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‘In the world of creativity, it never pays to be one-dimensional’



AIMC alumnus filmmaker and video editor Ashwin Peethambaran on the life lessons he picked up in college and how treating every day like Day One keeps him curious and hungry for learning

Cinematographer and video editor Ashwin Peethambaran, an alumnus of the Apeejay Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi, is a subject matter specialist with Tik Tok India. In an interview, he tells us why he chose to study in India over going to the UK and shares some priceless tips for aspiring filmmakers and video editors.

How did you choose this unconventional career? Did you plan to be in the field of cinematography and video editing as a child?
Although I had completed my software engineering, I was always fascinated with the way movies were shot. Since my mother is a television journalist, I wanted to be in a creative field as well. To begin with I wanted to be a video journalist. But when I started to research it, I came across the world of movies that I found really fascinating and discovered my real passion. While I was looking at options for getting trained in the movies both in India and abroad, I chose to enrol at the Apeejay Institute of Mass Communication (AIMC). I had bagged admission in King’s College and Westminster in London as well. But I chose AIMC because it was closer home, right here in India and it had great ratings.

When did you discover you had a passion for filmmaking and cinematography?

Initially, I had little knowledge about the movies. I just appreciated the way the storytelling was done or the manner in which a film was shot. But when I came to Apeejay, things changed dramatically. I got an entirely different perspective on creativity. I realised when it came to cinematography, it wasn’t just limited to video editing. Professor Naveen Gautam, who taught us video editing, helped me develop an interest in the movies.  So did Ankit Malyan, who had just graduated from AIMC and had returned there for a teaching stint. 

Please share some memories of the time when you were a media student at Apeejay?

The best part about Apeejay is that they give incomparable access to students to use cameras and editing equipment right at the inception. This is great hands-on exposure. Before I joined AIMC, I had a few other options to consider. I had got admission into Westminster and had managed admissions to Symbiosis in Pune and Xavier’s in Mumbai. But I chose Apeejay over all these institutions because it was conveniently located near my residence in South Delhi and also it had superior ratings compared with Indian media institutes.

What role did your teachers at AIMC play in your life?
Everything at AIMC revolved around learning. I still remember the day when I first saw the studio at the campus. I was waiting for the day when I would get to use all the equipment and cameras. That is when Rajiv Panda Sir shared a remarkable mantra for success with us: “When it comes to cinematography, one must learn everything. We need to have an idea about everything: Whether it is how to edit, put a cut, or transition.” It was at this point I realised, I must not limit myself to just video editing and that I should also get into cinematography.  

Both Dr Gautam and Dr Panda were instrumental in nurturing my worldview during my student days. For instance, when I got an opportunity in DNEG, a big production house based in London for their Mumbai branch, I turned to Dr Panda for advice. I still call him for advice. He was the person who inspired me to get into cinematography. While I was still in college I got an opportunity to work as a video editor with Ali Baba. Then I worked as a cinematographer and video editor with a company called Internet Moghuls and from there I got a chance to work as a project coordinator with DNEG and then an opportunity with Tik Tok.

What are the life lessons you picked up at AIMC that have helped you in your career

First, in most creative fields, it pays to be multi-dimensional rather than one-dimensional. This holds true for cinematography as well. To be a good cinematographer, you must know as much as you can about lighting, angles, editing and cuts. It will help you envision the kind of transitions you want in between scenes. Instead of limiting yourself to just one department, you must have knowledge of everything whether it is lighting or editing.

When it comes to life lessons and my attitude towards work and life, I treat every day as Day One. If it is your first day at work, you will have that excitement and curiosity to know more and become better. Even if you’ve spent a year or two in the profession, your attitude towards a new project should be like day one.

How easy or difficult is it to pursue a career in video editing and cinematography? Please give some tips for aspiring students to be a good cinematographer and video editor?
One thing I distinctly remember that Rajiv Sir and Naveen Sir told us: Never let your ego govern you and make you believe that you know everything. One must always be open to learning regardless of who is teaching you something new. Be willing to learn as a cinematographer, even if the learning comes from a crew member or an actor or a senior editor. Humility is the key to learning.

What are your long-term work goals?
I joined Tik Tok as a content moderator. Within a year, I was promoted to subject matter expert. My next goal is to be a team leader. In the long run my ultimate dream is to be in the realm of making movies. When it comes to the movies I would like to make, again I don’t want to limit myself to a particular genre like documentaries or features. All that matters is that the script must be good and is a story well told.  

What are the challenges and opportunities in pursuing a career in video editing and filmmaking?
The toughest part could be limiting yourself to just one thing or sticking to just one software. In case you want to pursue a career in video editing, you need to learn other software as well. Photoshop, Lightroom, animation, get hands-on with all of these. It is wonderful to be a great editor in Premiere Pro or FCP, but it is always good to have knowledge of other software as well. You must also be hands-on in Photoshop or animation. It will all work together to make you a better video editor.  Just limiting yourself to one thing may not take you far. Don’t be a frog in the well.

“To be a good cinematographer, you must know as much as you can about lighting, angles, editing and cuts. It will help you envision the kind of transitions you want in between scenes.”

Ashwin Peethambaran

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74