Major starring Adivi Sesh is based on Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who saved several hostages in the 2008 Mumbai Taj terror attacks before being martyred. Ten days after the film's release, editors Vinay Kumar Sirigineedi and Kodati Pavan Kalyan talk to Harshini SV about their editing choices, cutting down the run-time, their creative arguments, and their biggest takeaway from the film.
Pavan, in an interview, you mentioned that you were initially the online editor for Major and that later on, you became the main editor. Can you tell us about that?
Pavan: So, I joined as the online editor for the film but while we were shooting the pre-climax bit, Adivi Sesh and Vinay asked me if I realise what my contribution was to the film. I was very nervous and I had thoughts like whether I did anything wrong, if I was not doing enough, and things like that. But instead, he said usually editors bring the work from 0 to 5 and we bring it up from 5 to 10. You started your graph from 7 and made our work easy. He then asked do you mind sharing credits with Vinay and that is how I became the main editor.
Vinay, you've worked as both AD and editor in Major. How was the experience and was it easy for you to edit the film as you've already worked during the production?
Vinay: I was initially only in the direction department and that is my primary, but Sesh saw something in me while I was working as AD in Goodachari as I used to cut the edits and all that. He then asked why don't you edit the film Major.
Once PK (Pavan Kalyan) came to the project as the online editor, there was less burden on me. We were simultaneously shooting and editing. Sometimes we used to shoot from 6 AM to 6 PM and then edit post the shooting, and come back to shoot the next day. The six months from July to December last year is when the most qualitative edits happened. We found a lot of interesting things during this time. So many things which we shot in a particular way are not there in the film. It was a learning experience.
So did the screenplay change on the editing desk?
Vinay: Yes, the screenplay has changed a lot of times. Sometimes some things that come in the second half came in the first half. Sometimes a twenty-minute sequence became a two-minute sequence.
There were many scenes with Adivi Sesh, Prakash Raj, and Revathi in the second half that we shifted to the first half of the movie. There was a lot of this sequence that we brought to the beginning during the final editing so that we understand it. In the teaser, there is a conversation between Prakash Raj and Sesh where they talk about what it means to become a soldier. It is a wonderful scene but we had to remove it in the film due to length issues.
Pavan: There is a sequence where the NSG tries to rescue the hostage from room 105. It is intercut with a guy and his family who are inside, but when the door opens, the NSG saves the old woman and we show that the terrorist found the guy and his family in another room. That is a visual representation of showing the cat and mouse game the terrorists were playing.
Initially, they were two different scenes that come ten minutes apart from each other. That 20-minute long sequence was reduced to a two-minute montage and gave the suspense element. That also enabled us to portray the real-time experience of how the hostages felt. Similarly, the planning scene at the beginning of the second half where both the NSG and terrorists plan was also cut down.
How many times did you edit Major?
Pavan: I think we edited it 75 times, the deadline that we give to ourselves was the release date.
Vinay: I would say infinite times. After shooting, our film duration went up to 3 and half hours. The editing started in 2019 October. As I said, the online edits happened during the shoot and we refined it after every shoot. The final edit started around 2021 August, post-second lockdown. Then, final edits took around 8 months.
We were editing even after we crossed the deadline, we were editing until the end. It went to a point that if we didn't put it to an end in January, the film won't release.
So, how did you reduce it to 2h 10min runtime?
Vinay: So the first half was around 1h 40min or something (we expected 1hr 15 min) and the second half was 1hr 30min (we expected 1hr). We were shocked to see the duration. Sometimes we get the same feeling while watching two different scenes, so we had to see which concepts were repeating and then edited them accordingly. Sometimes, we tell a thing in 5 shots. During the main edit, we made an exercise to see if the same can be said in 2 shots and edited it. We realized that it proved to be very efficient in editing.
Since the film is based on real-life, how do you decide on what to leave out?
Pavan: If you tell the story of Major Sandeep sir, it would become a series of 38 episodes. That's how big his life is. The film is like a poem. We made his life story into a beautiful poem. How concise and beautifully we wanted to make it was the final edit choice we took. And that is the choice you guys have seen in the theatres.
Vinay: Some of his life events are so dramatic that people won't even believe it is real.
The writers, directors, and actors in the film do their own research. Do editors also do separate research before they start editing for a film?
Pavan: We tried to see how close we are to the story we were telling. We went to his parent's house and saw how they are. For example, in the train scene, we added dialogues in the edit like "It was the last time we met him" into the film after a conversation with Dhanalakshmi aunty (Major Sandeep's mother) happened where she told us about it. Such subtle details get added. We also researched their love story. Since Vinay was there from the beginning, the basic research for the editor to do has already been there throughout.
Vinay: We always had in mind that it should not look like an action story of 26/11 events, to not make it like a hostage situation or terrorist story. From the first day, the motto of Sashi Kiran Tikka, Adivi Sesh, or anyone who worked on the film was to say it as Sandeep sir's story and keep it as emotional as possible. Whenever there was the choice between information, gimmickry, or emotion, we always picked emotion. It might not seem like the most charming thing to do but it worked in the long run, in the overall perspective of the film.
Since the two of you edited the film, were there any conflicts when you both had different ideas. If so, how did you work through that?
Pavan: We used to argue and fight a lot. But at the end of the day, we know that our ultimate goal is to tell the story of the great man. I'd like to share a story. During the trailer cut, Vinay and I were given two different systems to edit the trailer separately. We both came up with two different trailers. But the music we chose was the same and the edit we did was 40% the same. That's when we realized that we were a good team.
Vinay: Sesh is the judge here. Whenever there is an argument or conflict, he used to guide us in a certain direction. Most of the time, he used to mix up our ideas.
What was the biggest takeaway from Major?
Vinay: My biggest takeaway was to get the opportunity to share Sandeep sir's story. Every day I used to think of how his parents would have felt watching each scene as it retold the story of their son. It was an emotional journey rather than technical satisfaction. I was also proud to be part of all parts of filmmaking in this film.
Pavan: It is an emotional journey. We met his parents many times. It felt like we preserved the beautiful memory of someone. I felt like we created a beautiful experience of someone's life. We learned a lot, personally and professionally from his life. Our lives changed after working in this film.