One of the best things about your favoutite film is that you are never tired of reading about them. And if it’s a landmark film, then with every passing year as its cult grows bigger, stories surrounding those films became urban legends. Satya is one such film. And though we have heard so many stories about its making, one is always interested to read more. So as its editor Apurva Asrani started writing about its making on his blog, we thought it would be nice to share the post here too. Over to him.
My name is Apurva Asrani. I am a film editor. My job profile includes receiving shooting rushes and putting together a cohesive film. I attempt to choose the most honest moments in the material to string together a tableau of scenes. I try to work at proper punctuation. i.e moving around silences, action, music and dialogue to flow rhythmically. I try to clean up the rough edges in performances, sometimes cheating moments to bring on the desired effect. ‘There is no one above the film’ is a motto that I have tried to follow in a career spanning 17 years, 13 films, 5 tele-films & 3 theater productions, often confronting ego’s that were infinitely bigger than the film.
When factors bigger than the film were in control, i.e stars, marketing gimmicks and/or producers with no real love for cinema, the films found no audience. Some were appreciated in part, but not in whole. But several times, the power of the story was above all involved, and the crew worked selflessly, leveled under the radiance of good intention. For me, Satya , Snip!, Chhal, Jalpari-The Desert Mermaid & the yet to release Shahid are all examples of good teamwork.
I spent my 20’s thrilled like a kid in a celluloid store. I have had intimate creative relationships with incredible film personalities like Ramgopal Varma, Hansal Mehta, Anupam Kher, Basu Bhattacharya Bhupen Hazarika & Nagesh Kukunoor. My joy knew no bounds when I spent days with legends like Mehmood & Shammi Kapoor while putting together a show for TV. I have even worked with some incredible people who I could never relate to, like Vashu Bhagnani. This blog is my attempt at documenting memories from some of those relationships.
Ramgopal Varma & Satya
In 1997, when I was a teenage promo producer, a mad-man named Ramu asked me to edit a film called Satya. Mani Rathnam’s Iruvar was about to release and I had heard that it had been cut digitally, i.e on Avid. I had already befriended the digital editing system through my TV & promo work and found that I had an ally in Ramu in going digital. Ramu was high from the failure of Daud and the man mesmerized me. Instead of getting crushed by rejection of his biggest budget film to date he was reveling in its failure. He knew that he was garnering a cult following, and was being admired for making the offbeat comedy the way he wanted to. He carried the creative air of a man who had produced & directed the biggest musical hit of those days, Rangeela, and soon his revelry was to became rebellion against the popular grain.
Ramu, me & Avid Media Composer spent one year in a 6 by 8 foot cabin while editing Satya. I met a man who gambled with life and had a mischievous disposition while doing it. ‘Ramu’ truly wanted to tell Satya’s story. He was living vicariously through the character. The South Indian producer penetrating the Bombay market was a striking parallel with Telegu cinema’s Chakravarti penetrating Manoj Bajpai & Saurabh Shukla’s underworld in the film. In the film, Chakravarti ordered the sudden killing of ‘Bollywood star’ commissioner Paresh Rawal, and Ramu had made his point. The fact that the film found cult status only cemented the man’s journey thus far.
Ramu had put together an incredible team for Satya. There was the unlikely writing duo of Saurabh Shukla & Anurag Kashyap, both chipping into the film with more than just their writing roles. There was the American director of photography Gerard Hooper, who closely collaborated with his Indian counterpart Mazhar Kamran to bring us grit like never before. There was the Industry veteran Krishna who has over a 100 film titles to this credit, but only one as Art Director–for Satya. There was Vishal Bharadwaj, at the start of his juiciest creative phase.
I remember riding with Ramu in his red Maruti Esteem and we were listening to the songs of the Chandrachur Singh starrer, Betaabi. The film was a wash-out but Vishal’s powerful music fueled this car to the Versova sea side office, where Ramu was putting together a team for his underworld film. ‘You like this, Apurva?’ Ramu had asked me, a gawky 19 year old, still numb from the opportunity that had been presented to him. Having been a fan of Vishal since Maachis, I vehemently supported his decision to go with him. I was beginning to feel the onset of a magical phase in my life.
Anurag Kashyap was the irreverent mischievous kid on the set, often getting into sulks with Ramu about Saurabh’s involvement. I remember this huge stand-off about whose name should appear on top, when I had cut the first promo of Satya. Ramu used good humor and leveraged the awe each team member had for him, to manage the ‘children’ on set. I was younger than Anurag, but I was the more serious kind. Diligently trying to prove myself on-set and in the editing room. I knew nothing about film editing, but I would trip-out on the wild material in the darkened room, sometimes not going home for hours and days on end. I seemed to enjoy telling stories & after writing, I found only editing to be an uncorrupted creative space. Besides, the rushes for Satya were honest and ‘ballsy’, unlike the cinema of the day. You couldn’t help but become consumed by the material.
‘Stay out of the room’, I’d shout, sending my assistant Pradnya to stand as a barricade to the studio door, so that Ramu’s curious eyes couldn’t see what I was cutting. I had a desire to shock and I knew early on that directors must wait till the cut is complete, before they can see it. The Ramu of 1997 was a humble man. Like a child, he would plead to watch it, try and peer through a small window in the door, but he would wait outside till he was allowed in. Most often, the results would please him to no end, and there would a deluge of film personalities who would be invited to see the brewing magic.
Two meetings that I will never forget are with Gulzar, also the lyricist of the film & with Shekhar Kapoor, high on the success of Bandit Queen. When Gulzar walked in, a nervous Ramu forgot to introduce me to him (Ramu always introduced me to his guests), I was also very nervous to turn around and look at the legendary kurta-pyjama clad auteur. Then I distinctly remember there was a soft touch on my shoulder, I turned to see Gulzar who smiled at me and said hello. I was floored. Shekhar Kapoor was all chatty and excited. He couldn’t stop raving about his editor Jill Bilcock who had just cut his film Elizabeth and I was already feeling jealous.
Ramu allowed me break up, re-align, mold and reshape the film the way I wanted to. I believe that’s how he dealt with the writers, actors and camera crew as well. Allowing everyone he trusted to interpret his vision. I never really understood then, how rare it was to find great teamwork. I think Ramu also soon forgot.
Satya was never intended to open the way it did. The opening scene was written with Satya’s character’s arrival in Mumbai. I remember thinking that the opening was flat. What was needed was a fiery and sinister set-up, the correct atmosphere for the silent Satya’s arrival. I wrote an opening voice over about the city of Mumbai and cut it to a montage of city shots. I got actor Aditya Srivastav to correct my Hindi and dub a VO on the avid. I used climatic shots of the long-haired gangster Sabir Masani shooting angrily at a newspaper right at the start of the film, and inter-cut shots from Vidya’s (Urmila Matondkar) fathers funeral pyre (from later in the film).
The sequence got its desired reaction. Ramu jumped up from his seat and clapped in awe. I knew in that moment, that there was no other industry I’d rather work in.
(To Be Continued)