In Conversation with Editor Nitin Baid: Masaan Tales and More

Nitin Baid is a film editor based in Mumbai, India. He made his debut as a feature film editor with Masaan (2015), which received the FIPRESCI Prize and the Un Certain Regard Avenir Prize at Cannes this year. Born in Kolkata, Nitin did his graduation from Christ College, Bangalore, post which he pursued a course in Film Editing at Whistling Woods, Mumbai. Soon after his studies, he worked as assistant editor on Gangs of Wasseypur. Later, he worked as an associate editor on Hasee Toh Phasee.

He is the promo editor for some of the latest Indian films such as The Court, Supermen of Malegaon and The World Before Her which had received worldwide recognition. A Berlin Talent Campus alumni, his script has been selected among top 15 scripts from around the world to be pitched for the Berlin Today Award. He was also one of the very few who got selected to be a part of a workshop with Abbas Kiaraostami at Busan Film Festival.

Here’s what Baid had to say when the MadAboutMoviez team met him at the Phantom office on 14th July to discuss his life, his contribution in Masaan and his other works.

Nitin Baid NewThis is your first film as an independent editor. Before this, you have worked as an assistant and associate editor in other films. So, how different was this experience from the previous ones?

The experience was very different, as here I was involved extensively in the shoot. Again, being the primary person to go to, and this being a small & critical project, it was imperative to stay on the toes all the time. A day after returning from the location, I was back in the edit room and Neeraj joined me four five days later. I had made up a line-up in Varanasi itself, and we started looking at the scenes all over again, and things which we knew there itself would cause a problem later on. We had made up our minds to attack those problems as soon as we started editing. So, once we had those challenges sorted out, we could then work on setting up the entire project, which was anyway going to be a time-consuming task.

Were you involved with the film from the scripting stage itself?

Yes, in fact on the first day that Neeraj and I had met on the sets of Wasseypur, he shared the idea of his short film “Shor”, which we eventually worked on together. By the time Wasseypur was getting over, Neeraj had already started writing this idea. He worked with Varun, and made this one draft of Masaan. At that time, Neeraj knew that there were these parallel stories in the film but there were no further layers or subplots to it. I read that draft and we had a long discussion. The plan was that after Wasseypur got over, Neeraj would go to Varanasi with Varun and rewrite one more draft. After that, we were constantly exchanging the drafts, during which I also happened to work on Hasee Toh Phasee and many other short films.

The kind of films that you have done before Masaan is very different. While Hasee Toh Phasee is a romantic comedy, Gangs of Wasseypur is an all-out action drama. So, how did those experiences help you during your editing of Masaan?

At the end of the day, every film is about telling a story. So, if the emotions connect and you know what you want to say to the audience, the process is not fundamentally different. Yes, there were apprehensions whether we would be able to live up to the beautiful script that Varun had given us, because everyone who read it loved it. But, once you understand the genesis of the script and what it wants to say, then you look at it in that manner and try to figure out things in that way. Yes the texture of my previous films were very different but the processes were not.

But the style of editing also varies depending upon the pace and genre of the film, doesn’t it?

That’s true, but we all are huge movie buffs, and we have seen firms of different styles from across the globe. Even today, we keep exchanging films among ourselves.

Nitin BaidSo, was there any reference that you had in mind while editing Masaan?

While we looked at different films to understand the style of editing, there was this particular film by Walter Salles, called “Linha de Passe”, which talked about different tracks within the same film. Though our film has a very different ending and is fundamentally very different from that film, it helped us in understanding the basic rhythm. Masaan is a film that has a lot of intercutting, with two stories running parallel and having very different forces, and our fear was whether these opposite emotional forces would hamper the experience of watching the film. Even films made by Inarritu, like Amores Perros, maintain a certain balance among the stories, which is what we were also trying to achieve. Like in Amores Perros, Inarritu only selected portions from the three different stories without delving too much into them, but built enough mystery around those stories, so that when the connection gets established, it helps you enjoy the film psychologically much more.

You have done a lot of trailer edits, especially for documentaries. So, how difficult is it to cut the trailer of a documentary?

Trailers are a lot of fun, but yes they are difficult. Actually, everything is difficult and every time I start a new project, I do think how I am going to make that work. But once you’ve seen the film, it is all about picking the crux of it, and it is storytelling at its quickest, and we have to package the entire story in a short but very interesting manner. The same thing happened for Court, because Chaitanya had already cut a trailer earlier but he wanted a completely fresh eye for the second trailer. So, trailer is bringing the film down to its bare form and then playing around with it, which makes it a lot of fun, especially if you get the right music, for music plays a very important role in a trailer.

So, did you cut the trailer from Masaan as well?

No, I did not, because I had gotten busy with the edit of my next film called “Waiting”, which I recently completed. “Waiting” stars Kalki and Naseer, and is directed by Anu Menon, who had earlier made London Paris New York.

What about the other trailer of Masaan?

Oh, that was cut by Pathe for their French release, and we had no say in it, for Pathe wanted to present it in the most suitable way for its own audience.

Was there any challenging moment in the making of Masaan?

The opening scene was a major challenge as the entire film depended on it, and we had shot it in hardly 10 hours. So, we were worried whether it would work or not. Though we had done a detailed shot breakdown before going on the floors, nothing happened as per the plan. So, we were really scared because we knew that the entire film would fall flat if the opening scene did not work. I had made a very basic line-up in Varanasi itself, and the first thing I did after returning was to cut the scene, just to check whether we needed to reshoot for whatever reasons. Immediately after that, we showed it to Anurag sir, and he confirmed that it was working fine. It was a big relief. Then, the other troubling point was Jhonta’s diving story. That was a very critical point, because the actor was a child and he had never acted earlier, besides being moody in his own childlike way. So, I used to edit those scenes on those nights after the shoot, showed them to Neeraj, and discussed the various possibilities. Vicky’s story never had such issues, and the only day we were scared also went by pretty smoothly. It was a tough scene because it involved a lot of actors and choreography, and we shot for nearly 36 hours at a stretch, but when that scene came out well, we were all relaxed.

Did Neeraj have a very clear-cut interval point in mind while writing the script itself?

While we never wanted an interval point in the film, we knew it would be better for us to be realistic in the Indian scenario. Keeping the balance of both the parts in mind, we had decided the most appropriate interval point while reading the script itself.

Masaan touches on a few very sensitive Indian issues, but such films also border on sensitisation themselves. So, how do you restrict yourself from making a film that is just dealing with sensitive issues and not becoming sensitisation in itself?

It is to do with your approach and what you want to say. On paper itself, there was never any need or desperation to attempt this sensitisation. That is true about the directorial intent, too. And that is even truer about the way we have portrayed Varanasi in the film. It is very different from the exotic portrayal other films have made. We had a very clear agenda that we would present it like a normal city, through the eyes of an insider, just like any person settled there would visualise it.

What was the scariest stage in the entire process of the film?

Well, nothing prepares you for the first screening as it is the most frightening experience. It is the first time you are gauging people’s reactions. We were really scared to show it to Anurag sir, but he loved it a lot and gave us a few inputs to make it even better. However, the bigger anticipation for us was the reaction of Vikram sir, because he is a very analytical person and also very blunt about his reaction. But he thankfully liked it, and gave us a few things to ponder over. Though he never tried to impose any of his views on us, his views helped us in revising the film in the further cuts.

Masaan Poster 5You graduated from Whistling Woods in 2011. So, within four years, it has been quite a fast and remarkable journey, hasn’t it?

(Smiles) Yes, it has been decent and I have to accept that I was lucky. I can’t deny that I was in Wasseypur and I met these people with whom I ended up working on a lot of projects. Obviously our wavelengths matched and that also helped in our collaboration, but the best part is that the people with whom I have interacted have helped me learn a lot. Even for Hasee Toh Phasee, it was a great learning experience for I got to see the detailing that went into it and the timely output that was delivered.

You were in Christ College Bangalore before Whistling Woods. So, how did the bug of films bite you?

While studying in Christ College, I was a part of the Film Society called “Collective Chaos”, and I suddenly got introduced to a lot of world cinema.  At that time, I used to regularly visit National Market to collect DVDs, and I got tons and tons of them, though none of those DVDs work now. It was during this period that I decided to get into films, though I was not sure about the capacity in which I wanted to be involved with it. I applied to both SRFTI and FTII, and I was on the waiting list of the former, but it all panned out for the best I guess.

You part of the Busan film Festival, which also had Mr Abbas Kiarostami. So how was the experience?

Abbas Kiarostami hung out with us for three days, prior to which I was hanging out with the cinematographer of ‘Memories of Murder’. Abbas Kiarostami is extremely sharp; he would walk into the room, watch the film and say just one line that would sum up the entire film appropriately. Plus, he has a great presence.

As a part of that festival, I had the opportunity to work with great Asian artists, and I was fascinated by the amount of detailing they put into creating their craft. Busan has a very well organised workshop, and is a beautiful platform for all film makers. Even when I went to Berlin, it was a great experience for I shared a hostel with 400 filmmakers and the energy was electric. I had a lot of fun besides serious filmmaking stuff. And they treated us so well that it was almost overwhelming.

Nitin Baid has made a remarkable debut with Masaan, and we are certain that he will continue his sparkling performance in the years to come. At MadAboutMoviez, we wish him the very best and all the success to him and the entire Masaan team.

 

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