In Conversation With Suresh Pai - The Man Who Edited Gems Like 'Bheja Fry' & 'Ankhon Dekhi'!

By Dipankar Sarkar. Posted on February 10, 2016

Suresh Pai graduated in film editing from the prestigious Film & Television Institute of India in the  year 1994. After that he went to Mumbai and worked as an assistant editor in films for four years and also edited some TV shows. His first job as an independent editor came with Sunhil Sippy’s Snip (2000), for which he bagged the National Film Award for Best Editing. Five years later he won his 2nd National Award for Madhur Bhandarkar's Page 3 (2005).  His association as an editor with director Rajat Kapoor, is one of the most fruitful director-editor relationships in Bollywood in recent times.

Dipankar Sarkar caught up with Pai and had an interesting chat on editing, his films & career till date.

You started your learning process in FTII by editing on the Steenbeck machines and now your entire editing workflow is based on the digital domain. How do you see the development and how  did you adapt yourself?

You see during the Steenbeck days, discipline was paramount because to see a cut you had to do a lot of stuff. You first had to mark on the Steenbeck, then go to the cutting table, cut it according to the marks, then again come back to the Steenbeck to see how the cuts looked. So there was also a certain amount of precision that was required. The other thing that I liked about film editing was the feel of it.

The fact that you could feel what you were editing, that you could touch the film, gave a sense of connection to reality, that was something we really enjoyed. Whereas in digital domain what is happening is that cuts are just a matter of clicks. In few seconds, you can see the cuts. Even if you make a loose cut you can see the preview a couple of times and arrive at the right cut without much problem and then proceed to the next cut.

But in Steenbeck this was not possible. So it was very important to be precise and disciplined. You had to be very sure about your cuts because if the cuts that you made were too tight then you had to find their extensions, so all that discipline of filing the cuttings was very important.

The transition from Steenbeck to digital did not happen overnight. It was not a shock. We saw it coming. While we were students we were taken on a study tour to studios where the digital stuff had already started coming in, and we got a feel of it. So I was able to adapt to it. We were lucky we were much younger and we were more open to learning.

If you ask me now, to be honest, I’m happy with the digital domain because it’s less strenuous. Moreover, here you can make and compare different versions and then arrive at the best edit. In Steenbeck this was not possible.

Most of your films as an editor such as Snip, Leela, Jhankar Beats, Bheja Fry, Tere Bin Laden, are with first timers. Is it a mere a coincidence or do you prefer to work with first timers?

Both. Those days I did prefer to work with first-time filmmakers because they brought along freshness. But I didn’t consciously say no to experienced filmmakers. Somehow in the beginning of my career, I ended up working with first-time filmmakers. Starting from 2000, many small budget films were being made. The hijacking of multiplexes by big budget movies happened much later. But that wasn't happening during those days. So, somehow, people were putting money in small budget films and a lot of new comers were making films those days.

Snip (2000) was your first film as an editor and you won the National Award for the film. What was the experience of working?

The experience of working was remarkable. Sunhil Sippy is a wonderful guy. His sense of humour was amazing. He had a solid vision. In fact, Snip was much ahead of its time.

It was a typical multiplex film, but those days there were only single screens, so people who went to watch the film got the impression of being in empty halls. The same 100 people if they had gone to a multiplex, the hall would have looked full, but in the single screen, the occupation seemed only 25%.  This affected the film definitely.

On Page 3?

I would say it's a film made on the editing table. There is a lot of me in that film. There is lot of my work in it and I'm proud of that.

You have had a long association with Rajat Kapoor. Could you speak about that?

Raghu Romeo (2003) was Rajat’s second film and my first film with Rajat and ever since we have been working together. It could also be because of the background that we both share. We both are from FTII. We both have watched the same kind of films and our tastes match. Initially, it was a little difficult to understand the sense of rhythm that Rajat wanted for his film but within a week, I got the pulse. He is the only director who sits with me on the rough cuts, not because he wants to impose anything but he truly enjoys every aspect of filmmaking. Our bonding has evolved, the ideas have evolved, the rawness we saw in Raghu Romeo has ended up with the polish in Ankhon Dekhi.

You have edited films in Marathi, Malaysian and Assamese languages. How has that experience being?

Having lived in Maharashtra for almost 20 years, I’m familiar with Marathi. So editing Rohit Joshi’s Bhatukali (2014) was not much of a problem whereas Sharad Sharan’s Malaysian films Diva (2006) and 100 Lies to Hide a Wife (2008) took longer time. However, I get the scripts in both languages - the language of the movie and in English. So I can edit the films comfortably.

With the Assamese film Kothanodi (2015) I fell in love with the rushes Bhaskar brought and I could not believe it was shot on 5D. The kind of images cinematographer Vijay Kutty has managed to capture is actually mind blowing. The post production, color correction and  DI was done in Busan so even people there were surprised when they got to know it was 5D footage.

Regarding working with Bhaskar, he is a wonderful guy. Very meticulous and articulate. Talking about the edit, you see, emotions are universal. For a certain situation, the reaction given by the characters will be similar irrespective of the region that they come from. And Assam being closer to home, it was easier to edit Kothanodi than the Malaysian films.

Also, I’m an easy person to work with. I don’t have any ego issues and luckily for me, I have always worked with wonderful people. I rarely have issues with the directors. Though Rohit and Bhaskar were first timers, with Sharad, I had earlier worked on his Hindi film shot in Indonesia called Kiss Kis Ko (2004).

Today with the editing tutorial available online do you think a formal education in film editing from any film school is necessary?

See formal education in filmmaking from institutes like FTII or SRFTI is still very relevant. I mean, anyone can teach you how to use the machine, in fact you don’t even have to learn it from someone. But editing is not only about the machine and techniques. In a film school, you interact with the best of the talent. There is a huge amount of exchange of ideas that happens. The location of FTII in Pune, being the erstwhile Prabhat Studios, also breathes a lot of filmmaking. Learning at FTII is not only about studying the three-year curriculum, it is also about being among those heritage buildings that helps you evolve.

Having worked as an editor for the past 22 years do you have a project in the pipeline which you  would like to direct?

Something in the pipeline means something is already there and just needs to take shape. I do not have anything in the pipeline. I am working on some ideas and definitely dream of making films. I got  the National Award for my very first film after which a lot of interviews were taken and I remember in some of them I had said I would make a film in my mother tongue Konkani. I still wish to do it but I don’t know how practical it is. But more than the language, I just WANT to make films.


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