I like being the one doing the ‘final cut’: Irene Dhar Malik

Posted on 19 June, 2017 by Team Wishberry


From winning the National Award to working on multiple National Award winning documentaries, indie films, TV series, to writing a script, and even returning the National Award to protest intolerance, Irene Dhar Malik, has done it all and how!


We got in touch with her while she awaits the theatrical release of her recently completed project %MINIFYHTMLcbcce23cf0dc3956036daa5758f6d8ac20% Shab, starring Raveena Tandon, Ashish Bisht, and Arpita Chatterjee.


You have been working with (your brother) Onir for the longest time. What would you say it is that clicks between his and your work ethics?


Irene: I really enjoy editing Onir's films because he always tries to tell a story that is new, about people who aren't talked about much in the Indian cinema. He tries to tell these stories in an engaging way. Perhaps being his sister helps, as I know his sensibilities... rather, share them... so we'd approach a lot of things in a similar fashion.  


What is the most important dynamic between a director and an editor?


Irene: An editor has to not only be able to execute the director's vision but also be able to evaluate critically if the edit is working and suggest changes that will help improve the film. What is envisaged at the writing table doesn't always work as well once the film reaches the editing table. It's important for the editor to provide an objective perspective at this point, as the editor possibly can be more ruthless than the director, if necessary. Mutual trust and respect for each other's opinion helps a lot.


As an editor, making the visuals communicate the story is your mission. What is it that you absolutely need from both Sachin (Cinematographer) and Onir (Director)?


Irene: I need the film to be shot in such a way that I can make the shots tell the story they are meant to. Indifferently shot material, or shots where the director hasn't managed to get good performances from the cast, will simply not work. Nothing gives an editor a bigger high than good rushes, and I must say Sachin and Onir gave a lot of those while we were doing Shab


You’ve even written, and produced, still you chose to stick to editing. What made you prefer the visual side of cinema?


Irene: I know this is an oft-repeated quote, but films are made on two tables — the writing table, and the editing table. I've found out over the years that I enjoy the editing table the most... the magic of putting one shot after the other, one scene after the other, and watching the story emerge... and then re-doing it... I like being the one doing the "final cut". 


You were one of the National Award winners who returned your award to protest against rising intolerance. Tell me more about this.


Irene: We live in times when we worry more about cows than human lives. Need I say more? I value what Indian democracy stands for. I hope we don't lose our freedom of speech and expression. It worries me when documentary films are denied clearance for screening at film festivals. It bothers me that our film Chauranga had absurd censor cuts even though it had an 'A' certificate.


Yes. Speaking of Chauranga, you also worked on brilliant films a like Celluloid Man, 1942: A Love Story — films that won National Awards and critical acclaim. What is it that you aspire to do next?


Irene: I would love to keep editing more films. I would also like to direct a documentary film some day, hopefully soon. 


We had the pleasure of speaking to Onir right before the screening of Shab, at NYIFF. The film clearly means a lot to him, being the first story he ever wrote. Is there anything you would want to add?


Irene: I've seen this film evolve over many years and I was so happy for Onir when he finally started shooting it. When I watched the rushes, I was glad he'd waited all these years. The film is richer for the wait and reveals a maturity that it would have lacked in the early stages.  


Tell me about your peers. Which editors or filmmakers in general inspire you?


Irene: I wouldn't say it's a particular editor or a filmmaker that inspires me. It's a film that you watch that can suddenly blow you away. Because everything about the film is probably perfect %MINIFYHTMLcbcce23cf0dc3956036daa5758f6d8ac22% — the director's vision, the acting, the images, the sound, the editing... Films like I, Daniel BlakeManchester by the Sea, Meghe Dhaka Tara, Pather Panchali, Closely Guarded Trains, In the Mood for Love... many, many more.


What was the first lesson you learnt in editing that blew your mind away? Not necessarily a lesson, it can even be a film that changed you and compelled you to tell stories through visuals?


Irene: Probably while watching Ritwik Ghatak films like Meghe Dhaka Tara, Subarnarekha... realising that storytelling can be so layered, that it need not be simplistic but can still be simple, dramatic, rooted and beautiful. I remember watching Meghe Dhaka Tara with my parents and noticing my father (who used to yawn through most potboilers) discreetly wipe his tears. That's the magic of cinema, and I wanted to be a part of this world.


​Who should upcoming editors look up to, to learn from? Which films should they watch?


Irene: You can learn from all films %MINIFYHTMLcbcce23cf0dc3956036daa5758f6d8ac24%  — the good ones and the bad ones — you learn what to do and what to avoid. Watching the classics teaches us the rules, and you do need to learn them before breaking them. Watching Hitchcock and Kurosawa films can teach us so much about dramatic pace. Kurosawa can teach us narrative pace. Et cetera, et cetera…


Finally, tell us which filmmaker are you dying to work with?


Irene: Hmmm… No one really. Or perhaps Ken Loach!!! 


And, your personal favourite film from 2016-17?


Irene: I, Daniel Blake.


Shab is set to hit the screens on the 30th of June. The film follows the story of multiple characters struggling with unrequited love, unfulfilled desires and helplessness at the hands of destiny.


Also read Onir’s interview HERE.


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