Despite Covid giving a dreadful time for the film industry, popular director Vineeth Sreenivasan stood firm on his word. His latest movie 'Hridayam', starring Pranav Mohanlal, did hit the theatres on January 21 itself, at a time when the nation was at the pandemic crossroads. With Viswajith's excellent cinematography and Hisham’s mind-blowing music, the film saw movie buffs making a beeline to theatres. But the one person who has magically transformed the visual narrative conceived by Vineeth into the right framework of a big screen is the acclaimed editor Ranjan Abraham, who has over 100 films to his credit. Ranjan who has debuted in 'Oru Maravathoor Kanavu', has won the state film award for 'CID Moosa'. In a free-wheeling chat with Onmanorama, Ranjan Abraham opens up about his all-out efforts in the editing room where he sliced and stitched the visuals and sequences with all dexterity of a surgeon to bring full justice to the dream that took shape in Vineeth's mind.
Was in a fix to chop down beautiful best scenes
'Hridyam' (translated as ‘Heart’) was a project that was dear to me and did every bit of work with all my heart. Honestly, as an editor, it was painful to place scissors on 'Hridayam'. The project kept me engaged all throughout the lockdown. I should admit that the two years I worked for the film were truly fascinating, as Vineeth has the unique capacity to lift your energy level to greater heights. Not just ‘Hridayam’, be it any of his projects, Vineeth would always tell me "Chetta (brother), contact me only after you are satisfied with the work. As we set off on 'Hridayam', he wanted me to compress the film to three hours. But I had told him it was impossible to get a theatrical release for a lengthy movie. "Dude, we should be able to limit it to two-and-a-half hours at least," I told him. However, when I sat down at the editing table even I was in a fix to chop down the beautiful scenes picked by Vineeth. Leaving the best scenes untouched, I did the pruning after assessing the potential of each scene and shot in taking the story forward. My thrust was to do the cutting without losing the ‘feel’ of the movie.
Stepped into the shoes of a viewer while editing
I am a person with the mindset of a common man. As an editor, I focus on each project from a viewer's perspective and follow the principle that the scenes should keep the viewer hooked to the screen. The job is to make sure every scene is diligently presented incorporating the maximum amount of mise-en-scene. The movie should not have an element of boredom even if there are no songs or effects. I was pretty sure the final output would get elevated with music and effects.
Was it difficult in placing all 15 songs
The songs were aptly designed to fit into their right places. Initially, there were only eight songs. As editing progressed, I told Hashim the number of songs is bound to go up. During the break after the first schedule, more songs were incorporated. Vineeth had clarity of thought regarding the scenes that had the potential for the musical soundtrack and they were mentioned in the script as well.
I was puzzled when Vineeth posted the film had 15 songs. "Vineeth, are you sure about proceeding with these many songs? Won't it appear like a musical concert?" I asked him. But Vineeth, with an air of confidence, told me that he had no plans to change his mind. All songs were precisely nestled in their right positions. The songs are blended superbly with the narrative that at one point I myself suggested including one more short song to add value to a particular scene. They help the viewers get more attached to the film. The musical scores tend to be unsuccessful when a film features songs that do not gel with the plotline.
Vineeth, a dedicated passionate filmmaker
The one thing that I love about Vineeth is that he is highly committed and invests a huge amount of dedication in his work. He is among the young breed of filmmakers who is highly passionate about his job and does a good amount of homework ahead of a project. So it is natural for people like me, when working with Vineeth, to unwittingly fall into a similar groove. He spoke to me about 'Hridayam' in 2018 and gave a general outline of the story. Ever since Vineeth has been improvising and embellishing the story idea to give a well-crafted output. It is more than a delightful experience and equally energizing to fall in sync with Vineeth's excitement at the workplace. He has a remarkable understanding of the essentials in story-telling and how a narrative could be boiled down to impart the desired effect.
New-gen editing is a complex affair
The editing tools have undergone drastic changes over the course of time. Unlike in the past, today the entire work is being done on a computer. Though it gives the impression that computer makes the job easier, the process has become more complex. Right from the film shoot, the digital format has erased the restrictions in taking camera shots. The editor's job gets complicated and strenuous in making scenes and song sequences from the infinite number of camera shots.
Ayyappan and Koshy
My overriding concern while doing a film is that it should be gripping enough to not let the audience take their eyes off the screen. In 'Ayyappan and Koshy' I pursued the timing and tempo of dialogue delivery between the two central characters - Ayyapan and Koshy. Moreover, it is not a lengthy film. Later, as I watched the film I was upset to note that I had chopped out a portion from my favourite scene. Though the final editing of the film was over by then I had weaved in a few more scenes into it.
In order to bring down the length of the movie, a sizeable portion of the bike journey of Ayyappan and Koshy had to be trimmed. But later I felt that I should have retained it. The ultimate objective is to maintain the core essence and pulse of the film, and hence the editors are bound to omit certain sequences. For instance, while editing 'Classmates' I had to exclude many scenes. With deep pain, I remember striking out two scenes of Jayasurya. Understanding my situation, filmmaker Lal Jose himself cheered me up: "Don't get upset. Let's pray the film becomes a success." There have been many such memorable experiences.
I had worked with many persons who were older than me, but that never created a sense of discomfort in my career. We treated each other as colleagues and could get along well. I was neither too nervous to consider them as older coworkers nor posed myself as a domineering young chap for that matter. Such attitudes are sure to be spoilers in shaping your career as a dedicated worker. I never fear to voice my opinion openly no matter if other persons like it or not, nor am I particular that people should agree with my views. I air my view only when there is a solid reason. There have been instances when I had retained certain scenes going against the wish of the director.
Who is an editor
There is a notion that an editor is a person who cuts down all-important shots. The director, as he reads the screenplay of a scriptwriter, visualises it into different frames. The visuals conceived in the directors' minds are converted into cinematic language by the editor. That’s my impression regarding editing. The person who instilled self-confidence in my job was Navodaya Jijo Sir. He gave lots of comments on seeing my works. Once he had asked me: "Ranjan, why can't you bring the final version of the film before it is sent for dubbing? "In that case, the director would not get the opportunity to take a final call," I replied. "Mr Ranjan, once the shoot is over, you are the director," he asserted.
'Darshana' song of youthful resonance
There was a critical point while editing the song 'Darshana' for Hridayam'. Vineeth wanted me to work out the visuals in a full-song pattern, as it was getting ready for promotion purposes. At that time it was noticed the song could not be played in one stretch and had to be split. Vineeth gave the go-ahead. After that, the beats sounded fine and when the BGM was played corresponding to the proposal scene, the shots came out well altogether. The song turned out to be a roaring hit. During the lockdown period, I was held up in Kochi and Vineeth in Chennai and we could not meet each other. I sent him only the song late at night. He replied: "Chetta go to bed, I will ring you up in the morning." By the time I woke up my inbox was flooded with messages from Vineeth. "At one go I watched the song 25 times," he said. Can you imagine the 3-minute song was chiselled off from footage of six-and-a-half hours!
After Hridayam hit the theatres, a friend of mine who watched the movie sent a voice message: "I had felt that you had enjoyed every bit of working in the film and had put your heart and soul into it." Frankly speaking, I was concerned about releasing the film at this point of time. It shook the confidence I have had all the while working for ‘Hridayam’. On the eve of the launch of the film, I asked Vineeth if we should do some final touches so as to avoid criticism once the film is released. The other day when I went to watch the movie, the theatre owner walked up to me and said: "You could have trimmed down the number of songs." I did not say anything but smiled when he said he hadn't watched the film. Had he seen the movie his opinion would have been otherwise, I felt. It was an area that I and Vineeth had discussed over and over again. As Vineeth says the matter was discussed a number of times and closed. Let it be like this. Now that the film has been out in the theatres, I am feeling a deep sense of satisfaction and joy. For the first time, my phone is flooded with calls and messages. I am feeling ecstatic, to say the least.