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In conversation with Antara Lahiri

Profile

Antara was born and brought up in Kolkata. She completed her schooling from La Martiniere for Girl’s and college from St. Xavier’s, Kolkata.
Prior to working in Mumbai, she directed a magazine style non fiction daily programme for Doordarshan Bangla. In Mumbai she wrote scripts for and directed MTV MotoAlert.
She graduated from the FTII in 2008 with a diploma in film editing.
In the same year, her diploma film “Narmeen” (directed by Dipti Gogna) won the HBO Short Film Competition Grand Jury Award in the South Asian International Film Festival in New York, and in 2009 Best Short Film at the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles. Her documentary project “A Call Too Far” (also directed by Dipti Gogna) won the Silver Award at the 2007 IDPA awards.
Antara has assisted on projects like Ghajini, Daayen Ya Baayen, Road Movie and Jhootha Hi Sahi. Her independent feature film projects are Gattu (CFSI), From Sydney with Love (Pramod Films), Mere Dad Ki Maruti (Y-Films) and Bewakoofiyaan (YRF Studios). She has edited a documentary for PSBT entitled ‘Gandhi Lives’.

As a child what were your early influences towards cinema? Art, literature, graphics, photography?
I grew up amidst myriad creative influences. My grandmother was a graduate of the National School of Drama. My mother is an independent artist and one of the best read people I know. She encouraged me to read from a very early age. Also in my family, most of us have trained in some form of dance and/or music. So most of my childhood was spent shuttling between the library, dance/singing lessons, my mother’s art class or play rehearsals in school. While all this was tremendous fun, my one bone of contention was that my father was super strict about TV and film viewing. So much so that my sister would stand guard at the stairs while I watched Chitrahaar, and at the first sign of my father returning from office we’d switch off the TV and run to our room. The few times I was actually allowed to watch a film, it would be an an old English film playing on Doordarshan (read: Casablanca, Ben Hur, Ten Commandments). There was no cable or VCR allowed in the house. I think ‘Tridev’ was the first Hindi film I watched, that too at a relative’s house. The second film I distinctly remember watching was the Tom Cruise film ‘Cocktail’ at a friend’s house and I remember feeling more than a little scandalised at the waterfall scene.

Somewhere along the way I figured the only way I could freely watch films and TV was to actually study them. That was the sole reason I applied for admission into the Mass Communication dept at St. Xavier’s Kolkata. I celebrated by watching Biwi No.1 seven times in the theatre.

How did you first become interested in film editing?
There wasn’t really one epiphanic moment. It was a fairly organic process. The first few months of college, I couldn’t believe I had actually pulled off the ultimate con. I was watching films, many many films every single day. Once the gloating wore off though, I actually got clued into the filmmaking process. It was a fairly intensive course and working on the various little films we would make every day, definitely helped shape the idea of being a professional film editor. I was wait-listed at both FTII and SRFTI the first time I applied. In the interim period I moved to Mumbai and directed an MTV show here. The poor studio editors would be so tired with working double shifts, they’d often doze off at their keyboards at which point, I’d roll their chairs aside and edit for a while. I got some fantastic hands-on experience and if anything, this further confirmed that I was on the right track.

What steps did you take to train yourself?
I qualified for the FTII editing course second time round. I think the FTII years were the best learning experience I could have had. Apart from the plethora of films one was exposed to, one could vegetate endlessly in the library. I also made it a point to take up work in Mumbai whenever I had free time. Though this was largely due to the fact that I couldn’t afford the luxury of being entirely dependent on my family for pocket money and everyday expenses, I feel it also helped me get a reality check every time I started settling in a little too comfortably in that wonderfully utopian space that FTII offers.

Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
I started off by assisting Nishant Radhakrishnan who at the time was First Asst Editor on Ghajini. I later assisted him on Road, Movie. After that I assisted Shan Mohammed on Jhootha Hi Sahi.
The assisting experience like being picked up from a paddling pond and being dropped into the sea. It was an irreplaceable phase in my career. Both Nishant and Shan were extremely patient and protective HODs. Both are sticklers for method and organisation. Till date I organise my project and material based on systems I picked up from both of them. Both gave me the responsibility of lining up scenes, making sort of a first cut for them to get a sense of the scene. That definitely gave me a lot of confidence as an editor. In the current scenario where editors are easily replaced at the drop of a hat or consulting editors are brought on board to ‘relook’ at the edit, I have often referred to the dignity and grace with which Nishant and Shan conducted their professional lives.
The assistant editor is easily one of the most underrated members of the team. At one point I had even considered being solely an assistant editor by profession, just as we have highly skilled Chief Assistant Directors. But unfortunately an experienced assistant editor is never given the respect or the money that an experienced Chief AD gets.
The primary job of an assistant editor is to aid an easy workflow for the director and editor. Easier said than done. You are faced with a dozen roadblocks everytime. Half baked information trickling in from the shoot, half written continuity, ‘chutki’ claps that are not even in frame, retelecines and rematching the film cut by cut, it gets more and more bizarre everyday. Having experienced these situations as an assistant, I feel as an HOD now I am better prepared to preempt and therefore idiot proof my post workflow as far as possible (obviously its never enough!). I am also able to understand why delays, if any, are happening and how I can instruct the assistant editor to address them appropriately.

How did your first film project come about? Tell us something about the experience.
My first independent feature film “Gattu” came to me through an FTII editing alumnus Jabeen Merchant. She put me through to the director of the film Rajan Khosa, also an alumnus.
As a low budget children’s film it was a perfect first film for me. I love that the theme of kite flying was given a three tier structure- starting at ground level, progressing to a mid level and finally culminating with a mighty battle in the skies. It was a truly fantastic technical and practical learning experience.

What are your inspirations?
I think some of the directors I have worked with have been a great source of inspiration and that has always reflected in the particular project that we have done together. A director is not there to snap his/her fingers at you and say cut here, cut there. He/She must inspire and encourage their team to achieve his/her vision. You must feed off each other’s energies and ideas in order to bring something worthwhile to the table.
A recent TVC edit with an American director Brendan Heath was by far one of the most liberating and inspirational professional experiences I’ve had. We didn’t know each other at all, having met just a day before, but he trusted me from the word go. The first thing he said to me was “I like the editor to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and be completely honest about what they feel”. I think we worked really well together. He was open to ideas, willing to try a new approach if the existing one didn’t work, always appreciative and the few times that we differed on a point, he would give a very logical reasoning for what he thought was right.

Is film editing intuitive or is it something you learn?
I think its a bit of both. While the FTII experience is unmatched, in the professional scenario you need to know when and how to apply what you have learned. There is also a fair bit of unlearning that must take place and that’s when you bring in more of your personality to your work.

 What part does risk-taking play in your work, if any?
Well, there’s always the risk of putting all my conviction in someone else’s vision. When I agree to do a film I do it because I connect with the script and/or the director at some level. We put in many months of effort to give it shape and frankly, when it doesn’t do well commercially, it does bother me a little. But this sort of risk-taking comes with the territory and I think I’ve made my peace with it.

Do you think the audience is perceptive about an edit? What kind of feedback do you get from non-film maker audience for your work?
I think its impossible for anyone who hasn’t seen the rushes of the film to be perceptive about an edit. The audiences, and strangely a lot of critics too judge an edit based on the length of a film.
If there are problems that have been left unresolved in the scripting stage, they inevitably show up in the editing stage. For instance, certain sequences will seem long and clunky but you cannot randomly drop these scenes because they link up to the next scene or the earlier scene, or carry some information that is vital to the plot. This is not something that many people outside of the edit room can gauge.

Film technology is continuously changing. Do you think it affects you as an editor, in the way you want to tell stories?
If I want to tell a story, I can tell it irrespective of what technology is predominant at that point in time. The changes we are dealing with are more functional in nature so I wouldn’t say they impact me as an editor. Yes, there is way more data to deal with now, more rushes and more coverage. And one faces situations like directors come into the edit thinking they can slow down shots in post because they were ‘shot on digital’.
But on the other hand, we are able to skip long telecine sessions and jump right into editing the rushes. Also we no longer have to sweat over issues like maintaining the 30,000 frames reel length.
I do feel that with the advent of the digital workflow its become easier to make mistakes but its gotten easier to correct them as well.

Your favorite films or editors? At least two of them?
My favourite film editors are Sreekar Prasad and Anthony.

What role does commerce play in film making?
Commerce obviously plays a key role in films and mainstream cinema as we know it. Its important for the filmmaker to understand the commercial viability of his/her project and make the film in accordance with it, else frustration is inevitable.
Ashima Chibber, the director of Mere Dad Ki Maruti, for instance was very clear on what the film should deliver to the audience. She felt and I quote “Maruti had no scope for recovery if it was not heavily entertaining, and that’s why it had to have a commercial and not niche mounting”. And indeed even in the edit stage, she insisted we highlight the scale of the film. We also consciously decided to keep the pace frenetic so the audience would be hooked despite the absence of major stars.
In the recent past we have seen films like Ragini MMS 2 work purely on the basis of the horrex genre, Sunny Leone & Honey Singh. It was an explosive combination that ensured commercial success. Made on a budget of 18 crores it made close to 46 crores in ten days.

What helps a film more: the story or marketing?
Marketing definitely helps the film rake in good collections on the first three crucial days. But the story determines the longevity of a film and ensures a second weekend.

Any hurdles you have encountered in your journey. Things that are blocks in achieving your vision while working on your film.
I think one major hurdle I have encountered is burn out. Yes, there are money issues, people don’t want to pay, everything is a low budget production now, directors can be bloody painful sometimes but from my personal experience, I know that I am performing at my worst when I am burned out and most times I don’t even know it. Worse still, it affects my work and my interaction with my colleagues. Taking time off is severely underrated and I’ve heard people make silly Shahrukh Khan references saying he only sleeps 4 hours at night! Is that supposed to make me feel guilty??!!

Do you often get all that is in your wish list or is it a hard bargain every time?
I think I get most of what I want, what I don’t get is what keeps me motivated.

What is in the kitty now?
A film called “Time Out” directed by Rikhil Bahadur. It is a coming-of-age film produced by Viacom 18 and Aexor Entertainment. I’m also editing TVCs with a production house called Ten Films run by Shouvik Basu and Raylin Valles.

Any advice to the aspiring editors?
Assisting is always a good idea.

Any memorable blunders?
Not so much a blunder but a memorable incident actually. While I was assisting on Jhootha Hi Sahi, I picked up an abandoned 10 day old kitten near my house. Since I was running late for work, I put her in a LACIE box and snuck her into the studio pretending I was carrying a hard disk. Luckily, Shan was more amused than horrified. He even suggested we put the kitten behind the the Mac Pro tower to keep her warm. Doubt there’d be a lot of HODs who’d tackle kitten emergencies with such equanimity.

Your dream project?
A great script from a good production house, helmed by a really good director, with a fantastic budget for the editing department.

Who would you like to take out for dinner?
Forget taking out for dinner, I will personally cook a nice Bengali meal for anyone who offers me all the above in a single project!

What are you listening to right now? And most recent book? And Movie?
“Breathing Under Water” a musical collaboration between Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale. I tend to read two books parallely. Currently alternating between “The Devotion of Suspect X” and “Black Friday”. The last film I watched was “Captain America” in the theatre.

 

 

FTII Diploma Film “Narmeen”

Brylcreem TVC

Parachute Body Lotion TVC

Maybelline Color Show TVC

Mere Dad Ki Maruti

Bewakoofiyaan

 

 

Category: Editors, Interviews

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6 Responses

  1. Anish says:

    Hey Antara! Nice to read your interview 🙂 Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Antara says:

    Thanks Anish 😉

  3. Richa Nahata says:

    Really well done Antara!! Keep it up! You have a great attitude and I am sure it will take you far.

  4. Antara says:

    Thanks Richa 🙂

  5. Hare says:

    Hey antra,

    I didnt know half of the things. Good to know.

  6. Shounak Banerjee says:

    As an aspiring film editor, I found the interview to be very informative and helpful. Thank you.

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