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March 13, 1999


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Suparn Verma

Apurva Asrani. Click for bigger pic!
At 16, Apurva Asrani dropped out of college. At 20 he won the Filmfare award for best editor in Ram Gopal Varma's Satya. If all goes well, by 21, he will have begun his first film as director, Godavari and made his acting debut in a low budget comedy, Jhankar Beats. By 30, who knows...

Considering his age, the only background you can seek involves his childhood. A "very oversmart kid, glued to television" is how he describes his growing years. "I would look at films and always thought they could be made better."

Finally he got the chance to find out for himself when he participated in a competition in his college.

"I was in Jaihind college and we had an intercollegiate competition in which you had to make a music video using an existing song on the theme 'Child & Life'. I took my home video camera and made my video. Other participants had foccused on the negative element -- kids in slums and stuff. My video has kids playing, happy in diverse areas. The theme was, 'Life goes on'. It won the first prize for the best director. The judges were Prahlad Kakkar, Suneeta Rao and Sunil Sahajwani, the maker of BPL Oye."

When the award came his way, he decided, "This is what I do best." After that he joined Sunil Sahajwani to assist him on his show, BPL Oye.

"I'd be working 17, 20 hours on the show. I'd be there while the editing was happening, the shooting was taking place. But you see, I came from a very sheltered and protective background. When he made me do stuff like pick up food for the unit or for his personal tasks I felt very low. There would be nights I would cry myself to sleep. But then I realised this was part of the game and that everyone has to go through it."

A still from Satya. Click for bigger pic!
Though after sometime he quit the show and was out of work for three months, but he decided to stick on. "Today in retrospect, Sunil has been my biggest teacher, he was the first one to believe in me. I learned a lot on the sets by seeing what was going on.

''One day a pal introduced me to Sajid Khan [the television anchor]. I worked with him on his serial for El TV. He would keep telling me, "In two years you'll make it, I'll want to work with you."

Though after that serial he was out of work again. "It was then that Farah Khan [the Bollywood choreographer and sister of the former Khan] got me work at Plus Channel. I was an associate director on the serials they were making.

"That was when Shobha Doctor [of Humlog fame] was making a serial for the northern belt of Doordarshan; it had one segment called Hamara TV. which was pure fiction. One day, she told me she wanted me to direct the segment. I was like, here I'm 17 years old and she wants me to direct a segment? I immediately said yes. After all, it was their money," he laughs.

But he stopped smiling soon because he knew he had to now deliver his end of the bargain.

"On the first day of the shoot I was pretty scared and kept busying myself with the script and my assistants. I was under the impression they wouldn't take me seriously because if my age. I grew a beard that I then thought made me look older -- now I realise it made me look stupid -- and I started smoking." But the actors still had their doubts and showed it.

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"By the end of two days I had the actors come over to me and tell me they were sorry for their behaviour. Everything was all right after that. Our TRP ratings soared, the marketing people had a ball and then the serial came to a natural end in a few months.

"At CMM I serviced clients and making promos for films like Bombay, Khamoshi and others. One day Ramuji [Ram Gopal Varma] came to CMM with his still under-production film Daud. I told my associate Pradnya Lokhande that within a week I would be working with him.

"His Rangeela had been a turning point in my life because I realised then that I could make the kind of films I wanted to make. It is a formula film with a very different presentation and characters and at the same time it was also realistic.

"For the promo of Daud I worked day and night on something very different. When Ramuji saw it he was like, 'Fantastic', 'Blew my mind'. And he asked me to do another trailer. But the best thing was that he looked beyond the trailer and saw my talent. He asked to see some of my work. Then one day in his car he told mentioned that he was working on Satya. He told me the story and asked me to edit the film."

Apurva jumped at the offer and also decided to assist the director.

"I was willing to give up everything to assist Ramuji," he says.

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"Being involved in the creative aspect of Satya also helped me get a better grip on the subject. Satya was a very complex film. It was the editor's job to remove any political incorrectness and to modify the characters if they started resembling someone. Besides, Satya had to have a pre-planned pace. I worked out my editing before the film. I could have easily screwed up the film by increasing or decreasing 10 frames here of there." And throughout he made a conscious effort to shock the audience.

"During the screenings I would feel insulted if someone turned his head away from the screen. I simply wanted the audience riveted to the screen by its pace.''

"Lots of sequences in Satya were created on the editing table. For example the opening sequence of the film, in which we had Sabeer Masani who played the long-haired goon, reading a newspaper and throwing it down. The film ends with him reading the newspaper about Satya's death and then throwing the newspaper down and shooting at it.

"There are other sequences, like the encounter sequence where the police hunts down the gangsters and shoot them. You have different deaths -- one while a guy being shot while sitting at a barber's. one when a man's eating dinner with his family, another of a man being chased down a gully to his end.

"But when we edited it, we created a narrative, first establishing the characters then start the killings. We first establish the guy in the barber shop early in the sequence, but he is the last one to be killed. This sequence created the desired effect that leads to Amod Shukla's [Paresh Rawal] death."

Apurva's favourite scene is the one wherein the three leading characters dwell on Chander's death. "We incorporated Chander's laugh in that scene, which gave it a very disquieting effect." And that again has something to do with his need to shock.

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"I want to create a formula of my own. I love to shock. Even in Satya I tried doing it with my cuts; just when you thought we are going right, we go left. A film is commercial if the audience can identify with the characters. In Satya the audience kept identifying with the characters. I just wish Ramu had gone all the way with Satya and not used any songs. I felt resorting to Sapne mein milte hain and Tu mere pass bhi was catering to some people. And he has pleasant memories of Manoj Bajpai.

"He has been really appreciative and supportive of me. During the shoot I knew he was one of the best actors we had, I conned him then and signed him up for my film for Rs 100, whenever I made it. He would say, 'Apurva edits like a director, not a editor'.

"Urmila too would keep saying, 'Brilliant, Appu. Fantastic. How do you do it?' She has promised to do my film but I didn't give her a signing amount then," he says with a rueful smile.

So how was it working with Ram Gopal Varma?

"Ram Gopal Varma gave me a lot of confidence. He believed a 19-year-old can edit a film like Satya. To him, your past work doesn't matter. He is a man who sees people and sees what he can make them do. He took Urmila and saw what he could make of her; he took Manoj Bajpai and saw what he could be. He sees something in people which they don't know exists in them. If you can help his film then you're on.

"He gave me a lot of respect in Satya, I mean he is a very respected and established director but he never showed it. He gave me a free hand with his edits and he did not sit on my head. Ninety per cent of the time he was very impressed, but there was that 10 per cent when his disappointment was very discouraging.

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"He expects you to surprise him all the time. There were those few times when I failed to meet his expectations. But I worked hard again and the result is showing on my mantelpiece." He points to the award that still has to have his name inscribed upon it.

So who could he call his mentor?

"You see, I started my career five years ago before Ram Gopal Varma, and there have been people like Shobha Doctor, Sunil Shajwani, Sajid Khan, Plus Channel... Ramuji is responsible for my work gaining recognition. Satya was my training ground."

Apurva plans to start directing his debut film, "an emotional thriller", in August.

"The film I'm planning is Godavari. My associate Pradnya Lokhande came with the story idea two-and-a-half years ago. I didn't react much then but I couldn't sleep the whole night after that. By morning I knew this is the film I had to direct. We have been developing it for two years. Today the story is ready to be filmed."

"Godavari is a honest film, it tells you the truth about the world, the truth that we choose to turn a blind eye to. It is a story of a girl trapped in the famous flesh trade of Bombay. She is a girl from a small town sold to the flesh trade. She is a girl who craves to see sky, to feel the rain on her fingertips. It is the story of a young man's search of love...

"It's the story of the political and underworld nexus that makes a scapegoat of the common man. We will have a unique approach to the film. It will be shot as a first person account with the look of a documentary."

And you watch the passion in this boy without godfathers or mentors, sitting there and drawing complex vistas on a grand mental canvas. Awe-inspiring. Wonder what he'll be at 30...

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