Snip decision

talk to industry stalwarts about their views on 24 getting trimmed by 8 minutes after release

Like a king who disguises himself as a commoner to find out if his subjects are happy, Rakesh Gowthaman, managing director of Vettri Theatres in Chromepet, watches new releases as one among the fans. He watches the first two shows as “it is difficult to judge a film based on just the first show, which is usually packed with the star’s fans.” Over the years, he has become an expert at identifying customer behaviour. “Restlessness can be easily spotted. Walking out for a break is an extreme symptom. Some others begin whispering. Before you know it, the unrest spreads.” Rakesh saw 24 last Friday (“I loved the film”), and noticed some of these symptoms during the second half. “The romance portions made quite a few people restless.”

Enough dissatisfied voices eventually made their way to Gnanavel Raja of Studio Green, the company that distributed 24 along with Eros International. And from Sunday, the film was cut by 8 minutes. Tirupur Subramaniam, who distributed the film in Tirupur, Erode and Coimbatore, saw this coming. “When I learned 24 was about 165 minutes, I called Gnanavel Raja to express my concern. Today, only a once-in-a-decade film like Baahubali can justify being so long.” Subramaniam, who also heads the Theatre Owners’ Association in the Tirupur area, and runs Sri Sakthi Cinemas, questions the placement of the song ‘Naan Un’ in 24. “If you’re going the Hollywood way and trying out concepts like time travel, why have such a song?” He complains that even Thoongaa Vanam, based on a French film, had two songs. And we thought distributors wanted songs.

Vikram Kumar, the director of 24, finds it amusing that distributors and exhibitors make “creative calls.” “I tell stories for a living, and I know how long a story needs to be.”

“Do you really think that a viewer will tell his friend that he liked the film, with the exception of one scene in the second half?” But Vikram has conceded defeat. “We have cut some love scenes in the second half, and brought down the duration of a couple of songs.”

Not every director is as accommodating. Subramaniam recalls that Selvaraghavan resisted industry advice to edit both Aayirathil Oruvan (165 minutes) and Pudhupettai (170 minutes) after release, even though the former was a huge hit in Andhra Pradesh in a 120-minute-version. “Four days later, they cut it by a few minutes, but the damage had already been done.” K. V. Anand also reportedly refused to cut parts of Maattrraan.

Editor K. L. Praveen, who’s working on Kabali and ‘Vijay 60’, says, “I’m not a fan of removing a few scenes in a hurry. It makes the film feel choppy.” Tirupur Subramaniam says it does work. He cites the example of P. Vasu’s Arjun-starrer Sadhu (1994). “When I saw that the film ended without a climax fight, I told Vasu it wouldn’t work. Vasu called Arjun that evening, shot a fight sequence the following day, got it censored, and by Sunday noon, it was added to the film. Sadhu ran for 100 days.” If Subramaniam had had his way, a fight sequence would have been added to Puli too. “A Vijay fan does not want such an underwhelming introduction scene for his hero.”

Praveen says that when such changes are planned before release, the editor has time to ensure smooth transitions. Films are made digitally today, so the editor is entrusted with such last-minute work. But not too long ago, theatre owners, aided by projectionists, sometimes took the liberty of wielding the scissors, literally, as they saw fit. Subramaniam talks of Mella Thirandhathu Kadhavu, which, after release, had its halves interchanged by the owner of Shanthi Theatre in Tirupur. “He did not ask permission, and a week later, everybody agreed this was a great idea and did the same. The film turned out to be a huge hit.”

Trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai says that during those days, projectionists were considered better than the real editors. “Directors who are not in touch with ground realities tend to think that every scene is indispensable, but the theatre employees see how the audience is reacting.”

The advent of social media has given way to new problems, says Vettri Theatres’ Rakesh. “When a film is cut after release, people tweet about it. This creates a negative impression about the film. Filmmakers should be proactive and make changes before the release.” Praveen says that such pre-emptive action has ensured that none of the 50-odd films he has worked on, including Chennai 600028, Aaranya Kaandam, and Madras, have needed to be cut after release. He has a checklist of rules. “I ask for the script well in advance. This helps me calculate the length of the film, and recommend the removal of scenes at an early stage. Other aspects I try to avoid include a slow duet after the one-hour mark.” Praveen remembers when he, along with Venkat Prabhu, had to make the tough decision of doing away with a 3D animation sequence for Mankatha that cost Rs 27 lakh. Sreedhar Pillai and Subramaniam advocate that films be screened a month before release to a select audience. “Bollywood does this,” Sreedhar says. “Why can’t we?”

Everybody agrees though that for post-release editing to be effective, it needs to be done on the day of the release; Lingaa, Anjaan and Aayirathil Oruvan were trimmed four days after release. Rakesh says, “Most films last only a week. What’s the point in trimming them only for the last day?”

This article was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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