Interview Hindi

Shweta Venkat Mathew: Meri Pyaari Bindu was my toughest film to edit


The editor of the upcoming Rani Mukerji-starrer Hichki speaks about choosing editing as a career and getting a break with Anurag Kashyap and breaks down some of the films she has edited.

Photo: Courtesy Shweta Venkat Mathew

Sonal Pandya

Editor Shweta Venkat Mathew’s filmography shows a wide range of projects. She was first noticed with the Faiza Ahmad Khan documentary, Supermen Of Malegaon (2008), and moved to feature films with Anurag Kashyap's That Girl In Yellow Boots (2008). A graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Shweta has edited everything from violent dramas (Gangs Of Wasseypur, 2012) and short films (Taandav, 2016) to love stories (Meri Pyaari Bindu, 2017) and feels the love story was the more difficult assignment.

In an interview with Cinestaan.com, Shweta spoke about her break (thanks to good timing), the growing trend of short films, and the process of editing films like Newton (2017), for which she was nominated for the Filmfare award for Best Editing earlier this year. Excerpts:

How did you decide on editing and films as a career?

I didn’t actually. After my graduation, I was trying to think of what to do. Just for the heck of it, I gave the [entrance] exam [for FTII]. I had no clue, I didn’t know where to head to honestly. It just happened. [It was] the only exam I cleared and I took up editing.

Did you have an interest in films from the beginning?

I was crazy about films. I was a film buff and used to watch a lot of films. From early on, I used to point out mistakes continuously. It used to irritate me no end. I used to lose sleep over how could mistakes be so glaring.

I think that kind of led me to [editing]. Somehow it was there within me. I remember my mum used to keep scolding me for it, not paying attention to studies and stuff like that, but I was obsessed with mainstream Indian films.

How did you get your first break then?

After studying at the FTII, I joined a post-production studio where I was editing ads for close to seven years. Then, I did one documentary called Supermen Of Malegaon (2008), which became quite big. Anurag Kashyap gave me my first break, but that was also because I was a little lucky.

I called him at the right time when he was looking for an editor. I messaged him saying let me know if you know of any assignment, I am looking to edit films. He just told me to come to the office the next day. After five minutes, he gave me my first film which was That Girl In Yellow Boots (2010). I couldn’t believe it, it was a little surreal. Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012) happened subsequently.

Going back to the wonderful documentary, Supermen Of Malegaon, can you tell me some of the challenges you faced on that project?

The biggest challenge in Supermen Of Malegaon was to manage the footage we had. We had close to 300 hours of rushes and we had to cut it down to around 52 minutes, and we didn’t have much time. In hindsight, it’s a good thing we didn’t have time because these projects can go on and on. So we had to be really focused and stick to the story we had at hand.

As you watch the footage, you see that there are so many stories that unravel about so many characters in that particular documentary, but we decided to focus on one particular story about a man who wants to make films and the backdrop he lives in.

Was that because it had to be screened somewhere?

The producers were from Singapore, so they had a deadline. I’m really thankful for the deadline, otherwise I would still be cutting it (laughs). I’m very proud of [the film] actually, I think it’s my best, and after that, I don’t think I can do something better than this, honestly.

You have also edited the Konkani film Nachom-ia Kumpasar (2015), which has gained a cult following among cinephiles. How was the experience of editing that film? Were you familiar with the language?

Not at all, but to be very honest, [the director] Bardroy Barretto used to be an editor. While I was starting off as an ad film editor, I used to look up to him. I assisted him on a couple of projects. I have learnt a lot from him, in terms of cutting style, and also by observing him.

So he decided to make this film and I had nothing to do with it. He had edited it with another editor, Lionel Fernandes. When he asked me to take a look at it, he just wanted me to polish it and cut it down. That’s exactly what I did. I cannot take much credit for it.

One thing which he did was, he didn’t give me the subtitled version. He asked me to cut it without knowing the language, which was interesting.

He said the music will take care of everything [and] all the questions that you have. And that’s what happened. The music carried the film and you didn’t need to understand, you knew what was happening, but it wasn’t like a handicap or something. He is too sweet to give me credit for it.

Nowadays, through the digital platform, filmmakers, technicians and artistes have a new outlet with short films gaining traction online. What do you think of the growing popularity of this form?

I think it’s a wonderful trend. The good thing about the short film scenario is that actors get to perform the way they want to and directors get to make the film they want to. There is no censorship issue as such. But I just feel, economically, it should lead to something. People can’t work free. Directors cannot make a short film and hope to make a feature film based on that. It’s an amazing opportunity for all involved, but not monetarily. The kind of effort you have to put in for a short film is no less than for a feature. In fact, it’s double.

It’s harder to say it in a short film than it is in a feature.

Exactly! And you don’t get the locations to shoot, you don’t have the budget to edit and stuff like that. It’s tough to put together a project.

Congratulations on your Filmfare nomination for editing on Newton (2017). How did you collaborate with director Amit Masurkar to shape the political satire?

Thank you! Amit and I didn’t sit together at all (laughs). In fact, I got involved at the script stage and they went on to shoot and kept sending stuff. By the time they finished the shoot and came, we were already in the process of editing it. The good thing was that Amit stayed out of it. Amit just said, ‘I’m going to park myself in the next room and keep watching the footage, you do what you want.’

Fortunately, both of us were on the same page in terms of the rhythm and humour that we were trying to get out of the film. But I think it’s also full marks to Amit because the way he shot it and the tone he set about shooting it was more than enough. We didn’t have any big debates or discussions. It was very peaceful. The first cut is kind of what you see in the final cut, it wasn’t very different.

Do you think it helped that you were involved during the scripting stage?

Generally I do get involved at the scripting stage itself, just before they go to shoot, so I give my two bits and stuff. That really helps the director to chuck out unnecessary things that he might want to shoot and structure the film in a way. That’s an integral process that I do. I would prefer getting involved at least 2-3 months before they start.

In 2017, you also had the nostalgic love story Meri Pyaari Bindu, which was overlooked. How was it like switching from the past to the present for the story?

That was the toughest film to edit actually. It’s not about past, present, it’s more about the idea of modern-day love. That’s when I think I really started feeling my age because when somebody starts using terms like ‘friend zoning’ and stuff like that, it’s quite new. Twenty years back, we didn’t have any friend zoning and all. You were either friends or in a relationship, or you had a crush, at the most, or you had a boyfriend. This was treading a fine line between friendship and love.

The toughest thing was, is this character [Bindu, played by Parineeti Chopra] in love with him or not? Or is she just taking a few steps back, is she hesitating or this manic pixie dream girl [a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin] syndrome? Everything was there. It was difficult to balance out her character in relationship to him.

And then we had these songs. Honestly, I don’t really know of too many people of today’s generation listening to these songs. I had to convince the audience, the songs had to transport them back to the flashback, so that was tough. And at what point does she fall in love? At what point does she want to break up? What was going on with her mind without actually showing it?

I found that the toughest to edit. Nobody got the woman’s side, her point of view, which I think we didn’t know what to do about. I don’t think it was from the woman’s perspective any way.

Yes, it was more from Abhimanyu's [played by Ayushmann Khurrana] perspective.

Yes, that’s one side of the story, the other side we don’t know. I think it was a problem in the film.

What are some of the myths audiences have about editing that you would like to clear up?

We get this one question, as an editor, do we get to meet a lot of stars? No, nobody thinks about us, very few people bother about us. They don’t walk into the edit room and say, ‘Who’s the editor? We want to hug that person.’ No, no, we don’t get to meet a lot of stars. That’s the primary level of myths that people have [about editors].

The upcoming film, Hichki, starring Rani Mukerji, is about a teacher's struggle for identity and connecting with her students. Was it like carving out Naina's story in the film?

Hichki is about this person who has an impediment and how she overcomes her impediment to do what she wants to do in life. Connecting with students is one part of the film. What was lovely about the film is that it’s unlike any of the gloss and glitz Yash Raj Films is associated with. It’s quite realistically shot and a lot of the characters are fresh faces, they are real people, and some of them are from the band Dharavi Rocks.

All these ingredients combined with Rani’s performance, it all takes a realistic view of the film. It’s almost shot in documentary style, the cameraman Avinash Arun did an amazing job capturing moments as they played out. It wasn’t really set up and enacted. It was almost as if cutting a documentary at a point. That’s the feel that you have.

What other projects do you have coming up?

Right now I’m doing Veere Di Wedding (2018) which is Kareena Kapoor Khan’s comeback film. I’m a comeback specialist!

We are looking forward to that as well. There has not been a female bonding film ever.

I hope the film changes it because this is how [women] would talk in daily life, maa-behen gaalis [curses] and all. They do that in the film so it’s refreshing to see that.