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Article Hindi Kannada

Book excerpt: Filmmaker Arunaraje Patil on her early days as an editor

Her memoir, Freedom: My Story, details her journey her professional and personal struggles as a female filmmaker and trying to balance both work and family life together.

Our Correspondent

In this excerpt from Freedom: My Story, Arunaraje Patil writes about coming back to work as an editor after a car accident had left her in a wheelchair. Using her work as a tool to recovery, she bounced back from it.

A strange thing happened in Mysore, which was to happen over and over again in Bombay too. People found me an oddity. They would come and peep into the editing room or stare at me as I worked, whispering among themselves, ‘It’s a girl, it’s a girl.’ Every day people came to watch —  I was novelty for them as a woman editor and technician. Another conversation that went around was, ‘How can you learn film-making in an institute? It can’t be taught and these students can never fit into the industry.’ Yet another conversation in Mysore was, ‘They have brought these people from Bombay — as if we couldn’t have done the job here. Let’s see what they will do.’

Vamsha Vriksha, the film we edited, was shot in black and white and based on the famous write SL Bhyrappa’s novel. It was in Kannada, my mother tongue. I had spent most of my life in Bombay so my Kannada was very basic.

There was a strange reluctance on the part of Girish and Karanth to come to the editing room every time we called them. Later, they admitted that they were afraid to come — it was their first film and they were not sure how it would turn out. So it was left to us to do whatever with the material they had shot to give shape to the film.

One of the problems I encountered was that the female protagonist of the film, LV Sharada, was acting for the first time. In the initial days of the shoot, she was overacting by raising her eyebrows high every time. She was supposed to be a Brahmin widow in a small town in Karnataka, very suppressed and reserved. Her interactions were mostly with her father-in-law, a very stern knowledgeable Brahmin with a strict code of conduct. Girish had found it hard to control her and said that he had wanted to draw a line round the room saying, ‘No eyebrows to go up beyond this point.’ I knew I had to do something about it. I looked at the rushes again.

When we shot on film, the practice was to order the sound to go first, followed by camera and then ask for the clap. The clapper boy announced the scene, the number of the shot and take and moved out from in front of the camera. The director would then take a moment and say ‘Action’, after which the actor would perform. It was necessary to take that time for the film camera to get into its speed of twenty-four frames per second. After the clapper boy went out of frame, I found Sharada looking blank with no expression on her face, literally waiting for the director’s instruction. This part was a little longer than usual became the directors took time to give the order because they thought they had to give more time for the camera to catch speed. I cut out the waiting bits, where her face was still and used those bits to show her listening to her father-in-law’s rant. The bits with the raised eyebrows were cut out and the new bits pushed her performances up a few notches.

Finally we got the cut done and it was worth all the trouble. The film won LV Sharada the Karnataka State Award for Best Acting, the directors got a National Award and we also got the Karnataka State Award for Best Editing. There is a famous saying that ‘performances are made on the editing table’ and in this case it proved the point.

Excerpted with permissions from HarperCollins India from the book Freedom: My Story by the author Arunaraje Patil. Available online and in bookstores.