Editor Irene Dhar Malik discusses 'Shab' and her professional relationship with her younger brother, filmmaker Onir, in an exclusive interview with A Potpourri of Vestiges

By Murtaza Ali Khan

A Potpourri of Vestiges recently caught up with Irene Dhar Malik who has edited Onir's forthcoming Raveena Tandon-starrer, Shab, also starring Ashish Bisht and Arpita Chatterjee, slated to release on June 30, 2017. The National Award-winning editor of Celluloid Man who returned her prestigious award in a wave of protest on intolerance a couple of years back, Irene is an alumna of FTII. She is married to screenwriter Ashwini Malik. Irene also happens to be Onir's elder sister.


Shab has been shot over four schedules spread across four different seasons. What are the challenges while editing such as mood-centric film?

To capture and highlight the mood changes that are a part of the story, it isn't often enough to simply shoot at different times, but also capture the mood in the images that we finally see. To highlight the cold desolation of winter, the feeling of emotional floodgates opening during the rains...

Shab has multiple characters and one can only imagine the complexity of the character arcs involved. How does one distribute economy of time per character in such a scenario?

Finally, it is the story that dictates that economy. The story arc dictates the screen time... the narrative flow... nothing else.

Does editing also involve rewriting the script or at least giving it a different shape? How can an editor exercise his/her creative control on a movie?

To a certain extent, a script is rewritten during editing because how you imagine a scene when you write it isn't always how it turns out. During shooting, the actors may add nuances, or the director may find something working better in a way that is not how it was written. The same happens while editing. Especially with the narrative flow. I often discover that departing from the narrative flow as envisaged in the script may work better for the film. The editor is, depending on her equation with the director, free to edit a film differently from how it's written, if she's convinced that it works better for the film. Of course a film is finally the director's vision (sometimes the producer's I should add), and the director may disagree with the editor's interpretation. 

Working with your own brother as a director, does it make your job easier or difficult? You have been Onir’s go to person as far as editing is concerned. Tell us about your professional association with Onir, especially given the fact that he too comes from an editing background. How do you deal with creative differences in the editing room?

Well, editing with an editor is a bit of a pain because Onir doesn't always wait for me to arrive before he starts trying changes. But he does respect my inputs as an editor. If he pulls rank as director, I can pull rank as his elder sister! We do have creative differences, but mostly these can be resolved/ argued out.

You have edited documentaries as well as feature films. How does your approach change while working on one vis-a-vis the other?

While editing fiction, you're bound by a script, an existing story. A documentary too can be scripted, but the real interesting documentary is where the story emerges from the rushes. I believe that documentary rushes speak a lot, and there's often a whole new world to be discovered. I approach documentary edits with an open mind. With fiction, I try to focus on what is the story the film seeks to depict.

Tell us about how the editing process has changed with the advent of the digital? How has it affected the editor’s level of involvement in the overall filmmaking process?

I studied film editing at FTII. We worked with film those days, edited on the steenbeck. I still miss that process sometimes as it required a lot of discipline and focus. Digital is simpler, you can have a million versions of your edit. Digital has undoubtedly made life simpler for editors, but I don't believe it has changed the level of the editor's involvement. We had involved editors then. And now.

A few years back you returned the National Award you had won in a wave of protect against intolerance. In the hindsight do you still feel that it was the right decision to make at the time?  

I do miss my award, but I think I did right. One has to take a stand in life, sometimes. I wish it had made a difference though. Dissenting voices are important in a democracy. They should be heard, and not ridiculed or threatened. We spoke up because the country matters to us.

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