The Final Cut: Senior Film Editors Face Bleak Times

Many film editors face an uncertain future with loss of work and not enough support from the industry.

Indian Cinema
6 min read
Veteran Indian film editors are facing an uncertain future with little support from the industry.

The senior guard of Bollywood’s film editors – some of whom have worked on over 250 blockbuster hits right from the 1960s to 2000 – are out of jobs today, a situation aggravated by the ongoing pandemic.

Moreover, if there were approximately 300 prominent editors during the last millennium, the number has swelled to way over 30,000 now. Most of them slaving from holes-in-the-wall edit rooms located in Mumbai’s Adarsh Nagar and Aaram Nagar in Andheri to the far-flung Mira Road.

An editor in his mid-60s, on the condition of anonymity to avoid embarrassment – states that ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, he has had to depend on handouts, ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000 a month, routed to his bank account through the Film Editors Association of India. “There are dozens of editors, from the 1960s and ‘70s, in the same dire straits,” he says.

The trickles of aid have been possible because of contributions made to the association by Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Rohit Shetty, Ajay Devgn, Netflix and the Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal. “But these are intermittent,” he adds. “The fact is that one has to accept the advance of time, new techniques and new directors with their own select units.”

Meanwhile, the stalwart editor Waman N Bhonsle, at the age of 88, has been bedridden, with memory lapses, attended to by a nurse at his home in Goregaon. Fortunately, his financial condition is steady but is practically an unknown name to the millennials today.

Film editor Waman Bhonsle being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award during Goa State Film Festival in Panaji in 2015.
Film editor Waman Bhonsle being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award during Goa State Film Festival in Panaji in 2015.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Commencing with the productions of Filmistan Studios, Bhonsle went independent to edit the films of directors Raj Khosla, Gulzar, Raj N Sippy, Subhash Ghai, Shekhar Kapur, Ravi Tandon, Mahesh Bhatt, Vikram Bhatt and K. Vishwanath, among others.

His filmography includes such well-remembered films as Do Raaste, Mera Gaon Mera Desh, Inkaar (for which he won the National Award for Best Editing), Dostana, Ghulam, Agneepath, Parichay, Mausam, Aandhi, Kalicharan, Karz, Ram Lakhan and Saudagar (which fetched him the Fillmfare Award).

Bhonsle’s partner Gurudutt Shirali, who would handle the business aspects, passed away in 2006. Bhonsle has been awarded the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image Technical Award, the Goa International Film Festival Lifetime Achievement, besides the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Bimal Roy Memorial and Film Society.

By stark contrast, MS Shinde, editor of over 100 films including the hugely popular Sholay (incidentally, Best Editing was the sole Filmfare Award bagged by the milestone film), had passed away eight years ago at the age of 83, in abject penury.

At the time, his daughter Achla had stated, “It is sad that the film industry forgets people once they retire. Even after the media wrote about my father’s financial and health condition nobody from the film industry came forward to help,” noting further, “There are so many producers who have not paid my father but he had too much-self respect to ask for his dues.”

MS Shinde, the editor of <i>Sholay </i>and other blockbuster hits passed away in penury in 2012.
MS Shinde, the editor of Sholay and other blockbuster hits passed away in penury in 2012.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

For years, Shinde had to live in a tenement in the Dharavi slums. On moving to a chawl in Parel which collapsed, he had to shift to a transit camp.

Among many of Shinde’s whopper hits were Heera, Ganga ki Saugandh, Brahmachari, Seeta aur Geeta, Shaan, Shakti and Saagar. The Sholay editor’s tragedy should have been a wake-up call to the film industry at large. But, the uncertain future of technicians has come into focus, only now after the widespread unemployment, following months of the pandemic lockdown.

Take the case of Zafar Sultan. Trained by Waman Bhonsle, the veteran editor Sultan now in his 60s, has cut countless films, including Rahul Rawail’s Arjun, Mansoor Khan’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (winner of Best Editing Filmfare Award) and Josh, besides several Marathi and Punjabi films. He is quite stoic about being sidelined by filmmakers, stating, “It’s natural for say, Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar to opt for editors more suited to their style than those who worked with their fathers Yash Chopra and Yash Johar.”

On another note, Sultan remarks that film editing has become puzzling, with filmmakers rarely holding on to pause over a shot and construct a certain rhythm. “Fast tempo and jump cuts are in vogue in keeping with the trend in Hollywood. Moreover anyone who can download editing software on the computer, can consider himself or herself an editor,” he says, underscoring the point. “Anyone willing to spend 24x7, at the risk of facing health hazards, finds freelance employment. A film is given out as a ‘single package’ as a result of which the quality has suffered. Web series are another story altogether, the more jumpy and intercutting the more it seems to appeal to the streaming channels. In sum I would say our situation is especially bleak currently.”

Joint-secretary of the Indian Editors’ Association, Sanjay Varma, editor of such smash hits as Karan Arjun, Kaho Na..Pyaar Hai and Koi..Mil Gaya remarks frankly,”So many producers spend lavishly on their films and host parties to celebrate, but when it comes to editing the finished product, they say, ‘There has been so much expenditure, toh editing ke paison ke liye vaande hain (we have precious little to spend on the editing) even though editing is the key part of the final impact of any film.”

This view is seconded by editor Irene Dhar Malik, who has cut over 20 films and web series, also winning the Best Editing National Award for the documentary The Celluloid Man.

“Denying the contribution of the editor’s deserved acknowledgement has been a continuum. Plus the disparity say, between the payment made to the editor and the director of photography is absurd, if not lopsided. Why this discrimination? Just because the DOP is on the sets and interacts with the stars, while the editors are confined to a room? That’s why the fading, pitiable years of the editing community during their advanced years.”
Irene Dhar Malik, Film Editor

The associations which exist for the directors and writers in Mumbai have been able to help their members to a larger extent, however much limited by their resources. “Clearly, the editors’ association need to take a strong stand,” Malik suggests, “especially at this hour of need.”

Of the South Indian film industries – primarily of Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam cinema – the eight-time National Award winning editor (including for Raakh, The Terrorist, Firaaq), A Sreekar Prasad, affirms from his base in Chennai that the condition of editors is at it bleakest following the pandemic.

Film editor Sreekar Prasad.
Film editor Sreekar Prasad.
(Photo Courtesy: Khalid Mohamed)

According to the statistics released officially by the unions, 500 editors in Chennai and an equal number in Hyderabad are in a quandary. The senior lot is going through a particularly tough time. The aid which can be given to them is at best, paltry.

Compared to Mumbai, the number of films and series being made in the south are a scarce few. Prasad regrets “once out of the market, technicians are doomed unless they have saved and planned for an unforeseen future. Perhaps the present crisis they find themselves in could have been averted if editors had been covered by insurance policies.”

Ever since March 2020, Prasad, who has edited several Tamil blockbusters including Alaipayuthey and Billa points out, “I may be doing okay. But there has been no inflow and one has to provide for the staff, causing a voluminous amount of outflow. Over the years, editors may have started earning more than they did a decade ago. Speaking strictly for myself, I had to edit 600 films in order to buy a house and maintain a little bank balance.”

The Film Editors Association of India strives to help out the senior guard in need, from contributions received from individual film personalities and production banners. Besides the age-old association, another one – Association of Film and Video Editors, Mumbai, has been striving to mitigate the lot of as many out-of-work editors as possible. The question is: are there sufficient funds to cater to those left out in the cold or who require urgent medical attention and minimum daily expenses?

Veteran editor Sultan suggests that a pension-scheme – by the state government and established film and TV production banners routed through the associations-- could be devised for not only Bollywood’s editors but for all technicians.

Varma of the Indian Editors’ Association believes that a solution is still a long way off, “Apart from the editors who are in a needy condition today, we have to think of their out-of-work assistants as well. The snag is that perhaps, at one stage, the central government wanted to give filmmaking the status of an industry but some of the producers haven’t been united on this front. Without this status, how can we be expected to be prioritised by the decision-makers?”

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