Prerna Saigal On Editing Bombay Velvet & Working With Thelma Schoonmaker

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on May 13, 2015

Bombay Velvet is Anurag Kashyap's biggest film thus far but trust him to back young talent even when the stakes are high. One of the biggest examples of his willingness to blood fresh talent is Prerna, the editor of Bombay Velvet. While Prerna has edited award winning films like Peddlers & Tigers, this is her biggest project yet. A project that gave her the opportunity to work with Thelma Schoonmaker, the legendary editor of such Scorsese classics as Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Departed & Hugo.

We interviewed Prerna on her journey till now and her experience editing Bombay Velvet. Don't forget to check out our interview with Thani & Vasan Bala, the co-writer's of Bombay Velvet & our extensive chat with Anurag Kashyap on the film.

1) What motivated you to become a Film Editor? Tell us a bit about your journey and how you landed up editing Peddlers.

It happened by chance in a college project, there was an assignment and the only way I could be included was to edit it. I gladly took it up and loved it. From there wanted to know more and then joined FTII. Have been learning ever since. Peddlers was being made by a bunch of friends. One was a producer, one a DOP and I was the editor.

Till then I was just working with machines but with Peddlers I fell in love with the process all over again. Working with Vasan reinstated my belief and faith in what I was trying to do. Peddlers opened up a new door and showed me a new perspective of looking at movies. It was a chance I was waiting for 6 years (special thanks to my parents who supported me throughout). Vasan himself was making his first film and in almost every department he had taken only newcomers and first timers and trusted us with his dream.

2) Sally Menke says, Editing is all about intuiting the tone of a scene and you have to chime with the director. You've edited films like Tigers & now Bombay Velvet. For a young editor, these are big films with marquee directors. Did it intimidate you?

Of course it is intimidating and also slightly uncomfortable as even though the director might be confident of my abilities but everyone around does keep questioning. It would make me lose sleep initially sensing the vibes around but then I just decided to immerse myself with the material and the direction that was given to me. It was Danis Tanovic who recommended me to Anurag Kashyap. In fact the most common question I have faced for the last 2 years is "Are you the main editor of Bombay Velvet?"

That itself talks about the intimidation and expectations of a film of that massive proportion. It is a huge honour. Will always be. Fortunate to be given with opportunity, it does not fall light on any shoulder let alone mine. Also all along it has been a very distinct and unique learning with each film. Even though it was Vasan's first film and the smallest as compared to the budget there was a big vision to work with. With Danis there was warmth and precision. He brought his own personality to his story telling. In hindsight I feel a Bosnian and a Punjabi can be a great team. Similar energies and large hearts.

Anurag & Prerna

Prerna with Anurag on the sets

With Anurag Kashyap there was first a Hero Figure to deal with, then the director. When he walks in everyone expects him to say and do all the right things. That's intimidating in itself. He is unpredictable, unassuming, funny, goofy and moody. All this he brings into his films as well. He plays around with the narrative, tone, theme, music, everything. He takes his times to arrive at things. Sometimes he can be very spontaneous sometimes he can be rational and sometimes plain reckless. The idea is to give it all a chance and not be fixed on any approach. So with every director it's not just the film's story but also his personality that in a lot of ways will drive the tone of the film and of course the scenes. Within all that need to find the rhythm. Only reading the screenplay and looking at the rushes won't help.

3) Anurag mentioned that you were on the sets editing the film almost simultaneously. How was that process different from the other films you've edited? Could you take us through it?

With Peddlers of course even getting the rushes we got to edit was a miracle. It happened, the stone rolled, it gathered what it could. We then made sense of out it and then put it all together. A style emerged as it was being put together. Since most of the scenes were improvisation, the emotions and the structure was to be derived from it and not forced into it. As Vasan also writes in a stream of consciousness pattern the edit too had to reflect that, Peddlers was more character driven than plot. Disjointed chapters of characters with the city unifying them.
And before we could actually take a breather it was already May and in Cannes. It was rush, a ride, extremely intense and fast.

With Tigers it was my first experience editing on sets. This was a very calm set. Lot more resources. Lot more space to plan and of course a director who had an Oscar in his shelf. The experience and clarity was always there. The guidance came from a very knowledgeable man. I relied on it the most. Even after the shoot there was time to relook rethink and jumble. It was not frantic at all. And for Tigers the script was the Bible, there was not too much of improve. A true story told in a very simple manners.

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I had heard that Anurag Kashyap usually edits all his film for 8 months to a year and in some cases close to 18 months. So on set there was an eagerness to see how it looks put together, not necessarily an edit but just line up and flipping a few scenes and experimenting on possibilities. Meanwhile Naveen my associate and a dear friend looked after the entire technical side, while I was working on the cuts. Simultaneously sound was synced projects updated so when we came back from Sri Lanka we could resume edit work without delay. He was my support system throughout my BV journey.

With Mr. Kashyap I soon realized the edit room will be filled with people and it won't be the isolated space that one is used too. He is eager for reactions, very secure yet very edgy, he is least bothered that people will react on rough line ups and make judgements but still he is courageous enough to expose his Work in Progress material to many, he trust everyone to be honest and forthright with him. He takes it all in his stride, keeps playing with the material. Even changing point of views, to driving the story through various characters and then arriving on one. With him every perspective has a possibility. With every change there would be a different rhythm to adapt to. He himself is such a sharp editor as is evident in the way he edited the most wonderful 'Queen'.

5) You worked with Thelma Schoonmaker on the final edit. That sounds like the most awesome thing to happen to a young editor. We are very eager to know more about the month you spent there and what you learnt working with her?

With Thelma it was magic all through. I was primarily there because I was attached to this film for so long. Also mere subtitles don't really reflect what the film is saying. There would be long discussion on how the current structure was arrived at to individual scenes and how its position evolved from the script to where it was to questioning its position in the edit to character motivations and back stories. She took great effort in knowing the research too. The significance of the words uttered not just its translation but its meaning and emotion.

Thelma Schoonmaker

Legendary Editor Thelma Schoonmaker

She took great efforts to know the geography, history, the relevance of practices, manners just about everything that can educate her about this world. That kind of humility and hard work just blew me. Just as a director lends his personality to the edit, an editors experience with so many films on such varied material also lends the much needed 'simplicity' and 'clarity' in story telling. My experience was taking my work to a great teacher who was not judging it but just giving it her all to bring it to its optimal potential.

6) Anurag spoke about putting both the cuts out on the DVD when it comes out. How is the final edit different from the one you had before Thelma Schoonmaker came into the picture?

There is only one edit as far as I know. The difference is getting to the best possibility of all the varied possibilities of the edits we had. Also for me the great Thelma touch was blending the love story seamlessly into the politics of the city. Earlier there was a love story and then there was the story of the city. With Thelma it was one. There lied the magic.

7) Looking back on the experience, how has working with Anurag influenced your editing style?

'Editing STYLE' I believe would be too pompous a word for a young editor like me. Style will be arrived at much later stage and it should not be a conscious one I believe, it should evolve into one. For now, it's taking it one film at a time, one story at a time. Working with Anurag Kashyap has given me patience, detachment and a stronger heart ;)

8) Music is such an integral part of the film. However Anurag doesn't use music in the same way as others do in Bollywood. How do you cut to music without breaking away from the story?

Exactly as you yourself mention in your question he does not use it as others do in Bollywood, hence his music as a tool too does not anyways break away from his story, its intrinsic and its sole purpose it to take the story ahead and is not used as relief. There is no question of moving away from the story.

9) Were there any particular scenes that you wished had not been cut from the final film?

Not really. The film has what it needs.

10) Hindi Cinema has seen the rise of women editors over the last 2-3 decades. Hindi Cinema has seen the likes of Renu Saluja, Deepa Bhatia, Aarti Bajaj, Bela Sehgal and Namrata Rao dominate the scene. What do you think is the reason behind this? Do women naturally make better editors? Why?

As Tarantino says female editor are "more nurturing to the movie and to me. They wouldn't be trying to win their way just to win their way, all right? They wouldn't be trying to shove their agenda or win their battles with me. They would be nurturing me through this process." Maybe that's one reason, maybe it is that instinct that makes a director more comfortable and trusting. Otherwise I don't think the gender has anything to do with the quality of the editor.

11) What are the skills needed to be a good film editor? What advice would you give to aspiring young editors & film makers?

Patience and give yourself a second chance everytime something does not work. Never judge the raw material you are working on. Keep at it, it will fall in place. For the editor even bad material is good enough challenge to make something out of it.

12) Which film editors do you personally admire? What films and filmmakers have had the biggest influence on you?

Thelma of course. Jabeen Merchant, Deepa Bhatia, Walter Murch and so many more. I love watching all kinds of films.

13) What other projects are you working on?

Right now just waiting for 15th May.

And as a note would love to thank the team that hung around for so long. Naveen, Thani, Saqib, Kulish, Kshipra and Vasan and so many who were a part of the work in progress.


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