Thought Box

A Woman on the verge of abundance: Antara Lahiri

A Woman on the verge of abundance: Antara Lahiri

by Vinta Nanda January 5 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 9 mins, 18 secs

Vinta Nanda connects with the film editor Antara Lahiri, and brings to you this very interesting conversation that she had with her.

"Rat-A-Tat" is one of five short films in the "Unpaused" anthology on Amazon Prime, streaming since 18th December 2020. It's a story of two women, four decades apart - one chose to be alone and the other, alone because of circumstances - who confront loneliness and form an unlikely friendship during the lockdown, which brings them hope and a new beginning. The short film is directed by Tannishtha Chatterjee and produced by Pritish Nandy and Rangita Pritish Nandy. Lillette Dubey and Rinku Rajguru play key roles, Devika Bhagat has written the story and screenplay and Ishita Moitra has penned the dialogues. Antara Lahiri has edited the film and she’s the subject I am deep diving to today. Why? Well because I have just got to know her in person and am fascinated with the body of work she owns as a film editor, which she has gathered over such a short period of time.

Another reason is that it is terrific to see so many women at work on a project like Rat-A-Tat in which the producer, the director, the writers, the editor as well as the two main protagonists are women. And through this discussion with Antara Lahiri, I got to see the camaraderie and the trust that play an important part when so many women work together.

Antara Lahiri is a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, and is best known for her work on feature films such as Bhangra Paa Le (2020), Bewakoofiyaan (2014), Simran (2017), Gattu (2011), Bombairiya (2019) and Mere Dad Ki Maruti (2013) - besides web-series like Four More Shots Please (2019) and Bard of Blood (2019).

I’m going to go to her and I’m taking you along with me to know more about her.

Share your experience of working in the project Unpaused - how did it come about your way and what was the process that you followed?

I had worked with Pritish Nandy Communications on Four More Shots Please Season 1. I especially enjoyed working with Rangita and Ishita Nandy, so when Ishita asked if I’d be interested in editing “Rat-A-Tat”, it was a no-brainer.

I had never met Tannishtha (the director) so it could’ve been pretty awkward getting onto a video call with someone you hardly know, and trying to jam with her on an edit. But to  Tannishtha’s credit, she was so warm and easy to work with, we ended up having a really harmonious working relationship.

The workflow itself was interesting and challenging since there was a strict no-contact policy we had to follow. The rushes were downloaded from a server by  the associate editor Shounak and me. Tannishtha and I spent several hours a day on video call, working on the edit and once the producers had seen the cut, we would get on a con-call to discuss it further. It definitely helped that I had done the final cut of “Shakuntala Devi” remotely with Anu Menon just a few months prior. Anu had to rush back to her home in London when we were on the last lap of the edit, because this was around early March 2020 and flights had started getting cancelled due to the impending pandemic. So the entire post team was WFH and working with Anu remotely. Even pre-pandemic, during Four More Shots Please Season 1, Anu and I had devised a workflow that helped us work remotely whenever she had to be in London. By the time “Rat-A-Tat” happened therefore, it was not a massive jump in workflow for me and Shounak, who incidentally also got his remote working experience while working on Shakuntala.

Why did you decide to become a film editor? The trigger... 

I had learned some basic editing in college.

I did the Mass Communication course from St Xavier’s College, Kolkata, and I thought it was fascinating how film takes shape and often changes form at the editing table. When I studied film history, I also realised the integral role of editing in the evolution of cinema and cinematic language, be it the single shot films of the Lumiere Brothers, or Melies’ stop motion films, the introduction of close ups, cross-cutting, time lock, Soviet Montage and so on.

So I think I was already subliminally gravitating towards editing by then. I had applied to the FTII Editing course shortly after graduation, but was waitlisted and figured the best way to bide time until the next academic year was to get some hands-on experience.

Since I had no definite starting point in mind nor did I have any contacts in the film industry in Kolkata, I started directing small non-fiction gigs for Doordarshan Bangla. That continued once I moved to Mumbai.

I started assisting in a production company and sometimes would get a free rein to write and direct some of their material as well. I also had to oversee the edits, where I discovered much to my amusement and shock that the overworked studio editors would be dozing off mid-edit. Some of them were kind enough to teach me the basics of operating the software so I could cover some ground as they caught up on sleep. The studio exposure and hands-on experience was also critical in furthering my interest in editing.

Where are you from and what were your growing up years like? 

I was born and brought up in Calcutta, in a middle class family of mixed influences. My father is Bengali, with his roots in East Bengal. My grandparents were from Lahore and they moved to Cal after the partition and raised my mother and her three sisters there. I spent the better part of my childhood with my maternal grandparents so for the longest time I didn’t really identify with the Bengali side of my family. I grew up with a predominantly North Indian vegetarian palate and I spoke better Hindi than Bangla, things that completely befuddled the local community since my last name is as Bengali as they come. When I arrived in Bombay on the other hand, colleagues assumed I didn’t speak or understand Hindi very well since my last name is Bengali. So there’s always been a sense of being a misfit and it’s an identity I’ve come to embrace over time.

My nani was an NSD graduate and very active in the Calcutta theatre circuit. My nana owned a small pest control company but his heart lay in art, dance and music. My mother followed her passion and pursued fine arts as a career. So there were plenty of creative influences within the family. This was offset by my father who is an engineer by profession and a complete disciplinarian, so I naturally gravitated towards the very thing he didn’t approve of - Hindi films.

What made you decide to have a career in film?

My father was of the belief that Hindi films were a negative influence on his children. Watching 1990s Hindi commercial cinema in retrospect, I realise he wasn’t far from wrong, but as a teen that never stopped me from sneakily watching Chitrahaar or Superhit Muqabla, or even a film or two played at very low volume, during his Sunday siesta. When it was time to appear for college entrance exams, I figured the best way one could watch films was to study them, so my film career stems from something as basic as that. While one’s love for film evolves over time with more and more exposure to the medium and its nuances, at the core of it, it was just about me wanting to watch movies in peace!

How have you adapted to Bollywood and its ways? 

I’m not sure if I have at all adapted to the ways of the industry primarily because it doesn’t play by any set rules. The beauty of each new project is that it throws a new curveball in your direction. As a freelancer you’re grappling with new crew, new circumstances, new workflows and new challenges with every project. Such is the transient nature of freelancer life that by the time you’ve adapted to one scenario, it’s time to move onto the next.

Bhangra Paa Le, Bombairiya, Mere Dad Ki Maruti , Four More Shots Please, Shakuntala Devi, Yeh Ballet and Unpaused are some of the films/series I can see you have worked upon - do talk about some of the experiences and share an anecdote or two please.

The one thing that all the above-mentioned series and films have in common is that they’re all helmed by directors and sometimes producers who are women. All these stories have emphasised the inclusion of full-blooded, three-dimensional female characters with agency, who are not relegated to mere wallflower status.

Editing is a long, sometimes tedious process so it always helps to have an interesting director with you in the bat-cave, who can talk about something other than just the film or the film industry. In fact our discussions, ideas, arguments, debates have informed my politics and my feminism to a large extent. And so much of that filters into the narrative that we are stitching together in the edit. There is always an intimacy to the process as we spend hours and hours in the same room, getting to know the film, getting to know each other, getting to know what works for the film, getting to know what works for each other.

The ongoing pandemic however has put a funny and surreal spin on things, as Tannishtha and I discovered during the edit of Unpaused’s “Rat-A-Tat” segment. Now the director and editor meet over video call, and the entire process unfolds virtually. So we still chat and debate and argue, but never actually end up meeting the other person in the real world, so there’s been an interesting shift in the way we develop the film edit and our interpersonal dynamic.

I think the readers of The Daily Eye would also like to know where you're headed from here - as in what is it that you dream of doing in the future, in film?

I haven’t really thought about it. The natural progression is always predictably towards direction, but I don’t think I’m done with editing yet. I think I’ll go with the flow as I always have. Currently I’m more consumed with my non-filmi future plan, which is to construct an animal shelter and build a community of like-minded people around it.

The films/series that you love... 

Amongst series, I’d have to say “Line Of Duty”. And I’m currently watching “Mrs. America” which is just pitch perfect.

Films, anything by Satyajit Ray.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.