New-age film editor Aarti Bajaj talks about how she's obsessed about her every project so much so she has butterflies in her stomach before every release!
Her filmography accounts for some of the best films of the last few years — “Paanch”, “Black Friday”, “Jab We Met”, “Dev D”, “Gulaal”, “Aamir”, “Do Dooni Chaar”, “Love Aaj Kkal” and “Rockstar”, to name a few.
She's one of those rare new-age film editors who lets the narrative breathe, supremely confident of her pacing. Anurag Kashyap and Imtiaz Ali, two of the finest filmmakers of our times have made her cut almost every film of theirs. In fact, even after her divorce with Kashyap, the two continued to work together.
Aarti Bajaj, the editor of this year's best film, “Rockstar”, gives Sudhish Kamath an insight into her craft.
What role did you play in arriving at ‘Rockstar''s non-linear structure?
The screenplay was written that way originally, except for a couple of places in the second-half where the structure was changed while editing. When you are at the table, there are a lot of factors at play. ‘Rockstar' was an emotional roller-coaster, but it has been one of the best experiences too. Most of my directors are open to the idea of discussing the script. My first reaction when I'm reading is, ‘how do I feel?' Things change at every stage. How boring it will be if you are not given the opportunity to be flexible. It has to grow wings.
How do you know what the right length or the pace for a film is?
Mostly, when you read the script, you have a fair idea of the pace. Then you get the rushes, and there is a certain energy that tells me where it is headed. You have a fair idea by that time if you are going to flow with the film or you are going to do a saving job. In terms of length, if the director says he wants every last frame, you can't really argue beyond a point. But the person who gets the flak is the editor. Most reviews blast the editor but please pay attention to the screenplay. It's written in a certain way and shot in a certain way. The film has already taken shape in a certain way. Sometimes, there is no choice. Sometimes with a new director, everyone has an opinion, which is good as long as you don't lose your objectivity. But, that's the first thing that goes. And then, I get calls after the print has come out to cut it short, but it's too late. You see, in spite of being involved, I'm still objective and instinctive, and have to keep the perspective to see the larger picture all the time.
So, at what point do you finish editing?
I don't think I have ever abandoned any project; I don't think I can. Even in the worst cases, I try to save it as much as I can. You can never be 100 per cent happy. I make it a point to ask about the release date first. I want comfortable time to work. I still have butterflies in my stomach before every project.
Do you work with friends because they are open to ideas or because you can't relate to how mainstream Bollywood works?
There is a lot of money riding, and I don't think friendship plays any part in that. I think, I create; I translate and can take it further. They know I can. The day we don't, we will part ways. I know my worth, and what I bring to a project. I enjoy mainstream Bollywood, but I don't know if I can edit them. What's the point of doing the same formula again? What do you look forward to? I know I will go brain-dead. I like quirky. I like different. It's instinctive when I choose a project, otherwise my lack of interest will show in my work. My mind needs constant stimulation. It's wonderful in how many ways you can challenge your mind. All my films are quite different from each other, and there are a lot of different directors there.
You have worked with Kashyap despite your domestic history with him.
What's the point of living in the past? There is so much out there. There is no animosity between us. Working equation with him is good. He gives you space, and any creative person appreciates that.
How do you deal with working inside spaces that could get claustrophobic? Do you start work after your assistant is done with the rough assembly?
The funny thing is I suffer from claustrophobia. But when I'm inside the room, nothing matters; as long as my mind is occupied, I'm okay. I take breaks and my music helps. I have one assistant Rinku, who has been with me for six years now. We work well together. He handles the technical and I, the creative. I do only one project at a time. I always start from scratch. The only assembly I look at is of songs. I just love the whole process, whatever the result.
What's keeping you busy and how busy do you get?
Right now, I'm doing Habib Faisal's next with Yash Raj Films. I'm obsessed about my projects and involved till the last moment. It's my responsibility; it's my baby, and I like dressing it. At the end of the day, I go back to my music and to the light of my life, my daughter Aaliyah. She is the reality; I switch off when am with her. This line can suck you in, and then the insecurities seep in. It's not real. What you achieve is never enough, and it's a vicious cycle. I'm very aware of that. I love what I do, and the day I don't, I will leave gracefully.