National Award-winning Sreekar Prasad talks to Subha J Rao about the fine art of editing and the excitement of being the first viewer of a film.

He made the cut with his very first film Raakh, taking home the National Award for best editing in 1989. Sreekar Prasad kept the faith, winning six more National awards, including a couple on the trot and two in a single year, for his expertise with freezes, fades and montages. Twenty years later, he impressed the jury enough to bestow upon him the first-ever Special Jury Award (2009) given to an editor.

The award came for three films that spanned genres — the edge-of-the-seat action thriller Kaminey, the languorous historical saga Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja and the lyrical biography of a sailor, Kutty Srank.

All the awards sit lightly on Prasad, who is still an eager student. But, the latest one is special, he admits. “I was surprised, but thrilled, because this is the personal choice of the jury, it came for a body of work, and because, a technician is rarely chosen for this award.”

Each of the films mentioned required a different treatment — Pazhassi Raja followed a linear format of storytelling, Kutty Srank travelled back and forth, unravelling a man's life as seen by three women, while Kaminey was a roller-coaster ride featuring twins, where it was vital to ensure the parallel tracks made sense. And, Prasad handled all with a finesse and sensitivity that is such an intrinsic part of him — he's a literature graduate, and aspired to take up journalism as a career, before a chance holiday outing at his dad, A. Sanjeevi's editing room showed him where his destiny lay.

“I'll admit literature makes you tender, and allows you to enjoy a creative process better. Journalism taught me how to tell a story better. That's what I do in editing too. Help a director tell a story clearly without repetition,” says Prasad.

So, how does he work on a film? When does that ‘aha' moment happen, when a film unadorns itself of all things extraneous and stands before him in all its purity? “When I see the rushes,” smiles Prasad, “certain scenes make an impression, they excite you. And, since I am the first viewer of a film, I instinctively know what will work even if I don't necessarily identify with the setting of the film.”

How easy is it to cut a film that is a labour of the director's love and passion? “Difficult. That's why I like to do the first cut alone. That way, it's easier, because I've not been involved in the creative process till then and can be objective about what I see on screen. Then, I involve the director and we work as a team. Sometimes, there's a world of difference in the script I've listened to, and what has been shot, but once you enter the editing room, everything falls into place.”

Even if he is not familiar with the language? (Prasad has worked in many languages, including Nepali, Sinhalese, Karbi and Oriya, besides Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English) “I usually try and learn the language, but, since Indian films follow a particular format of filmmaking, language ceases to matter; and, as for the nuances, I ensure someone who knows the language, explains things to me.”

Considering he's worked with people who make sensitive cinema crafted with a lyrical eye (think Santosh Sivan's Asoka, Nandita Das' Firaaq or many of Mani Ratnam's creations, from Alaipayuthey to Raavan/Raavanan), how comfortable is he editing run-of-the-mill fare? “Ah,” he smiles. “I then adapt myself to audience demand. But, at the same time, even in such a set-up I like to raise their level of understanding of the medium,” says the editor who's now working on Vishal Bharadwaj's Saath Khoon Maaf.

The Cutting Edge

Vanaprastham: This Shaji N. Karun film infused with Kathakali fell perfectly into place. The end-product had a lot of finesse.

The Terrorist: This Santosh Sivan film was made on the editing table. Great visuals and a poignant story came together beautifully.

Katradhu Tamizh: The rushes were very close to director Ram’s initial narration. It was a very real film, and putting it together was difficult. This is one of my favourite works.

Creative Partnership

The relationship between a director and editor is very special. They are the ones who finally lend shape to a film, says Sreekar, whose favourite directors are

Mani Ratnam: His passion rubs off on you. He constantly surprises.

Shaji N. Karun: There are so many layers in his creations; it’s lovely to help the audience decipher them.

Vishal Bharadwaj: He has a great sense of dark humour.

Santosh Sivan: A bundle of ideas who encourages you to try new things.

Keywords: film editing