Editing: <I>India Sweets and Spices</I>
Issue: May/June 2021

Editing: India Sweets and Spices

India Sweets and Spices is a coming-of-age film from writer/director Geeta Malik, about a college freshman - Alia - who returns home for the summer and discovers secrets and lies in her parents' past. The revelation makes her question everything she thought she knew about her family.

Here, editor Kevin Hickman shares his experience working on the feature, which recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

How did you get involved with this project?

“First, I just want to share how excited I am that India Sweets was accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival. A lot of people worked really hard to get this film made, and it was challenging to cross the finish line during a pandemic, but we did! 

“Marisa Clayton, at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, was fantastic keeping us afloat as we navigated the waters during lockdown. I started the film during post production shortly before the original editor, Hugh Ross, had to leave because of a prior commitment. By the way, Hugh did an amazing job and deserves recognition for leaving me a really great edit to work from. I had just finished editing the film Triumph, and was looking for my next gig. Phillip Dawe, who was a producer on Triumph, was also working on India Sweets and Spices, and he recommended me. That’s how I got involved.”

Tell us a bit about the film and your editing style?

“The film is about a young woman discovering her own identity and [uncovering] a shocking past about her family. The film has several dinner-party scenes that are integral to the film, and until working with writer and director Geeta Malik, I never knew that dinner parties were a big thing within the Indian community. It was a fascinating insight into something I knew nothing about. There was a lot of attention paid to the detail of each party: the wardrobe, decorations, music and especially food. The goal was to make each party feel different and unique, as if each one was trying to top the previous. The film has some dramatic moments, but Geeta wrote some really awesome and quirky characters. The gossiping aunties, drunkles and twindians are really fun to watch.”

Kevin Hickman

What was it like working with director Geeta Malik?

“Geeta is a great collaborator, and I really enjoyed working with her. She was always open to trying new ideas and opinions, but never lost sight of what she wanted the film to be. She poured a lot of her soul into this film, and it comes across on the screen, so I’m excited the film is being recognized by The Tribeca Film Festival. I’m looking forward to seeing what her follow up is. Also, a big congratulations to producers Naomi Depres, Mark O’Connor and Kilian Kerwin, whose hard work and laser focus were instrumental in getting the film finished during a pandemic.”

You took over editing duties. How did that work?

“It’s always difficult coming onto a film mid-stream because you’re not privy to the history of the edit, so it took a few weeks to find my bearings. I would want to try out an idea, only to discover that it had already been done or rejected, so I watched older edits to see the evolution of the cut, which was really helpful. 

“There is a scene in the film where our main character, Alia, is talking to her friend Rahul in the basement, and there is tension on whether they’ll hook up or not. There was a specific beat that we toiled over for months with multiple versions and input from all of the creatives. We were up against a deadline to picture lock, and we still had issues with this moment in the film. I re-watched about 30 versions of this scene, including the original assembly, and put together a version based on an idea from an earlier cut. It was approved and that was the last picture change we made on the film. 

“Sometimes you can get a fresh perspective by watching an earlier iteration of a scene. But the most challenging approach was putting the final touches on the film during lockdown. When you’re in the same room with someone, you can try an idea in 10 or 15 minutes. But working remotely, you first discuss the idea on Zoom, then work it in the Avid, export a QuickTime, upload it, wait for it to be viewed, receive notes and repeat. At times, it could take several hours to do what would normally takes significantly less time. 

“Obviously we weren’t the only film that struggled with this new work dynamic, and eventually it became more efficient. But the in the early weeks of the lockdown, it was a major adjustment to how we worked.” 

What is next for you?

“I’m currently finishing up a horror film called The Windigo, which is expected to be released later this year. We just recently completed our sound mix and (are) currently cutting in the last VFX shots, so I’m looking forward to getting this film out there, hopefully around Halloween.”