At 31, Antony Ruben has edited more than 40 movies in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, in collaboration with the top directors and stars. He started out as an assistant to his namesake, the editor Anthony, making his solo editing debut with the 2011 movie Kandaen. Prior to editing his first mass film, Vedalam (2015), he gained experience by working on regular commercial films and their trailers. Now, despite films of all genres under his belt and credits on movies starring Ajith, Vijay, Vikram and Sivakarthikeyan, he still feels that editing a mass entertainer comes with its own pressures.
"Editing a mass film is a different ball game altogether. It has to fulfil many criteria to be successful. It has to appeal to people of all age groups, from children to the youth and senior citizens. The audiences of A, B and C centres (urban and rural areas, metros, small towns and villages) and people belonging to different social strata have to enjoy it equally. None of this is easy. Editing a mass film in which a popular actor stars is an even a bigger responsibility."
He also told us why he compares his job to that of a chef. "Editing a mass film is like making biryani. It is one dish that is wholesome, tasty and so satisfying that you don't need a side dish. It is served at big family functions like weddings, which are attended by people of all ages, strata and social backgrounds. It makes everyone happy. Like cooks, who need the right mix of ingredients for a tasty dish, mass films need the right mix of elements so they click with the audience. If there is too much of even one ingredient, the dish will lose its flavour."
So what are the attributes of a mass film? "Broadly speaking, you need songs and emotions that cater to women, the older generation and families, action sequences that appeal to boys, romance for the girls and comedic elements that families will like. Each section of the audience has its preferences and all have to be met if the film is to succeed."
Ruben's challenge, he says, lies in reducing a three or four-hour-long film to a two-and-a-half-hour one. "I have to mix, match, shuffle, delete and trim in such a way that the screenplay and storyline remain unaffected. I eliminate redundancy. Emotions are the one thing that help the audience connect to what is happening onscreen. It's my job to ensure that the audience does not lose that connect."
He told us about five mass films he has edited:
I had edited the trailer of director Siva's previous Ajith-starrer, Veeram. He had liked my work and promised that we could collaborate again. He called me when he was making Vedalam, and the minute I signed the film, I started getting tweets from Ajith fans telling me to 'make it a hit'. My twitter following shot up by few thousands. That was the day I realised the huge expectations people had from me. From their tweets and Facebook posts, I also saw the immense love and respect they had for Ajith.
My mentor, Anthony, had trained me well and I had a good rapport with Siva. I was a bit anxious about working on a film with such a big star, but Siva was very helpful. His trust was reassuring. I followed what I had learnt, paying special attention to the scene introducing the hero and the element of suspense. Siva guided me when I floundered.
I had a tight schedule since shooting ended just before the film's release. We had to lock the edit and send it to the censors and I remember my team, Siva, and his team working for 26 hours straight to complete the task. I had no proper meals, just liquids. I ate a lot of Bengali sweets so the sugar rush would keep me going. It was Siva who instilled this habit in me. As the end credits rolled, I took a 20-minute-long nap, the only sleep I had in all that time.
Ajith sir doesn't usually watch his films until the final cut. He trusts the team immensely. After watching the final cut of Vedalam he said, 'You've treated it brilliantly. I never expected so much from a youngster like you.' I was only 28 at the time, so such words from a star of his stature were a huge confidence boost. They convinced me that I was on the right track.
The film came about as director Atlee knew me and liked my work. He had asked me to edit Raja Rani when he signed Nayanthara and Theri when he got Ilayathalapathy Vijay on board. His friendship was a great help as I was part of the team from the scripting stage itself, which is a process I now like to follow.
There was a lot of footage for Theri, but Atlee gave me the freedom to reduce the length of songs, scenes and action sequences. We had a few healthy arguments, but eventually agreed on what was right for the film.
Vijay sir happened to see some of the sequences I had worked on. He is a man of few words, but even he said, 'Awesome, very good' and smiled at me. I was elated.
Only a few actors can make an editor cry while watching the rushes, when the film is still raw, before the background music is added and the dubbing is done. His performance in the scene in which Samantha dies moved me to tears.
I've always seen Sivakarthikeyan as a friend. It was wonderful that he had turned into a mass hero and that we got to work together in Remo. He has a great fan following so working on the film was quite challenging. I had to ensure that the comic portions were well-timed and that the humour was in the right proportion. I watched it like an audience member would.
As Sivakarthikeyan plays a cross-dresser in the film, I referred to Avvai Shanmugi (the 1996 Tamil remake of Mrs. Doubtfire). Remo did not follow a linear narrative so it was like solving a Rubik's cube. I had to shuffle, mix, match and intercut scenes, especially those in which he dresses as a nurse and then goes back to thinking about how it happened.
The first time I saw the nurse, I asked the director if this was a body double. I was shocked to find out that it was Sivakarthikeyan himself. His realistic mannerisms, makeup and costumes had me fooled.
There were times Sivakarthikeyan made some typically masculine gestures while dressed as the nurse, which had to be cut.
This was an out-and-out technical film, revolving around gadgets, codes, numbers and locations. It was like editing a Bond film. Of all the films I have edited, Vivegam took me the longest. I felt that I had to understand not just the story, but also its technical aspects so I could ascertain what to keep and what to cut. I learnt Morse code and found out about snipers, wind speeds and shooting ranges, thanks to the film.The film was like a buffet since each action sequence that Ajith sir did was shot from various angles. I had to retain only the best.
The film was to be released during Diwali, but as shooting continued till that date, I had to work fast and edit simultaneously. Vijay sir played a dual role, which made work on this film a challenge. The dual-motion control cameras used to shoot double roles made his work tougher as he had to keep in mind the angle at which to make eye contact, his movements and posture, so both characters appeared to be in sync. I had to mix and match the angles and credibly cheat the viewer into believing there were two Vijays onscreen.
The climax, in with both Vijays appear with the villain SJ Suryah, was a tough scene. They rehearsed a lot and I had to select the perfect takes. Another challenging portion was the fire sequence. Vijay sir put himself at great risk for that shot. Covered in anti-inflammatory material, he entered the fire on set. It was a live take and before we knew it, his clothes caught fire. Everyone rushed to him and the fire was put out immediately. He was very brave and the take was used as it is in the film.