Nitin Baid, who is enjoying a steady streak of success with films like Trapped for which he bagged a Filmfare Award for Best Editing in 2018 and who has shaped one of the most anticipated films of 2019 – Ranveer Singh starrer, Gully Boy spoke to The Quint about how the editor aids, influences, alters and steers the director’s vision.
Did you stumble into editing or was that the plan?
Nitin Baid: I wanted to get into films. While studying in Christ College, I was doing a lot of side gigs like editing corporate films. I had already started making good money in college and I was excited but five months down the line, corporate films were not giving me any creative satisfaction. But the encounter with the edit machine was my foundation when it came to telling a narrative. I didn’t get into SRFTI in Kolkata or FTII for direction, so I ended up going to Whistling Woods. At that time, I was reading and watching a lot. So editing seemed very fulfilling because you are the first one to interact with the footage, you are working closely with the director. You get to collaborate with the creator. That said, most of the time, you are working with someone else’s creation – someone writes the script, someone directs it. So I feel it’s important, I create something of my own and am working on it.
Anand Subaya is Zoya Akhtar’s frequent editor-collaborator. So how did you bag this project?
Nitin: Anand was busy with Gold. They tried to work it out but Gold had so much VFX work. So then the call was taken. He is cutting 2-3 songs for the film though.
What are the challenges of editing a song-based narrative?
Nitin: One thing has been consistent in all my films – the songs always propel the narrative. They are not just songs except maybe Bareilly Ki Barfi, where I got involved as additional editor much later. In very commercial films, songs are used as separate elements. If the song is removed, you won’t miss anything in the narrative.
In Gully Boy the songs give a sense of the character’s purpose. They are a part of the action that furthers the storyline. I treated the song as the narrative itself.
Was Eminem’s 8 Mile, a reference for Gully Boy?
Nitin: I had seen 8 Mile before reading the script. The only reason why it may look similar is the rap battle. But this is the way the rap battles happen in Bombay. Both Reema (Kagti) and Zoya (Akhtar) have done their research so well in Mumbai. Zoya has really been around the circuit for almost two years and she has soaked up the atmosphere and the world. She wanted to stay true to how it actually happens. But if you see the film, you’ll know our film is different.
8 Mile is about him performing at the final rap battle. This is a lot more – his family, his personal life – there are more layers. The only way you can compare the two is the idea of aspiration. But even Rocky had the same theme. When we were making the film, we knew this comparison would come up. But 8 Mile and Gully Boy are poles apart.
What is editing on location like? You did it for Masaan? Is it a lot of pressure to edit simultaneously with the shoot?
Nitin: Masaan was on location. Not really on location – in a hotel – I mean. For Raazi, they would send me the footage and I would edit and send it at night. Within 3-4 days I would send some scenes. Meghna (Gulzar) would see it. Then we would fine-tune it. For Masaan the shoot was in Benaras. The cuts were for reference since we couldn’t go back and shoot there. The budget didn’t allow that. If something needed to be reshot, we could do it there. There’s a scene where Vicky meets Shweta for the first time – we shot an elaborate scene separately. After shooting, we realised that the emotion and the context was not reflected in it. After it came to the edit table, we realised that it was not coming across as we had imagined it – the humour was not palpable. So we decided to shoot an alternate scene. We had the location for just about forty minutes and the chief AD organised a quick shoot. Varun Grover wrote a completely new scene and it was reshot. The original scene we shot, aram se across a day and it didn’t work out. It’s an irony - the scene which made it to the film was wrapped up in 30 minutes. There were other scenes too that we felt were not emotionally effective – they were reshot or tweaked. Even during Ittefaq, we changed the narrative structure while editing. We changed the graph of the twist. There was a scene initially which was right at the end of the film. I realised that the scene coming in the last 15 minutes of the film seemed too convenient. So I moved that scene in the first 25 minutes. It was then in sync with the tone of the film.
When the audience is watching a thriller it is always one step ahead of the character. You want them to be one step ahead, but you still want to surprise them. So we wanted to throw in all the clues initially and then rework the clues in an interesting manner. We rewrote the scene - how Akshaye Khanna figures out things.
It’s no pressure. I enjoy the process. Especially in a thriller with so many intricacies, you can move around the pieces. Sometimes what you write on paper does not work out at the edit stage. This the fun part – shaping the narrative, joining the dots – bringing all the arcs together.
Was that the case with Gully Boy too? You went to the US to edit the film.
Nitin: That was something Zoya had decided from the start. Earlier she had places like Coonoor in mind. She wanted to get away from Mumbai, from the regular scenario where people come to office and ask for some scenes to be shown. She wants to take her own time to edit. It’s a process that she has established. After the shoot was over, suddenly she decided to go to New York. It was the most beautiful editing experience ever. We were there for two and a half months. Every day we were working and exploring the city too. Me, Zoya and Arjun (her DA) were hanging out most of the time. It was a very nice vibe. We would edit a couple of scenes and then decide what we’d do later – where we’d go for dinner. The process keeps you fresh and excited. You are in another country away from the constant generic vibe where people are only talking about box office collections of films. It helped me enjoy the edit. I had spent a lot of time working on the lineup of the film – 2-3 months. When I went there, there was this rejuvenation. I was looking at the same film differently. Like a clean slate. On our day breaks we would even go to museums, plays, movies. We came back with a cut of a longer duration. Of course it was the first cut. Then it was all about narrowing it down to the very basics – the core. Then there were screenings.
For me screenings are very important – they throw perspectives you wouldn’t have considered. You are reminded of things you’ve forgotten. When viewers in closed groups question the purpose of scenes, you have to justify it. Are the narrative beats working? Are they emotionally reacting the way you intended?
Does your process change with every director? You’ve worked with Anurag Kashyap, Meghna Gulzar, Neeraj Ghaywan, Karan Johar, Zoya Akhtar…who is the tough taskmaster?
Nitin: I’ve seen Masaan going through different drafts with Neeraj (Ghaywan) and Varun (Grover). All the projects I’ve worked on are of directors I was excited to work with. I was on board with their vision. When Zoya called me, she asked me to read the script and decide. Even before Zoya approached me, it was the most exciting project that I wanted to be a part of. It just fell into my lap as a coincidence. I’ve been friends with Neeraj for a long time, all the other directors I’ve worked with - it has all been for the first time. So every time I work with a new director, it’s a different process. As an editor you have to constantly throw ideas and options. What if we changed the mood of the scene?
Karan Johar is a great narrator, his narration for Lust Stories was enough for me. Vikram (Motwane) is a great editor himself, he is phenomenal with his craft. When you have to suggest a change to him, you really have to analyse it and make a case for it. Everyone has different ways they want to be communicated with.
You can tell some directors what you feel gradually after the first cut. To others, you point things out at the screenplay level. You can tell them not to shoot the scene in the first place, if you’re not happy. During the first reading of Masaan, there was a track of Vicky’s (Kaushal) father. I asked if the track is required. Everybody agreed, it could be done away with. So, it’s not about a tough taskmaster for me but at what level I can give my feedback – script level or edit table. All these directors are at the prime of their craft, so you’re just trying to collaborate. Even when I met Anu Menon for Waiting, I told her that a beat was missing in the scenes, and we cracked a solution together. These writers/directors are very passionate about their films. They may not react positively immediately but come around after 2/3 days.
Cutting hours of footage down to a 2/3 hour film is like making sense of chaos. With the distractions of social media etc, what do you do to get into the zone? What’s your day like as an editor?
Nitin: If you see Chef’s Table, you see how much time chefs take to make one dish and the kind of detailing that goes into it. It’s pretty much like that. You have to put in the hours. It gets tedious sometimes. Then you go have a drink and have a good meal.
Thankfully all my directors are big foodies. So we are constantly planning what to do for lunch or for dinner – whether it’s Neeraj, Zoya, Meghna – all of them. They all love food and so do I. So there’s this constant planning. So you set goals. Aaj Khane Mein Kya Hai sort of motivates you.
There are no crazy hectic work hours. Of course, as the deadline gets closer, there is some pressure. Ideally I don’t like doing two projects together, but the directors are accommodating if I want to. When I was working on Ittefaq, the edit of Raazi started at the same time. It worked out because Ittefaq was getting over and Raazi was starting. I would work on Ittefaq in the morning and Raazi at night. If both the films are starting at the same time, then it’s difficult. I try to balance two films if a project is really exciting.
Which is your favourite genre? Are there works of editors that you see and say to yourself, ‘Wish I had worked on it’?
Nitin: I love thrillers. Andhadhun really made me jealous. I love Sriram Raghavan. You can see his passion for filmmaking. I hope someday a collaboration happens.
I’m a big fan of Zoya. While assisting Kashyap on Gangs of Wasseypur, Neeraj and I – would look up to her films. Then when I saw Talvar, I felt like I wish I had done it. I enjoyed working on Ghoul. What Fincher does is a dream for me. I’m a big fan of Jean-Marc Vallée – the director of Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies. He is a current generation Nicolas Roeg. Constantly jumping between narratives could get gimmicky but see the Big Little Lies finale. He has just cut the crucial scene with waves hitting the rocks. He has been throwing those hints throughout the season and the way it comes together it’s beautiful. I love Sicario’s Joe Walker. Here I like Namrata Rao’s work and Shweta Venkat, whom I worked with and learned a lot from.
Editing is a hidden art, an invisible craft. How does a viewer identify a genuine editing achievement? For most viewers when a film is pacy, it is good editing.
Nitin: The invisibility makes it a well-edited film - if you’re not thinking about the edit. Sometimes viewers (general audience) can’t really pinpoint what they want to say. They are confused, they don’t know what to precisely say. Sometimes they say, ‘kuch toh lamba laga’.
Sometimes it’s not the length, they are missing some excitement. The beats are not changing for them. The way we are conditioned now – the attention span – every 8 seconds we are looking at the phone. I’m curious about that tendency. The way minds are working today, it’s very interesting the kind of films we are going to make in 5-10 years.
Our narratives and cutting styles have changed. I was watching Heat few days ago. Even though it’s slow there’s consistent tension with a few guys robbing a bank and the chase. We are getting used to American storytelling where the viewers are like, ‘Move the plot’. That’s the future.
Do you have that in mind during your edits?
Nitin: I’m constantly thinking of that. When they are watching Simmba, they are constantly given events after events. So it keeps them hooked. We can’t do this for all films but you have to keep surprising the audience even in a slow-paced film so that they don’t feel cheated.
Has the use of digital cameras changed things for the editor?
Nitin: The amount of rushes we have - it’s crazy, we get a lot of footage. With Film everyone would be precise and focused with their shots. Now we have the luxury of rehearsal shots. There is a flexibility where you don’t have to think of the cost of film. Even a normal conversation scene, they say let’s switch on the camera and keep shooting. So the editor has to make it finer and finer. So the first process is longer. But it’s useful in films like like Masaan where don’t have the budget to come back to shoot and there’s a lot of pressure on the director. You have to figure things out during the edit. That’s digital. That’s the future.
There’s some talk of you editing Takht?
Nitin: There’s no confirmation yet but I’ll personally mail you if that happens.
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