Renu Saluja was undoubtedly one of the best film editors Indian Cinema has ever seen. Ironically, when she applied to the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune (FTII), editing was only her second choice. She had applied for direction and did not get through the direction interview. But she did pass the editing interview and was persuaded by her parents to go ahead with it. To quote Renu, “It all happened by chance and editing really got into my system. After some time I didn’t want to be a director at all.” Incidentally, Renu’s elder sister, Rita Saluja, too was a graduate of the FTII, but from the acting course.
Once out of the FTII with a ‘Diploma in Cinema with specialization in Film Editing’ in 1976, Renu’s early work was in parallel cinema with her FTII Colleagues – Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Ashok Ahuja etc. Speaking of her early days Renu, born on 5th July, 1952, recalled, “The world over, editors are women. It’s only in India that filmmaking is dominated by men, even editing…To me being a woman worked as an advantage. The idea of a woman editor was quite novel. I probably got a lot of work in the beginning because I was a woman and I was okay with my work… Secondly I was working with my classmates who were making their first films also. We were all making our mistakes together. So there was no question of proving my credentials.”
The first offer that Renu got from outside her protected circle of ‘FTII’ filmmakers was Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya (1983). After Ardh Satya, her career really took off. Though Ardh Satya brought her recognition, Renu always felt it was more so due to the film industry noticing its very obvious and dramatic cutting style.
Parinda was the first big mainstream film that Renu edited. Unlike the smaller films, which were made in one schedule and thus she used to get the whole film in front of her before she commenced editing, Parinda was shot over a period of three years depending on star dates, availability of locations etc. Speaking of adjusting to this style of working, Renu used to say, “When I put them (the scenes) together, the final product changes a lot. So I have to improve what I worked on some time ago and bring it to match the whole film. It gets complicated!”
It was Renu more than anyone else who in recent times has underlined the importance of the editor in filmmaking. But then her contribution to a film has always been more than just an editor. She would quite often attend shootings of her films giving suggestions that would help her (and the film) at the editing stage. A favourite example that Renu always used to talk about is from Parinda, the scene where Anil Kapoor kills Kamal Chopra. Vidhu Vinod Chopra had conceived the killing as a single shot but Renu, attending the shooting, got cinematographer Binod Pradhan to take various dramatic shots of heavy machinery around the two characters much to Vinod’s annoyance who yelled at her for wasting precious shooting time. At the edit stage it was thought that the single shot of the killing was just not working. Renu cleverly inter-cut the killing with shots of the machinery she had taken thus heightening the scene and giving it a totally new dimension. The scene was, in fact, one of the highlights of Parinda.
In fact, special mention must be made of Renu’s partnership with Vidhu Vinod Chopra to whom she was also married to for a while. A partnership that began at the FTII itself wherein she edited his diploma film, Murder at Monkey Hill (1976), she subsequently edited all his work from his Oscar Nominated Short An Encounter with Faces (1980) to all his feature films right from Sazaa-e-Maut (1981) to Mission Kashmir (2000), were she was both Associate Director and Editing Supervisor. Later on, Renu got involved with filmmaker Sudhir Mishra for whom she edited regularly as well. She rated her work on the cutting of the climactic sequence of his film, Dharavi (1991), as one of her all-time best.
Renu actually used to feel embarrassed if complimented about her editing in a film. If a film is well edited, you are supposed to be totally engrossed with the narrative flow and not supposed to notice the editing, she would always say. But at the same time, she would take care to point out that editing is a highly specialized job and is like the final script for a film. One sequence she was particularly pleased with her editing was the climax of Sudhir Mishra’s Dharavi (1991). Special mention must also be made of her razor-sharp timing in the editing of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). Talking about the film’s edit, director Kundan Shah recalled, “The first final cut of JBDY was over three and a quarters hours long. How we survived this nightmare was once again thanks to Renu’s method. The film no longer belonged to me. It was her baby and she was totally in command.”
In the 1990s, Renu struck a balance between mainstream cinema as well as parallel cinema and the new crop of ‘different indie films’ that cropped up following the success of Hyderabad Blues (1998).
Some of the well-known films that Renu has edited include Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1993), Bandit Queen (1994), Pardes (1997), Rockford (1999) and Hey Ram (2000). She had just completed work on Nagesh Kukunoor’s Bollywood Calling (2001) when she passed away way too prematurely on August 16, 2000 due to cancer of the stomach. She was just 48.
A four time National Award Winner for Best Editor for Parinda, Dharavi, Sardar (1993) and Godmother (1999), Renu also won Filmfare Editing Awards for Parinda and 1942: A Love Story (1993).
So many successful editors today owe their careers to Renu. Fresh out of FTII, they inevitably began their professional life by assisting her before moving out on their own. Some well-known editors who worked under Renu include Aseem Sinha, Sanjib Kumar Datta, Irene Dhar Malik and Hemanti Sarkar.
Much has been written about Renu but perhaps the best person to sum up Renu would be Renu herself. Once when asked to describe herself, she had laughingly said, “I’m a film editor and I think, a damn good one!”