promising young directors in my generation and I feel this would serve as a great experience for me to work with senior, acclaimed directors in the coming years.


How important is a director, producer’s role in editing? Please talk about this from Vallinam’s perspective 

Arivazhagan’s role in the edits of Vallinam was huge and he is a big factor in the award. He would keep challenging me, to deliver the film’s content in a more crisp and concise manner. This was a different genre for me and I could learn a lot from Arivazhagan’s experience and the way he used to communicate to me.

Ravi sir is like a headmaster who corrects the answer papers of students. He is a very good judge of the audience’s tastes and a film’s viability among the masses. If we manage to impress him, then the job is done. He is very frank with his opinions and judgment. We would keep that in mind while working on our teasers and trailer. I also worked on the Maryan TV promo teasers thanks to my rapport with Ravi sir. 

I also worked on the Maryan TV promo teasers thanks to my rapport with Aascar Ravi sir. 


Do you feel editing is a thankless job? Are editors given due credit?  

Editing is the heart of a film but people don’t seem to know that it is a craft and they don’t allot the necessary importance to it. Editors aren’t given due recognition and aren’t credited even if the trailer of a film turns out in an outstanding manner. If our work is recognized and given good encouragement, we can do an even better job.


While editing, how do you communicate changes to your directors? Are they forthcoming when it comes to your suggestions and inputs? 

Personally, I am frank with my opinions and all the directors that I have worked with, respect my judgment and my honest opinions on every aspect of a film. Such communication can really benefit the film as a whole, as an editor is generally the first audience for a film. All the directors are open to such suggestions and Arivu sir was so welcoming of my opinions and feedback.


Which are the avoidable and dispensable aspects in today’s movies? 

Needless song and dance sequences and separate comedy tracks should be avoided. Nothing should disturb the flow of a film. If the script and story dictate certain elements, then they should definitely be there in the film. But when factors are added needlessly in the name of commercial packaging, audiences get disturbed and lose interest in the film. Nowadays, most of our films don’t have needless elements and it is a good sign. 

When factors are added needlessly in the name of commercial packaging, audiences get disturbed and lose interest in the film.


But some of us felt that the 'Nakula' song in Vallinam affected the movie’s flow

The reason for having the 'Nakula' song was to establish the intimacy and depth of the heroine’s love. This would be justified later in the movie towards the climax. Without that song, there would have been an empty feeling. Even then, it was a crisp song of just about 3 minutes immediately after the interval, and didn’t pop up in the climax when the film was heading towards its finish.

Without the Nakula song, there would have been an empty feeling.


How can we avoid post-release edits of films in theaters? This seems to be a regular, disturbing trend of late

Audiences don’t have a long attention span now and it is important for us to deliver a film in a short and sweet manner. Gone are the days when 3 hour films used to hook the audience. They come to the theater, putting aside all their worries, and we shouldn’t be imposing our thoughts and feelings on an already stressed audience. But even now, if the film strikes an emotional chord with the audience and has a good story, then the length doesn’t matter.

Gone are the days when 3 hour films used to hook the audience


Who are your big inspirations in the editing space? 

Anthony sir is a big inspiration for me. His style of working and the way he handled a film inspired me when I was his assistant. His presentation style was different. And Sathish sir taught me the value of patience while seeing and analyzing a film many times.


How are the vibes and interactions between all the contemporary editors who are in the limelight now?

All of us, contemporary editors, share a very good rapport and relationship with each other. We learn from each other, exchange valuable inputs and don’t have any jealousy or ego. We even have a WhatsApp group called ‘Invisible Artistes’ where all of us are active and have a lot of constructive chats.

We even have a WhatsApp group called ‘Invisible Artistes’


What next? Any big plans beyond editing? 

As of now, pressure has increased on me after the National Award. Even my directors keep telling me that my work would be watched eagerly by all, going forward. I do have direction plans but for now, I wish to prove myself as an editor and continue the good work.

All the very best Sabu … 



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