Editor Sreekar Prasad Exclusive Interview
“So, did you get to see any footage of Puli? How is it shaping up?” I asked editor Sreekar Prasad my eyes surveying the simple edit suite in his residence.
“It’s too early to talk about it.” He said.
I was definitely disappointed. “May be I should just concentrate on OK Kanmani,” I thought. By the end of our conversation, I was glad I took up this interview because I learned a lot about this sharp cutter who has been trimming out destinies for the past 30 years.
You started your journey with Mani Ratnam from Alaipayuthey. It was a challenging screenplay to work on back then. How was the experience?
I had known him on and off much before Alaipayuthey commenced. I suddenly got a call from him saying that he was making a very small film which had a non linear narrative style. The kind of narration was unique during that period. It was a big challenge as we had to bear in our minds, the insecurity of whether people would understand it. If they didn’t, it would lose its ingredients like romance, friendship and the songs flavoured into the story.
We therefore had to do a lot of edits and re-edits reducing the number of times the screenplay alternates between the flashback and the current than we thought initially.
Fortunately it worked for us.
Every hero undoubtedly has a mass element. And it is evident that most of the mass element is built up in the edit table. You have worked with mass heroes like Ajith and Vijay. What is your approach to mass sequences?
The edit of a mass hero movie is slightly different from the rest. If you are editing a film with Vijay, you know its going to have a great opening. There are going to be fans roaring for him. So, you’ve got to build that excitement in the edit pattern.
In a normal case if there is a new hero and if there is a certain moment that can be highlighted, I can hold the moment for about 3 seconds. But the same moment with a mass hero like Vijay or Ajith, it will work even if I hold it for about 8 seconds. Because there obviously will be a reaction from the audience for what he does and we’ll have to give them the time to absorb the reaction. This will build a relationship between the script and the audience.
The first trailer of OKK had that fast forward effect. I don't know how to explain it. Why was it used? Is it to symbolically represent the speed of today's romance?
Yes we did it to convey the erratic quality of love and also the attitude towards life and relationship in the present day. Moreover, we wanted to give a young and energetic feeling.
These days there are more number of shots in a scene unlike the days in the past, does it make editing even more difficult?
Yes. It is because of the advent of technology. The coverage for a normal film in the past days would be around 1:2 or 1:3 - meaning for a 2 hour movie they brought us footage for four or six hours.
But now, the coverage has easily become 1:10. Sometimes 1:25. Some big films can go up to 1:50 or 1:100.
As an editor you have more shots to pick from. But the disadvantage with the new crop of editors is that they make use of many shots just because they have the material. This can kill the actor’s performances at times.
For example, if Vijay is dancing the audience come to see him dance. But editors tend to have around 25 shots in one dance movement, which defeats the whole purpose according to me.
When I edited his songs in Thuppakki and Kaththi, I made sure that he is there on screen enough for you to enjoy him. I have done the same with movies of Mahesh Babu and other mass heroes as well.
138 minutes for OKK is a decent length. What do you think is an ideal length of a film these days,considering the express trains running through the minds of us people.
There is a perception that over the years the patience level of an audience has come down because of exposure to quick information from media. And I feel its true, because I am one such person too.
‘The shorter the more comfortable’ is the general outlook of the audience now. But on the contrary if you have a story that is gripping, it really does not make a difference whether it is 2 hours or 3 hours.
However, having said that I would like to say that the content that we are deriving these days do not have so much grip. Therefore, it is better to keep it short so that you can keep the interest alive.
I am asking this from an editor’s point of view. This hunt for a U certificate has become a race isn’t it?
Yes. It indeed is. Because of the 30 percent slab in the tax, you are forced to look for a U as it makes a huge difference in business.
But, from a filmmaker’s point of view, it is an impediment, because they are scared to convey what they wish to, with complete freedom, worrying that it may get a U/A certificate.
You don’t even have to show anything vulgar, violent or bad, you can still get a U/A if you pick a topic that can’t be accepted by all.
However, this problem is not there in other languages. We are more free there.
Many actors are known for performing exact actions in different shots to maintain the continuity. Director Murugadoss told the same about Vijay recently. How easy is this for an editor and how difficult it is if this does not happen?
It is obviously very easy. Another classic example like Vijay is Mohanlal. When he acts, his cues and his mannerisms are exactly the SAME every time he enacts the scene in different shots. Its actually a joy to edit his movies, because we can cut exactly at the point where we want to edit.
If actors do not give same actions, there will be continuity issues when you edit and we will have to work extra to cover it up.
I have heard that the Kaadhal Sadugudu song in Alaipayuthe was lipped in reverse and shot in hi-speed camera. Can you tell us about the experience editing that song.
Basically if you want to shoot anything in slow motion and still get a straight lip movement you will have to double the speed of the song audio and give fast lip movements according to it. When this is done, the actions would be in slow motion, while the lip movement will be just perfect.
This had been done over the years.But Mani Ratnam wanted to go one step ahead. He wanted slow reversed actions with straight lip movements. In this case we had to reverse the song and then double its speed. So Madhavan and Shalini had to lip a fast forwarded song in reverse.
This was a bit of an experimentation because nobody had done it that time.
Did you succeed in one go?
No. We tried many tests. Some things that could not be done with the camera had to be adjusted at the edit table.
At some places we shot at 8 frames per second, and when we converted it to 24 frames it gave a motion blur. You will see a few such effects in OK Kanmani also.
We all know that there is so much pressure on the editors when it comes to deadlines. How has it been impacting your general health?
There is a humongous amount of pressure actually. But, I am little more of a planner in my mind. I try to plan my work in such a way that I don’t get stuck with pressure or in tricky situations. However I have gone through this grind all my life.
The disadvantage of editors is that they wouldn’t have the luxury of working on one film at a time. That is wholly based on the remunerative aspect of it. An editor does not earn that much money where he can just concentrate on one film, finish the film and move on to the next.
The sad part in south industry is that they do not give enough time for post production other than people like Mani Ratnam and a few others,
They are all set to release the movie once the shoot is finished. They don’t give time for editing. This happens with big films too.
They don’t realize that it affects the film too. You need to see your product a number of times to work on it closely and sculpt to a good shape. But here they don’t get that luxury.
Hindi projects do not have such a problem. They know when they are going to release the movie and give time for editing. Here nobody knows what will happen when. So there is a lot of pressure in the end, especially when editors have more than one project to work on.
So do you do try to do anything to ease out the pressure?
I generally try to work only with the directors who have similar wavelengths as mine, so that I can explain to them that we need time to make sure our quality is not hampered.
Most cases I sign films only if the director approaches me. Because it is only then that I can build a wavelength with them. If I sign a film when approached by a production house, there are chances that I don’t gel with the director. There is no point in working in such movies.
I had this doubt in editing. We see cuts that goes according to the background music. But re-recording happens only after the editing is done. How does this work? Does the footage come back to you after the RR is done?
You can approach it in both ways. During the process of edit we take the help of some scratch music in places, where we think music oriented edits are necessary.
It can be any music from the world library. We edit according to that music and after the edit is done, we remove the music and give the sequence to the music director.
Then, he composes a background music for that according to his own interpretation. If it is required, we bring it back and recorrect.
You started editing films from a period where films were cut manually. Now we are in the digital era. How has the transition been?
I was 19 when I came into the industry. During that period there was a changeover in the edit equipment from Moviola to Steenbeck. Steenbeck was a little more sophisticated form. This was in around 1983.
I was therefore luckily dragged into the steenbeck mode, which was a simpler method. We used to call them flatbeds, where we could watch and edit the movie in the film itself.
Then slowly by 95, the digital equipment came in. The transition was very exciting for us because we were getting an equipment where we could do our work very fast..
As the excitement creeped in, we tried a lot of gimmicks using the various video effects options. But, we slowly stepped back from that and let the story do the talking because too many effects could distract the audience because I believe I am successful when people cannot see my edit..
However this technology gives me an option to try out lot of variations which we did not have before.
Earlier it used to take us about a week if we wanted to try out a different effect in a particular shot.We had to take the film, cut it, make changes and then rejoin it.
Now those limitations are gone. I can go through different trial and errors in the matter of minutes.
CUT TO THE CHASE
Favourite Mani Ratnam screenplay
Unique aspect in :
Ajith - He is very charming
Vijay - He is very energetic.
Mohanlal - Very fine and natural actor.
Mani Ratnam - Very passionate film maker.
Easiest film to edit?
Adbutham (Malayalam film) - He made the film in 48 hours. I cut the film in 4 hours.
Every film with Mani Ratnam, as it demands a lot of attention.
Editors you look up to?
I was looking up to Kishore. He was a very sensible editor. Very saddened that he passed away.
One advice you would give to the upcoming editors?
Their concentration should be to tell the story and not to show off their editing