When creative people come together, they create something that is much bigger than their individual selves. In this regard, director Sujoy Ghosh and editor Namrata Rao have created a strong partnership out of their collaborations. In the last seven years, they’ve worked on five projects (two feature films, Kahaani and Kahaani 2 and two short films, Ahalya and Anukul). Kahaani won them multiple awards, including a National Award, and made Ghosh an overnight sensation. His latest film, Badla, was also well received at the box office. Rao has been an editor for more than a decade, and has a long list of successes to her name, with films like Band Baja Baraat, 2 States, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Jab Tak Hai Jaan and others. She was first spotted by Dibakar Banerjee, who asked her to work on Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!
How would you define the relationship between an editor and a director?
Rao: I think it is of a psychologist to the director. I mean, you really have to understand what he wants to say with the film, put all your biases aside. You might not agree with him or her, you don’t have to judge the material, but you try and make the most of what has been shot. I had actually heard this at a talk by Susan Korda (the acclaimed editor of films like Trembling Before God and the Oscar-nominated For All Mankind) at Berlinale. When I started out and came from film school, I used to take my role very seriously, and do what I thought was right. You have no right to judge the material; yes, you bring your opinion on the table, which is why you are there, which is your job. That talk really resonated with me.
Ghosh: Yes, Namrata is like a psychologist, she gives me a sofa to sit and then hears me out (smiles). She sits me down and tries to understand what I’m trying to do with the film, what is the objective of the film. Is it talking about the regret a mother has after losing her child or is it about a woman out for revenge or a pregnant woman lost in the city? Every story has a different way of looking at it and once we reach a common page, we move ahead with it. To make it simpler, I bring Namrata the words and she then creates sentences and stories out of them. Most of the time, when you are creating a scene, there is information that needs to be passed on to the audience, that information could also be in the form of emotion. So her job first is to figure out the emotion and then to figure out how that emotion ties into the other things happening before and after the said scene. She feels the film – if you can’t feel the film, you cannot identify with it, and to feel the film you need to identify with the emotion. This is my theory, I could be wrong.
How did you two find each other?
Ghosh: I had just come out of Aladdin, which was a gigantic flop, so when I took on Kahaani, I wanted to change everything and everyone I had worked with before. I wanted to work with everyone new, like how Vidya was an alien in Kolkata, I wanted to be that amongst my team. I wanted to see if I’m the problem or was it something else, as it is also a director’s job to bring out the best in his team. So barring Vishal and Shekhar and Amitabh Bachchan, everyone was new for me, be it Setu (cinematographer), Namrata (editor), Sanjay Maurya and Allwyn Rego (sound design) and Clinton Cerejo (background score). So I was looking for an editor and someone suggested Namrata’s name. I knew nothing about her; I had seen Love Sex Aur Dhokha and loved the style of it, but loving someone’s past work means nothing, so I met her and I really liked her – there was something very nice about her and I thought I’ll enjoy working with her… that’s it.
Rao: Someone suggested my name to Sujoy, he had worked on LSD and was then working with Sujoy, so it was quite random. So when we met, he asked me to read the script and let him know my thoughts. He told me that editing is important on this film and how he already had shot some B unit stuff and Kolkata has to be a character in the film, which will be created in the edit, and that is what got me excited about it. Before we met, I had seen two of his films, Jhankaar Beats, which I had liked and Home Delivery, which I hadn’t liked. I had not seen Aladdin, as it didn’t excite me, so he gave me a DVD of the film, which I have still not opened – I haven’t even taken the plastic off the cover. ( laughs)
Ghosh: Ab kya bolun main… it has been such a long time.
Rao: I really liked his honesty, he really says what he means and he is relentless in his pursuit. As we started making the film, we used to fight a lot initially. He would get fixated with shots, like when Vidya is coming out of the airport, she is coming with a water bottle, and he was obsessed with the water bottle – he wanted to keep the bottle in all the shots, and I told him it is not that important, if you’ve seen it once, it is enough. He would go like “No no, you are not getting it.”
Ghosh: The thing with the bottle was I wanted Vidya to look an alien to the city. You will see a lot of foreigners walking around with their water bottles, so I was coming from there – but I understand Namrata. She taught me there was no need to push everything, the audience is not dumb. She taught me how every frame is important.
How did you begin trusting each other?
Rao: I think Sujoy should answer this question. He had tried working with other editors, and he was the one who was more skeptical than I was. The first sequence I ever cut for him in Kahaani was when she comes to Monalisa Hotel, what follows and then when she wakes up in the morning … the entire montage. I cut it very instinctively and put music to it, which I usually do, and then I showed it to him. He liked it and said let’s do it.
Ghosh: Filmmaking is like a marriage, you need to understand each other to make it work. You need to have the right amount of expectations, you can’t be too demanding or too giving. At the end of the day, nobody is bigger than the film. Since I stayed with the film longer, there were certain thoughts and ideas which were with me and I was too attached to them, but then Namrata would come and say “You can say it this way as well or that as well, this would be more effective” etc. Film editing is like the film Rashomon, we are seeing it from two different sides and we both are right, so what do you run with? That happens with everyone who is new and working for the first time. So we fought, fell in love, fought again but ultimately I realized that besides Vidya, the one person who made Kahaani what it is is Namrata, just by the sheer edit. Slowly, I began to realize she is far more intelligent than me and definitely knows more than me, so once you know the opposite person is better than you, you just admit it and succumb to it. Even if today Namrata is editing my film, I will simply walk away – I know the film is in safe hands. She is an editor of a different league. Her dedication to the film is something else – she would not only go through the OK shots, but she would also even go through rehearsal shots, and if she likes them, she will put them in the film – and she has done that.
How do you fix the editing style?
Rao: For Kahaani, we found the style on the editing table, we both were very conscious of the fact that till we find out that she’s been lying all this while, we had to hold the audience till that point. We wanted people to reach that point without people having time to think. We were very conscious of that and anything that comes in the way of that way was shaved off. We were so focused on the emotional aspect of the film that I had completed forgotten that there is a twist in the end, which I realized when we saw it in the theatres with the audience. I completely related with the character – I had just come back from Kolkata after my post-graduation, so I was her when I was cutting the film.
Ghosh: I think it is both the script and also the pace given by Namrata, and another person responsible for the style is Clinton Cerejo, for the background score – it set the right mood. While doing Kahaani, we had a lot of time with us and Namrata was very particular about things, she would keep on changing one frame here, one frame there – at one point I didn’t know what exactly she was doing. People don’t realize it, but Kahaani had thousands of VFX shots, so one frame here and there and they would create a ripple effect. Ahalya was an eye opener – it is one thing to edit a film in two hours, and an absolutely different ball game when it comes down to a 12-minute film. The way Namrata edited the film, I could have fallen at her feet – it was the sheer magic of her intelligence.
Has there ever been a reshoot, because the editor asked for more shots?
Rao: Yes, I tell him but he doesn’t reshoot since he always works on such a tight budget (laughs). It happens on a lot of films, like in Band Baaja Baraat, we felt the need. There is a scene where Ranveer and Anushka are eating chowmein and discussing where they see each other five years from now. We actually felt that we needed a friendship scene to show their relationship, and that was an afterthought which was added later. The whole montage of them rising and posing next to different couples, wedding after wedding, was also added later.
Ghosh: Never. Till date, I have never reshot a single shot. I only work with a bound script, and when you have a bound script, you exactly know what you want.
What was the experience like of working on Kahaani 2?
Rao: It was a very different experience. The sur of the film was different when I look back. We’ve discussed it – the first and second half didn’t look like part of the same whole, but these things happen.
Ghosh: During Kahaani 2, I remember she was very happy with the first half, in fact even in reviews we were told the first half is near perfect. But in the second half, she kept on telling me that sur badal raha hai, but I felt “No, we need a little bit of commercialism here.” We went ahead with my view, and she was right and I was wrong, but we live and learn. What has been the biggest disagreement you’ve had ?
Rao: It has to be Kahaani. Also, we were working with each other for the first time, and we were getting to know each other. I used to feel ‘Yeh ek hi beat ke peeche kyun pad jata hai?’ and I’m sure he would be going ‘Yeh mere baat hi nahi sun rahi hai’ and then we would have some text wars.
Ghosh: The same scene – we spent a lot of sleepless nights over it.