Prerna Saigal is from Delhi. She has worked as an editor for films like Peddlers (Dir: Vasan Bala), Tigers (Dir: Danis Tanovic) and Bombay Velvet (Dir: Anurag Kashyap). “Attempting to leap even while taking baby steps, she does not mind the falls as the highs will always be special”
As a child what were your early influences towards cinema? Art, literature, graphics, photography?
Community viewings of movies. Since I lived in a joint family those experiences. Not just the film but the collective experience, that drew me in.
How did you first become interested in film editing?
It started with editing college projects. The idea of putting together audio visuals was exciting enough, fiction or otherwise. Cinema of course seemed like a natural transition.
What steps did you take to train yourself?
Keep at it. Every project you take teaches you. Apart from the theory it’s the process as a team that tests you and teaches you. Cinema being a collective medium you learn and sharpen you claws as you work with that team. Of course millions of videos and books are available but nothing prepares you as much as a Live Project.
Have you assisted anyone? How does it help one?
I have assisted Mr. Gauhar Raza, this was before joining FTII. The project was called ‘In Defense of our Dreams’. My fundamentals on approach and discipline were instilled by Mr. Raza.
Mr. Raza encouraged me to join FTII.
Then I assisted Mr. Shan Mohamed on ‘Frozen’, then worked with Jabeen Merchant on 2 of her documentaries. I lover her temperament and approach to work. Have always looked up to her and will so in the future too.
It helps you because you can witness work not just on the technical front but also on the practical front. Helps to reconfirm some beliefs and create new ones. It’s a constant process of evolution. Assisting on any project early on is basically more a warm up onto the system more than the art. How much of art one can absorb and learn that’s based on ones ability to adapt.
How did your first film project come about? Tell us something about the experience.
I was the First AD on Peddlers. Vasan wanted me to edit it too. It was as indie as it gets. Zero resources, madness. Editing it was a bit of a task early on. I was working by the books and Vasan was hell bent on breaking everything. Once I adjusted myself to this it was extreme fun finding new possibilities. It was liberating. It was an experience that let me ‘let go’ of any preconceived notions on editing. It was about respecting the material at hand and understanding the vision behind it and beyond technique find a unique rhythm that will be the movie’s. It will find itself organically, forcing it on the material doesn’t help.
Tell us something about your experience working on Bombay Velvet.
I was working ‘A’ with a director like Anurag Kashyap. I was referred to him by Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land, Tigers).
When I read the script and saw the rushes it was stunning. This was huge and probably not going to be like a regular Anurag Kashyap film. I was advised by the crew don’t look for the film in the script, once on set he rewrites and keeps improvising and rewriting till the final mix.
He loves to edit probably more than being on shoot. He keeps juggling the narrative, trying different PoVs till he arrives at something he is satisfied with. Nothing is a constant, it’s all variable. It was a new experience with him being a maverick and also the kind of attention this film had. It was a different kind of a pressure. Not pleasant with all the pressure and speculation but trying to vibe and understanding what he wants was a huge learning. Also the biggest one month of my life was working with Thelma. Her humility and approach towards work is inspiring. Still excited and eager as a child. Extremely clear and her magic and experience shows. Working on Bombay Velvet was a whole new learning.
What are your inspirations?
More than things or people that are already a part of folklore the inspiration is always to get the present done well. The current collaboration should and will always be the inspiration.
Is film editing intuitive or is it something you learn?
Learn and then unlearn as all forms of art. It starts with instinct then the theory blunts it a bit and overpowers and finally with experience maybe learning and instinct both work in tandem.
I am still in stage 2 breaking bit by bit into stage 3. Hope to be there someday.
What part does risk-taking play in your work, if any?
Every attempt is a risk. A filmmaker is so possessive about her/his material that it’s so difficult to gain trust and take calls as a newcomer. Every time I dare to go beyond brief and try something it’s a risk of losing trust. Maybe that’s as far as risk is I guess.
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?
Our biggest job is to be “invisible”. Be it a good film or bad we have to be invisible and not make our presence felt. When a film does work or does not engage enough then the script and the edit will be pointed out first. It’s like being a goal-keeper. No one knows how much work has gone in even in a 0-0 match. Maybe there were 15 goals saved. But that’s the difference because whatever it is it’s the final score that matters.
From non-film industry audience, have a very basic honest response to any film. They react on an emotional level.
On the personal front I have to analyze and have an objective opinion because the editor knows the process too intimately and knows why the choices were taken. No matter what the final outcome.
Do you often get all that is in your wish list or is it a hard bargain every time?
Nothing is a wish list. And even if there is, it can be to work with good people. Good as in people with a passion and honesty for their work.
What is in the kitty now?
Nothing. Maybe if Vasan’s film is greenlit would love to jump into it. Hope that happens as soon.
Any advice to the inspiring editors?
There is always a second chance. Keep at it. Take the responsibility and be prepared to remain invisible when it all works best.
Any memorable blunders?
It about hiding them 😉 is it not ?