Exclusive: Editing is a thankless job, interview with ‘Bairavaa’ editor Praveen KL

I was afraid to tell Vijay that a few of his scenes had to be edited out but he told me that the film is bigger than him, shares Praveen.
Exclusive: Editing is a thankless job, interview with ‘Bairavaa’ editor Praveen KL
Exclusive: Editing is a thankless job, interview with ‘Bairavaa’ editor Praveen KL
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National award winner Praveen KL belongs to the top rung of film editors in Tamil cinema. He was involved in 2016's biggest film Kabali and is now awaiting the release of one of 2017's biggest, Bairavaa.

In this interview with The News Minute, Praveen shares his frank views on the films he’s worked on, the skills needed for a good editor, the problem with remuneration for his field and more. Excerpts:

After working on a really high profile film with high stakes like Kabali, how was it to get into Bairavaa? Was the pressure similar?

Bairavaa's shoot was wrapped up in early October and there has been no pressure during the post-production phase. It is my most relaxed film, as it has been very well planned and executed. It is a proper holiday film for the Pongal season.

Director Bharathan sir is known for his dialogues and screenplay. He is basically a good human being; soft-spoken, well-mannered and respectful. All of us wanted him to succeed big with Bairavaa. He feels bad for wasting the earlier opportunity with Vijay sir in Azhagiya Tamil Magan (ATM), and this is a big comeback for him. He has to make it count!

A few years back, you couldn't finish editing Vijay's Jilla. Bairavaa marks your first complete film with the star. His screen presence and energy seem to have worked wonders?

I was involved in Jilla till the final trimming. Due to my tight schedules, I couldn't complete the film. I didn't want to rush and compromise on the quality front. Bairavaa has a Tirunelveli base, and there is obviously a social message integrated since it's a mass hero flick. There would be big-time mass reach with an 'arrow' like Vijay sir. He appreciated me after seeing the teaser's output and said that he felt extra-confident about the film, post the teaser.

I was afraid to tell him that a few of his scenes had to be edited out but he told me that the film is bigger than him, and gave me the go-ahead to take the final call for the film's betterment. It is great to have such clarity from a star of his stature. Except 3 to 4 mins, Vijay sir will be there all through the film.

The Vijay - Keerthy Suresh pair looks charming in the trailer...

Keerthy Suresh has done very well; she holds a very important space in the industry as a Tamil speaking heroine and will go far. She has a cleverly incorporated part in the story and is not just the template commercial cinema heroine. I didn't want to cut her scenes due to her fine performance.

How do you look back at the Kabali frenzy now? It must have been a stormy phase...

Of course, I miss that high that comes from pressure and expectations as there is nothing to match a Rajini film. I am already looking forward to the next Rajini sir - Ranjith film to get back to that zone (laughs). Most of the Kabali crew will be retained.

There are rumors already that this film would be a gangster flick based in Mumbai...

It is still very early and nothing has been finalised. With Kabali, we experienced the 'Rajini aura' for the first time. We have crossed that phase now and feel more responsible towards the script and the pressure of expectations. Ranjith is working on the script without taking all the hype into consideration.

With Kabali, there was criticism that the teaser painted a very different picture of the film?

We had actually cut a trailer too, which didn't get released due to various reasons. That trailer was low-key and actually conveyed the emotional mood of the film. Producer Thanu sir didn't want to bring down the hype created by the “massy” teaser, and it did work wonders in terms of the business and the reach. From the teaser to the film's release, a lot of things change! Even Ranjith felt that the teaser was too “massy” but I convinced him to go ahead with this.

After Kabali's release, did you feel that certain things could have been done in a better way?

Such introspection and postmortems are there for all films, not just for Kabali. Only when we don't introspect, we fail. With Chennai 28 - Part 2, we understood from constructive feedback post-release that the songs had only a limited reach and that there were too many drinking scenes. We actually voluntarily cut away 6 drinking scenes pre-release but even now, such a comment is there. Youngsters are still enjoying such drinking scenes but slightly older viewers feel otherwise.

The success of Chennai 28 - Part 2 must be a welcome relief for Venkat Prabhu who was reeling under two continuous flops?

I am super-happy for Venkat Prabhu. After the failure of Biriyani and Masss, he was kinda lost. Post Mankatha itself, we wanted to make this sequel but he had to meet other commitments for producers, Studio Green. The process didn't click and the two films didn't run. He then wanted to get back to his brand of 'boys films'. He loves this space and wants to stick to this format in his next film too. The film clicked despite multiple postponements in the release date and despite coming close on the heels of the former TN CM Jayalalithaa's death.

What are the factors that go into cutting a teaser/trailer ?

To hint at the content without revealing spoilers; to tease the audience is the key. I hold it back and let the audience enjoy the movie. I also make sure to include some catchy dialogues which stick on. The Bairavaa teaser took more than a day and a half to cut, while the trailer took just 5 hours as we had set the mood with the teaser.

The business factor and fans' expectations also play a part. Obviously we have to satisfy fans with these trailers as they are the ones who will celebrate the film when it releases. There is a never-ending barrage of demands from fans on social media but I can't keep replying to them and revealing secrets.

What, according to you, is good editing?

According to me, if one never gets to know what was deleted in a film, then that's good editing. Editing is generally a thankless job but now the scene is much better. We are being invited to press meets and are getting interview requests. The recognition and importance are only getting better with social media and all the direct interaction with fans. Each editor has his own space now in the industry.

The editors that you look up to?

Anthony sir and Sreekar Prasad sir have been inspirational. Anthony's work in Kaakha Kaakha inspired me in a big way. Sreekar sir used to cut trailers back in the 90s and I used to follow his work closely. I've always wanted to be a blend of these two; to balance Anthony's trendy style and Sreekar sir's simple presentation. Hopefully it's happening now.

In a recent interview, you had talked about getting into Telugu cinema. What's the status now?

For Nani's Gentleman, I cut the teaser, trailer and songs. Nani is a good friend and keeps calling me regarding possible collaborations. I'll be working on Vishnu Manchu's upcoming Telugu - Tamil bilingual, and also two other bilinguals featuring big stars. My mother tongue is Telugu and my family has always been into the Telugu industry. That's an advantage for me and I know all the current-gen Telugu heroes well.

Finally, could you talk about the remuneration standards for editors in Tamil cinema?

It's a struggle, and I've always wanted to address this issue with the union. Unfortunately, I am not able to spend time for the union meetings due to my tight schedules. Only the top crop of editors get paid well.

The union fixed 1.75 lakhs per film as the minimum pay for editors, long back, when film rolls were used to shoot films. This rate is not at all practical for the current digital era of filmmaking when the workload of editors has increased considerably due to the limitless footage being shot. Even this pay is not being given by some people.

According to me, 5 lakhs per film has to be the minimum mark. But desperate young editors take up work for meagre amounts, as they don't want to miss any opportunity. By doing so, they are under-cutting the market for everyone and also wasting their time. It's better to not work like that.

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