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I don’t give the editor much freedom: Adoor Gopalakrishnan

In a conversation titled ‘Meet the Masters’, filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal shared their experiences and ideas about documentary filmmaking with media students and young practitioners.

Shyam Benegal, Rajiv Mehrotra, Adoor Gopalakrishnan at 'Meet the Masters'

Sukhpreet Kahlon

In a conversation titled ‘Meet the Masters’, the PSBT Open Frame Film Festival 2018 invited filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Shyam Benegal, Dadasaheb Phalke award-winners and trustees of the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, to share their experiences and ideas about documentary filmmaking with media students and young practitioners who are starting out with their first films.

In conversation with Rajiv Mehrotra, the founder and managing trustee of PSBT, the filmmakers explored the nuances of the documentary form, recollecting their experiences of working on documentary films.

Contemplating the documentary form and its complex relationship with reality, Benegal drew attention to the point of view in making a film, saying that a film is about “wanting to say something in favour of something or against something”.

Thus, the filmmaker's point of view must be established to indicate that it is a subjective point of view, a point that often gets missed in documentaries. "You must point out that the film is the way in which you saw reality," he said, expressing his discomfort with the word ‘documentary’, preferring to use the terms fiction and non-fiction instead.

He added that a documentary is “your imaginative spin on reality”. Gopalakrishnan concurred, saying, “There is no absolute reality, only subjective reality,” and observing that everyone has their own distinctive way of interpreting the same subject.

Addressing the audience of eager young students and filmmakers, Mehrotra urged the masters of the craft to share their thought processes while making their films, thinking about the centrality of a script to a film, questions about the intention and motivation of a filmmaker and the relationship with the subject, as well as the structure of the film and its editing process.

Talking about the script and the structure of the film, Benegal said, “You need to have a structure, if not to use it, to destroy it.” He explained that while he has the basic framework of a film thought out, he is open to changing situations that might alter his structure.

Echoing this thought, Gopalakrishnan talked about his creative process wherein he looks at possibilities that come from observing the subject as well as the location, while keeping himself open to creative energies. “I allow that natural, organic flow,” said the Malayalam filmmaker, adding that he enjoys much more freedom while making a feature as compared to a documentary.

Tracking the journey of a film from the germ of an idea to the actual nuts and bolts of production, Mehrotra urged the masters to share their engagement with the film crew, wondering whether their creative process was collaborative or one where the director’s vision was paramount.

Delving into the technical aspects of filmmaking, the conversation went beyond the shooting process and creative energies therein to examining the editing process, the control of a filmmaker over his film, and the grammar of filmmaking.

Emphasizing the primacy of the director’s vision, Gopalakrishnan said he makes the decisions in the editing process: “When I am editing, I am very cruel with my own material and I cut wherever needed, with no hard feelings. So it has to be a ruthless act. I don’t give the editor much freedom. I sit with him and do it.”

Benegal, on the other hand, marked the difference between fiction and non-fiction films, observing that in non-fiction films, the filmmaker knows the sensibility and sensitivity towards the subject the best, so that cannot be just left to the editor to do on his/her own.

Responding to a question about the audience and the reception of their films, Benegal remarked, “I cut the umbilical cord. The film has its life — whether it is a long or a short one. I don’t tinker with the film when I have completed it and the audience has seen it.”

Gopalakrishnan added, “Each audience responds to the same film differently. Your only correct response is what you have yourself, not which lies with the audience. Don’t be swayed by the audience and rely on your own reaction.” Invaluable advice for budding filmmakers indeed.

Related topics

Open Frame Film Festival