It was a typical day in the life of a Mumbaikar at an evening rush hour. Yet, I still had time to give a leisurely once around, a habit bred through my career as an investigative reporter. It was then, I saw Anuradha Singh, who was trying to pull off a balancing act of holding several things in her hands, while hoping to get off the train with everything intact. With an eye contact and a nod, I helped hold some of her baggage. It was serendipity. En route, she introduced herself to me as a film student from FTII Pune, and her tryst at making her first documentary ‘Touching The Skies with Glory’, all without a real budget.
This documentary gave her the first break, when international film production manager Alexander de Grunwald was shown this film. They later worked together on the sets of Marigold, where she was the Sync Sound Editor. Very soon he began recommending her to a couple of Hollywood producers. He told her, “India will have a world class editor soon.”
“By the grace of God, I did not struggle to get into Hollywood. I got introduced to film producer Tom Whilhite, by Alex de Grunwald and that’s how my journey. Alex has been so supportive that my struggle in Hollywood got zeroed down. You could call him my Hollywood Godfather.”
But, her struggle in her own home country has been insurmountable. When she first came to Mumbai she recounts people telling her to go back to her hometown, citing her as being too naïve for the industry.
“Many in the film institute thought I was not a capable candidate and should not get admission. For others I was not even an editor material. But, later when I met Alex, he was like a fresh air to my dreams and had unwavering faith in me which gave me immense confidence to do the impossible.”
In over two decades, she has worked for thirty different feature films, documentaries – national and international short films, both in English and Hindi. Last but not the least; she has earned the title of being Hollywood’s First Female Editor from India. The films that she has worked on are – Slumdog Millionaire, Marigold, The Hundred-foot Journey, Basmati Blues, Blood Monkey, Million Dollar Arm, West is West and Wings of Legacy to name a few.
Having worked with Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire, she learned a thing or two. And it was one of the biggest films in her kitty. “Working with him was like being in a film school, specialising in a master’s degree or just being the best. Everything ran perfectly, it was great teamwork and he knew how to get the best out of each member.” She recounts working at the Film City, where 6 to 7 cameras were working altogether at all times and the work being almost 24 hours. “I was working day in and out, sometimes days altogether. I did not get to meet him personally even though I very much wanted to. There was no time to even get out of the editing table. But, I used to see him rushing around a 100 times a day.”
With all those learning experiences, her work has tightened to an art, flawless in execution. This style is visible in the controversial documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ – the culminating recognition of an artist at work. Singh worked so hard on endless reels of footage that she broke her tail bone and had a frozen shoulder and was unwell for a while. But as accolades go, and the ban thereof in India, for the subject of a brutal rape of Nirbhaya, a young medical student in Delhi, this film has become a turning point in the arena of documentaries.
“This film is most special from amongst all my other films. I have given two and a half years to the making of this film. It was also quite tough emotionally on me. I salute Nirbhaya for her unmatched courage. Even if one woman gets saved after watching this film it would be worth the effort.”
October 2015, she was invited for the premiering of ‘India’s Daughter’ in the New York Institute of Technology theatre and the Paley Center in Los Angeles where Hollywood A-listers and other important invitees were in attendance.
Meryl Streep opened the screening, introduced the film, and producer Leslee Udwin. Then suddenly she went on to say the editor of the film has come today. I was so nervous. It was totally unexpected. I had to take the stand, and there was a 50 seconds of nonstop applause for me by the audience. Meryl said, this is an incredible editing she has done.
She says, “Meryl Streep opened the screening, introduced the film, and producer Leslee Udwin. Then suddenly she went on to say the editor of the film has come today. I was so nervous. It was totally unexpected. I had to take the stand, and there was a 50 seconds of nonstop applause for me by the audience. Meryl said, this is an incredible editing she has done. Leslee must have given her thousands of miles of footage and she worked hard at getting it right. Every time I watch this film I get speechless and emotional. I want this film to get an Oscar.”
She recounts being personally introduced to Meryl Streep later and recounts being a nervous wreck with her hands shaking non-stop. “Look my hands are shaking”, she told Meryl and the actor smiled and told her, “You have done an amazing job of editing this films with these very hands.”
Sean Penn, remarked, “This film is like an MRI you don't want to do, but, you have to do it as required for diagnostics. I never knew the importance of a film until I watched ‘India’s Daughter’.”
A very happy editor, she says, “Later when I was sitting and chatting with Sean Penn, I could not believe it. I adore him so much that, I wanted the whole world to see these imagined moments of a small village girl from India.”
She professes respect for the Prime Minister, “I believe he will get our country to the desired development. Let us help him the best way we can. After all, he has been elected by us to do so.”
Friends call her Pinky, that’s her nickname, but her life has never been of that hue, it has been fraught with a lot of personal tragedies and pain. Yet, when I ask her who is Anuradha? She says, “I am everything due to my grandmother, she is my rock and support system. She has been vital to the making of Anuradha.” Then laughs a Bollywood line,“Sab kuchh sikhha humne na sikhi hoshiyaari”. As the adage goes ‘Fools tread where angels fear to jump’, she dropped out of a medical school and went on to make a career in films.
Pinky’s world has changed its perspective on her, from being the plain Jane who was not noticed during her college days, and which rankles her at times, to being Anuradha Singh, India’s daughter through and through. Singh, retains the indefatigable spirit, that I first encountered. “Do you want to know how I describe myself? I don’t say impossible I say I am Possible”.
Anjou DurgaGiri is Asianet Newsable's editor-at-large, currently living in Kansas City. The views expressed here are her own.
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Last Updated Mar 31, 2018, 6:45 PM IST