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.