When I was just 21, I won a major award for editing Satya, Ramgopal Varma's acclaimed film on the underworld. I was thrilled to walk up to the stage, but upon getting my statuette, I was disappointed as they didn't allow me to make the acceptance speech that I had prepared.
That privilege was sadly not extended to technicians. Fifteen years later, when I won an award for the screenplay of Shahid, I realised that scenario hasn't changed much. Though Shah Rukh Khan, the presenter that night, encouraged me to say a few words, it was edited out of the telecast!
The technical awards then are like a fast-cut montage of hurriedly called names and fleeting glimpses of 'simple people' walking off stage. The juicier telecast space is awarded to actors and their performances, costumes and speeches.
Some of my peers tell me that 'an editor should be invisible'. This view places technicians in the category of background artistes and not collaborators. I don't agree with such half-baked notions. Editing is as much about technique as it is about art. Using imagination and craft, the editor builds a rhythm to the narrative and finds the best moments in an actor's performance, building his character along the way.
He thinks for the protagonist, questions his actions and eliminates those that betray his character. The editor is like a magician who puts a newspaper into his hat and turns it into a bouquet of flowers. And while you may never know the secrets behind his tricks, you still marvel at his craft. Why shouldn't our editors, our celluloid magicians, also take their place in the spotlight with the other stars?
Sadly, good editors, like other skilled film technicians and writers, are turning to film direction to find their place in the sun. Their crucial efforts towards bringing a film to its final form often go unrecognised, and they are no longer content with just a pat on the back. This may have worked wonders for editors-turned-directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, David Dhavan and Rajkumar Hirani, but it also left a void in the world of film editing, where many editors use editing as a stepping-stone to film direction.
However, not all editors have abdicated their 'cutting' thrones. The late Renu Saluja, a four-time National Award winning editor, remained an editor till she passed away at the age of 48in 2002. She brought cult form to Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, infused a chilling energy into Parinda and flawlessly constructed the seminal Bandit Queen. She was a key collaborator to filmmakers like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sudhir Mishra and Nagesh Kukunoor.
Editors are filmmakers in their own right. They are creative collaborators and not mere technicians. And even if you can't spot their magic tricks in a film you loved, they still deserve your applause. Some stars shine on the big screen while some twinkle softly behind the tinsel!
(As told to Nilesh Rao)
Apurva Asrani is a film editor and writer