Movie Editor Retraces Her Steps

Irene Dhar-Malik talks about the new respect technicians now command

Published: 13th September 2014 06:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th September 2014 06:09 AM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: Filmmaker Onir's soon to be released film Chauranga taps into the  prevalent politics over love and caste. It narrates the story of a 14-year-old Dalit boy in rural India who is killed for writing a love letter. Irene Dhar Malik, Onir's sister and film editor, is busy with the post-production of the film and took time off to talk about her journey so far in the industry. As every editor of any merit in India would say, the late Renu Saluja remains a lasting influence.

Irene-Dhar-Malik.jpgShares Irene, "As all editing graduates from FTII did, I called up Renu soon after reaching Mumbai. She asked me to come and meet her, which I did and was pleasantly surprised to meet a totally unassuming and friendly woman. I told her that I wanted to assist her and she promised to call me when she needed an assistant next. Which she did, and I assisted her for three films- Purush, Mujhse Dosti Karoge and 1942 - A Love Story. She was a lovely person with an infectious laugh, a warm person, and a great editor. Anybody who's ever worked with her has wonderful memories of her... she went away far too soon."

Renu reduced questions about gender in the editing room to insignificance as she edited with great felicity, both commercial and parallel films like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Ardh Satya to Parinda and many more.

In many ways, Irene too like Renu has made the term 'female editor' redundant. She has more than 12 editing credits that range from the documentary Celluloid Man for which she won a Rajat Kamal to television serials to films like Bas Ek Pal.

And this passion for cinema began far before her meeting with Renu. It can be traced all the way back to Dev Anand!

She shares, "My mother used to be a major fan of his. My first cinematic memory is of Prem Pujari. I remember the heroine's very pink lips, a smiling Dev Anand, beautiful landscapes, nice songs. Incidentally, my mom met Dev Anand some years later. This was when he came to Bhutan — where I spent my childhood — to attend the King's coronation in 1974."

The atmosphere at home was also receptive to cinema and recalls Irene, "My mom loved to watch movies, and my dad didn't (he once slept through Muqaddar ka Sikandar!), but we did watch as many films as we could. This wasn't much since Bhutan had very few cinema halls. These few cinema halls mostly showed trashy movies but as kids we loved them all... or at least me and my brother Onir did. The youngest brother, now a scientist, mostly needed to be bribed to watch movies."

She has what she calls, "lovely cinema viewing memories from when I was much older, an university student in Calcutta. I had taken my parents to watch a film club screening of Ritwik Ghatak' s Meghe Dhaka Tara. And I saw my father cry, because the Partition story was his too. I remember suddenly feeling closer to him and understanding what it must have been to have lost one's home, memories, and a part of one's identity..."

The love for a certain kind of cinema led her to the idea that she could be a part of the world she watched from afar. She says, "I was a student of English literature in Calcutta and decided to apply for FTII after my graduation but my father was very keen that I finish my Masters as well. So I applied to FTII after completing my Masters, destroying any hopes my father might have been nurturing that I'd change my mind and join academics. I'm not sure if I knew enough about editing when I opted to become an editor, but it is a choice that I do not regret."

Those days at FTII were happy and "trippy," she says and adds, "One got exposed to an amazing world of cinema. We were also lucky to have had as our teacher, professor K Ramachandra Rao or Rao saab as we called him. He was one of the best teachers ever, who always reminded us to have our feet firmly on the ground, no matter where our heads  were floating! "

Her journey since then has been unpredictable though fulfilling and she shares,"I edited the first English daily soap that was telecast on DD - A Mouthful of Sky. Recently I edited the TV series Powder that showed on Sony. Amongst other documentaries, I've edited Prakash Jha's biopic on Jai Prakash Narayan, Karan Bali's An American in Madras and ofcourse Celluloid Man. Some of the feature films I've edited are Sorry Bhai, I Am, and Monophobia."

Her brother Onir has often attributed his cinematic success to her influence and she reacts, "What he has achieved makes me a proud sister. To overcome enormous odds and journey this far hasn't been easy. And he keeps at it, never abandoning his dreams."

Though there is a niche, a little one for the kind of cinema Irene believes in, she is aware that the larger picture is not about quality but profit generation.

She responds, "I wish we'd go back to basics, and keep in mind always that a film is not about a multi-crore spectacle, but about engaging the audience. You have to have something to say, whether it is a fantastic story, a hazy dream, a string of thoughts, or a heart-warming tale. Even though Hindi films have improved a lot technically, most of them still don't care to have a half-decent script. And if the crores keep multiplying, who gives a damn!"

And how does the industry treat its technicians, especially editors?

Says she, "I'm glad we are now in a stage when trained editors are sought after, and not everyone who can use a PC is considered an editor! We've some fine editors around, like Namrata Rao, Suresh Pai, Jabeen Merchant, Hemanti Sarkar, Shan Mohammed, and many more... all film school trained. And it has made a lot of difference.

Back when I came to Mumbai in the early 1990s, there were hardly any trained editors in the industry. Renu was an exception. Now, we're the norm rather than the exception.


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