From a technician to a storyteller

More than twenty years ago just before Hum Aap Ke Hain Koun was released, a song from the film featuring Madhuri Dixit began to run on television screens which became a cult immediately after the film was released – Didi Tera Dewar Diwana. Those were the days when satellite television had just come in and what struck the television viewers was the way the song was picturised: it was an assemblage of clippings from the film without any continuity that showcased the highpoints in the film.

For a generation raised up on Chitrahaar where whole songs were played in their entirety, this was quite a unique phenomenon; many were confused. It was only after viewing the film that the audience got the context of the actual song which was like a mating call extended by the heroine to the hero.

The style of presentation of the song on television soon came to be followed by other songs from other films as well and the concept of ‘promo’ was born. A promo was like a trailer that highlighted the key dramatic moments in the film and acted like a teaser. It was also during this time, thanks to television, that songs came to be ‘seen’ instead of being heard like they used to be during the good old days of radio.

A new breed of editors came to the fore who started specialising in editing promos. Regular editors edited the feature films while the promos were left to the specialists. And the strangest thing was that, these promo editors started getting paid phenomenally more than the actual editors whose income and lifestyle in most cases were pathetic.

Editing always has been an underrated and most often, invisible craft, devoid of the glamor and visibility that is associated with professions like music direction, choreography, art direction or cinematography. In the 80s and the 90s, if one looked up a film directory that listed the names, addresses and telephone numbers of technicians and artistes in the film industry, one was stuck by the absence of any telephone number when it came to editors; there were only PP numbers which meant ‘contact numbers’.

Of course, those were the days when cheap mobile phones had not come to the market and people depended on land lines only; and most technicians had their own land lines – except the unfortunate editor. He travelled mostly by bus or local trains – autos were a luxury which only a few editors could afford – and drank cheap liquor. He was treated at par with a regular craftsman like a carpenter or a house painter.


Of course, there were star editors like M S Shinde who edited Sholay and other Sippy films, and the maverick Renu Saluja, a FTII pass-out in whose hands the cinema of an entire generation of new-wave film-makers like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Ketan Mehta, Kundan Shah, Syed Mirza, Punkaj Parashar – all FTII graduates – found their salvation. She also groomed a steady stream of assistants who later on became virtuoso editors in their own right.

The arrival of video editing and satellite television saw a spurt in young editors and feature films were no longer the main stay. There were now thousands of different kinds of programmes – both fiction and non-fiction – and these young editors soon filled up the space, leaving the old feature film editors at the mercy of alcohol and disease. With the arrival of digital technology and easy access to editing software, more editors came into the fray. Every young kid – whether a filmmaker or an editor – could now edit his films at the comfort of his home, on his laptop, and did not have to travel the long distance to the editing studios.

Editing today is a profession that has rightfully earned its recognition after decades of being relegated to the backburner. The editor today drives his own fancy car, jangling the latest electronic gadgets and drinks the best whiskey. He no longer looks at himself as a technician, but a story-teller. And many of them have graduated into directors with unprecedented success. Rajkumar Hirani and Sanjay Leela Bhansali are a case in point, apart from so many others from different regional cinemas. 

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)

Ranjan Das