YOU SHOULD KNOW is a small effort to shine a light on female artists in India who’ve made a big difference in the field. While you may know and admire a lot of their work, you may not know enough about them. That all changes now.
What sets Jabeen Merchant apart from many other editors is her extremely vast filmography. She’s been a highly admired editor for over 24 years and in that time she has edited pre-soap era television, documentaries, features, short films, and possibly twenty things in the middle. On one of her documentaries she sifted through 75 hours of footage, and she nonchalantly adds that less than 2% footage actually makes it to most docus in the end. Jabeen might murder me for saying this but she’s also a boon for low budget and no budget filmmakers. She will do your film for a fraction of her actual price as long as you know what you’re doing.
Like many in-demand filmmakers and technicians in India, Jabeen also attended FTII, Pune. She graduated from the editing department in 1995. Her first film industry job after film school was to be an assistant editor on Khamoshi (1996) under Bela Sehgal. Her earliest works as an independent editor were TV shows like Seher, Jee Sahab, and more. She simultaneously edited documentaries like Jari Mari: Of Cloth and Other Stories (2001) and her first fiction feature was Agnivarsha (2002) which was directed by Arjun Sajnani and had Jackie Shroff and Raveena Tandon.
In her own words, Manorama Six Feet Under (2007) is her most recognised film. The film ran for just three weeks in the theatres but got a huge following when it was released on DVD. She got the film through cinematographer Arvind Kannabiran’s referral to director Navdeep Singh. Since then, Navdeep and Jabeen have worked together on all of Navdeep’s films like NH10 and Laal Kaptaan. He feels that Jabeen’s experience in editing documentaries benefited Manorama and NH10’s observational style but it in no way limits her skills to any particular genre or scale.
Her earliest works as an independent editor were TV shows like Seher, Jee Sahab, and more. She simultaneously edited documentaries like Jari Mari: Of Cloth and Other Stories (2001) and her first fiction feature was Agnivarsha (2002)
He also credits the 12-year-long relationship to their ability to disagree on things. Navdeep, who’s in post for Laal Kaptaan, cites his arguments with Jabeen as an asset to his films. He finds it healthy that there are no hierarchical hang ups between them.
Priya Ramasubban’s debut film Chuskit (2019) is one of Jabeen’s latest projects. Priya laughs and says that Jabeen has a college professor kind of attitude at times. She admires her ability to ask questions that aren’t easy to answer but always make the film better because she forces one to rethink scenes at an early stage. Jabeen started editing Chuskit’s rushes and was quick to point out pick-ups that had to be done before the team left Ladakh.
When Priya was worried about making deadlines for top film festivals, it was Jabeen who helped her take a step back and urged her to focus on the film she wanted to make. Her college professor side helped putting peripheral demands like funders expectations, festival deadlines aside. As a female filmmaker, Priya says Jabeen has a rare ability to set firm boundaries. Her matter of fact ability to say ‘your work will get done but I cannot come this early’ was empowering for Priya to see in a female film person.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jabeen as well. She’s edited two of my shorts. Speaking with Priya made me laugh a lot because we’ve both heard similar professor-like things from Jabeen. My shorts, Everything is Fine and Nawab are very drastically different but Jabeen went above and beyond her role as editor and understood the story needs of both quite effortlessly. Not to say, that other editors don’t have this ability but Jabeen’s seamless sense of storytelling even at script level makes directors like Navdeep and I go back to her every time. At present, Jabeen is editing Season 2 of Four More Shots Please for Amazon Prime and a feature film by director Faraz Ali called Shoebox.