'Compared to other Malayalam films, the number of scenes are less in Kumbalangi Nights'
The film's editor, Saiju Sreedharan, talks to us about his working process and the importance of strong teamwork
An integral part of a film crew, some filmmakers will tell you that an editor is more important than the director. It takes a special talent to turn all that footage into a coherent, comprehensible form. A film, it can be said, actually comes alive in the editing room. Since his debut five years ago with Aashiq Abu’s Gangster, all the films edited by Saiju Sreedharan so far — including his latest, Kumbalangi Nights — have been made by people belonging to the same circle. Saiju has edited Dileesh Pothan’s debut Maheshinte Prathikaram, Aashiq’s last film Mayaanadhi, and Maradona (helmed by Vishnu Narayan, a former associate of both Aashiq and Dileesh). He is currently working on Aashiq’s much-anticipated Virus.
Excerpts from a conversation:
The unhurried editing in Kumbalangi Nights has been praised by many. Were you initially concerned about viewers adjusting to its pace?
I’ve come across a few who thought the pace was slow. For me, this film is actually quite fast. In fact, we had initially thought of making a much slower film, but this being a debutant’s film, we didn’t want to take that risk. Some people wait for an opportunity to find a flaw, especially when it’s a debutant filmmaker. Now that the majority response has been overwhelmingly positive, we are not worried at all. The actors truly had the freedom to flex their acting chops in Kumbalangi Nights.
Was the usage of sync sound helpful to your editing process?
The benefit of doing the film in sync sound is that we don’t have to wait for the dubbing to get over. And on this film, we edited each day’s footage on that day itself. When you already have the sound, you can do a neat edit instead of doing a rough cut. So, yes, sync sound is very helpful for an editor. Maayanadhi was the first film I worked on which was done in sync sound. Though I was worried initially, I slowly began to realise how advantageous it really is and easily adapted to it.
Did you have an idea about how you were going to edit the film while reading the script?
No. Madhu Narayanan being a new director, I didn’t have a clue about what kind of film this was going to be — is it a commercial or an arthouse film? It was only after going to the set, and watching the first few days of the shoot, that I recognised his sensibilities and realised what kind of film we were making. Observing just one or two scenes — be it up close or through the footage — was enough for me to know exactly how to go about the editing. And Syam Pushkaran is not someone who writes his script and then forgets it. He goes to the set and immerses himself in each and every scene, making sure that everyone gets exactly what he had written on the page.
Are you of the view that an editor has to be present on the first day of the shoot?
I would highly recommend that because you’ll have a lot of time later for things like the DI (digital intermediate), incorporating VFX or music. It’s easier if you’re there on day one rather than joining the set in the middle, because later you may find it a challenge to study the entire process from scratch. For example, while the shoot of Maradona was going on, I couldn’t fully focus on its editing because I was editing Mayaanadhi at the same time. I took me a while to get a complete grasp on the material.
Was there a lot of footage on this one?
No, the team shot only what was necessary. If you have noticed, compared to other Malayalam films, the number of scenes are less. Only the shot duration is long.
There is one stand-out moment where two things are happening in parallel...
Syam had actually written that scene that way, and he told me that’s how the scene was supposed to be cut. It was not a last minute editing choice.
Was the length of Fahadh’s barbershop scene increased in the editing?
Yes, we thought of holding the shots a little longer to heighten the tension. Sometimes, I try to lengthen a scene to see if we can benefit from it. There have been multiple occasions where I felt this approach helped a scene.
Do you prefer working with a crew that is in complete sync with you?
Yes, I’m very particular about that. Every department — director, writer, editor, music, cinematographer, DI, sound, effects — has to be in total sync to make a good film. Even if it’s a tiny piece of music, I expect it to be of the quality I’m looking for. Also, timing is a very important factor. I can operate at my best only if I get everything on time.