36 years and 600 films later, editor Sreekar Prasad of RRR and Ponniyin Selvan I fame still teems with excitement every time he hears a story. “When people bring me stories, I feel like I should tell them to the world or make them reach a particular set of audience. Since I am also working across industries, I am able to offer some variety and leave behind a versatile body of work.”
Prasad agrees that over the years, cinema has come a long way and people’s understanding of the art has largely transformed. “But the cardinal rule of editing has been the same — to convey an emotion and story properly.” And this rule has altered the narrative of several films on the edit table. In this conversation with Krishna, Prasad details how the editing decisions have changed the course of three films - Alaipayuthey, Kaminey, and Ponniyin Selvan I.
The sounds of Ponniyin Selvan I (2022)
Prasad asserts that editing should go hand-in-hand with departments such as cinematography and sound. In the context of Ponniyin Selvan I, he breaks down the importance of giving space for sound and background score in a few scenes.
“If you see the interval scene, Vikram will be talking and the camera will be moving around him. So, we had different choices for editing the scene. But we made the mood energetic because it was not about correctness, it was about the turbulence of the mind. Similarly, the scene lingers on after he finishes his dialogue, even before we cut to flashback. During that time, we hear the voices and sounds of the flashback sequence penetrating into the scene slowly. So, it takes us through a smooth transition,” says Prasad adding he keeps thinking about sounds while editing the visuals.
Remember the scene where princess Kundhavai and Vandhiyathevan meet in the middle of the sea? The quick glances, the background score and the dialogues – all these elements convey their love for each other in one stretch. Talking about the scene, he says, “Vandhiyathevan comes on a boat, the two meet each other and he removes his mask. When you watch this without the music, it might look like a long sequence. But it was the only stretch we had to establish their love. So we kept that space for the sound and when it is filled with the right music, we get that beautiful feeling while watching the scene.”
The 18 versions of Alaipayuthey (2000)
Alaipayuthey was the first time that Mani Ratnam and Prasad tried their hand at non-linear storytelling. Even if Prasad was drawn to the film for its narrative, he reminisces that the entire team was insecure as to how the audience might accept the film. “We were worried that people might not understand the film as it goes back and forth, and there weren’t many such films back then. So, we had to do different versions. At the core of it, Alaipayuthey had songs, beautiful romance and fights that will interest the audience, but we decided to start it on a high note like the accident. However, in the script, there were too many back and forths.”
To make the non-linear cuts a lot easier to comprehend, the makers decided to show transition between episodes. “When we shifted from one episode to another, we added slo-mo effects and changes in colours. In writing, it was very simple to cut from one scene to another. But as a visual, we had to make sure the audience did not get confused between what’s happening in the present and the past. So, we reduced the number of back and forths and edited 17-18 versions of the film,” recalls the editor.
Removing a two-crore action sequence from Kaminey (2009)
Vishal Bharadwaj’s Hindi-language action film Kaminey features Shahid Kapoor in dual roles as twins Charlie Sharma and Guddu Sharma. The film cuts back and forth, narrating the stories of the twins who are very different from each other. “Vishal is a friend of mine. So, when they couldn’t find a proper structure to weave the scenes together, I joined the team. The scenes were individually well-made, but had a few issues. Since it was a dual role, there were chances that people might not identify which twin’s story they are witnessing. Additionally, while one of them had a fast-paced story with him playing a gangster, the other twin was a simpleton. So, the pace of the story did not match. I felt the proportion was not working out, so we cracked the right proportion to go back and forth.”
And this is when they decided to cut out a two crore-worth action introduction sequence, notes Prasad. The editor felt the prologue scene did not fit in with the rest of the film. “The scene was shot really well and they had spent a lot on it. So we decided to keep it. But when we did focus screenings with the public, everyone had a problem understanding the beginning but liked how the rest of the film flowed. So, we decided to cut out that scene and show it to the focus audience and they loved it. It is one of the best-shot action sequences in Hindi cinema, but we had to remove it for clarity.”