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Interview Hindi

Editor Shivkumar Panicker: Tumhari Sulu is Everywoman's story, especially in India

The up and coming editor of last year’s feel-good film speaks about working in advertising and feature films and how he connected with the story of Tumhari Sulu.

Sonal Pandya

Last year, though it was a not-so stellar year for big-budget Hindi cinema, there were a few smaller films that came by and stole our hearts. Tumhari Sulu (2017), starring the irrepressible Vidya Balan, was one. Vidya starred as an enterprising housewife who becomes a popular RJ and manages to upend her home and family life in the process.

We spoke to Tumhari Sulu’s editor Shivkumar Panicker via e-mail about his journey from ad films to feature film editor, the challenges of editing both, and working on his debut film Kapoor & Sons (2016) to Tumhari Sulu (2017).

Curiously, Panicker never thought editing would be a career path for him. “I'm a maths graduate and was getting ready to pursue my MCA [master's degree in computer applications]," he said. "While waiting for the entrance test result, my dad, who worked at Famous Studios as an AC plant operator, got me an internship as a junior offline editor there. That's where it all began.”

Despite having no professional training, the resourceful Panicker, who works on the software Avid Media Composer, picked up the tricks of the trade on the job.

He only turned feature film editor in 2016, but Panicker has a decade of experience behind him in advertising for brands such as Tata Sky, Vodafone, Nestle, Cadbury, Pepsi and Tanishq, to name a few.

An opportunity to make the leap from ads to films came with Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons (2016).

“Shakun directs ads and he follows the work done by a few production houses, in particular, Curious, a leading production house that makes commercials,” Panicker said. "As it happens, Vivek Kakkad, its founder-director, edits most of his films with me. That's how he bumped into my work and eventually contacted me for Kapoor & Sons. I count myself very fortunate that he chose me over other experienced editors.”

Panicker feels editing Kapoor & Sons (2016) was both challenging and right up his alley. “Challenging because I hadn't encountered the long format before. And right up my alley because I was still a storyteller, if only of 30-seconders [as in ad films],” he said.

In 2016, he was named on the 100 most influential list by Digital Studio magazine along with fellow editors TE Kishore for Visaranai (2016), and Anand Subaya and Manan Mehta for Dil Dhadakne Do (2015). Panicker said he was “humbled” and speechless with the honour.

Following Kapoor & Sons (2016), he went on to edit Budhia Singh: Born To Run (2016) and Chef (2017). Panicker finds editing features as satisfying as editing commercials though they are different kinds of storytelling.

“With commercials, you are attempting to tell a story which has to meet all the parameters that the product dictates within the specified duration, and you can't help feeling satisfied when you do all that and still manage to tell the story well,” he said.

With full-length features, the challenge is the other way around. There are no set parameters or durations. So, your judgement becomes a challenge in itself as you have to tell a well-knit, tight story without losing the audience.”

Panicker reveals that he immediately identified with the story of Tumhari Sulu, written and directed by Suresh Triveni. “To tell you the truth, it struck a chord with me immediately because it told me what a close family member's life would have been, if she hadn't woken up to her independence. It's every woman's story, especially in India,” he explained.

First-time feature filmmaker Triveni also comes from an advertising background, and the two had already worked together before. “We had an excellent working equation," Panicker said. "He is a phenomenal person and I feel proud and fortunate that he made me part of this amazing film.”

Further, he said, it is necessary for an editor to have a good rapport with the director of the film he or she is cutting. "It's very important. Or else it becomes like a sticky marriage,” he remarked.

For now, the talented editor continues to hone his craft and keep busy working in the ad world.