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April 24, 2000

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'Iím not here to transport people to fantasy land'

Sekhar Kammula A peaceful countenance, intelligent dancing eyes, a confident stride and a pleasing, charming personality. Meet Shekhar Kammula. A man who dares to dream and dreams to launch a thousand dreams.

Dressed in a casual maroon shirt and off-white trousers, he meets us in his tiny and comfortable drawing room. Over a steaming cup of chai, we chat about his first venture, Dollar Dreams, his childhood, likes, dislikes, food and life.

"I am a pucca Hyderabadi," he grins, a boyish grin. "I love everything about the city, the people, the roads, the food -- everything. Thatís why, even after spending six years in the US, I came back... I want to stay here."

Shekhar, as he would like to be called, comes from a close-knit family -- two brothers and two sisters, with him being the youngest of the lot. Petted and pampered? "Yes," he chuckles.

Hina Kausar Alam finds out more...

So, what was childhood like?

Well, Iím from St Patrick's High School and the memories of my childhood are vague. All I have is a broad picture of myself. I was pretty generous. I was very popular in school, because of my generosity... I am an Aquarian, I had a lot of friends.

The dildar type of guy, perhaps?

I was quiet, and was the class leader from standard III to IX. I always supported and protected the boys from the teachers, thatís why I was popular, I think.

Other than that, I have a picture of childhood, seeped in contentment, knit by love. We'd spend our evenings together after coming back from school, sit in the kitchen and tell each other about the day's happenings, while mother gave us something to eat.

What about those college ke din?

Dollar Dreams Oh! Nothing out of the ordinary. I completed my intermediate studies from St Alphonsaís, my engineering from Osmania University... then went through the usual rut of GRE, TOEFL, and landed up at the University of New Jersey in US, where I pursued my degree in software engineering.

While studying, I got in touch with other universities that offered courses in film-making and got myself enrolled at Howard. Those were the best days of my life. Everyone must go the US at least once, experience the life there -- the freedom, the dignity of labour -- come back and utilise it here, to make our land a better one.

So, how did Dollar Dreams happen?

Well, a film makes a social statement. It is watched by millions of people, all across, and the makers have a certain obligation towards society. What I saw was this unnatural craze to go to the US, by Indian youngsters -- each one of them wants to go there, be it for money, freedom, a green card, or to escape peer and parental pressure, whatever the reason -- I realised it was an issue, that needed to be addressed.

So, I began working on a script. I didnít have anything concrete to work on when I came back from the US. I looked around, met a lot of people, talked to them about it. I did not want to undermine anyone or miss out on any of the details. So, I did some research and then went ahead with the script.

I used to work entire nights piecing the script together when I was in Texas. This took three months to complete. Then, began the real grind.

Looking for actors was hell. Movies and cinema are still not looked upon very kindly by people. The people we approached were very apprehensive about the whole project. We even had to put up posters in colleges to find what we were looking for.

Dollar Dreams What made things worse was that nobody knew me. I had no credentials as a director till then. I wondered if the movie would ever be releasedÖ you know, a million thoughts crossed my mind. Finally, after a long search, we found our six main actors.In all we had 86 actors -- a large cast, for a first film. We worked on a Rs 17-20 lakh budget, and completed the shooting in 20 days flat, sometimes running to about eight different locations in a single day. And after spending a month editing, it was finally done!

Looking back, what was the experience like?

The first movie is always special, always different. The spirit, the effervescence, the fervour, the freshness -- it's all there the first time! This movie will always remain extra-special to me, not just because it's my first film, but because of many other reasons.

Kind words and good deeds are eternal. Friends from school, those classmates whom I had supported and protected from angry teachers, stepped forward to help me raise money for my movie, voluntarily! People who I had least expected any assistance from came to my aid. And even though the amount wasnít big or anything, the fact that they were there for me when I needed them the most, touched me deeply and made me very happy. All my friends and relatives had more faith in me and my film, than I did.

What is it that sets you apart from other directors?

Well, Iím here to make a statement, about the ill-practices of society. Unlike art films which are about the lowest rung of people, watched only by the cream of the society, or movies by Ramgopal Varma, Vishwanath, Karan Johar or even Nagesh Kukunoor. Iím not here to transport people into fantasy land. My film will be about the middle-class, aimed at a certain sector of the society. A class apart.

What are you like when you are not behind the camera, directing or seriously typing away at the computer at Citicorp?

Dollar Dreams Hmmm... (smiles) I play cricket with my friends. It's just a chotta-mota game we play. A reason to keep in touch with friends. Once upon a time, I used to play tennis, I represented the state, at the under-14 level. Other than that, I enjoy spending time at home with my parents and siblings.

Sometimes my wife and I go out to watch movies, to lunch or dinner... spend time together. But now sheís angry with me because we havenít been spending enough time together.

I take pleasure in the simple things of life -- sunrises and sunsets, children playing. I like to stand here in my balcony and watch people act and react, observe their conversations... and I use all these points in my movies. I take inspiration from watching people, the real-life characters.

What's your favourite music?

Soft rock... Bryan Adams.

And favourite food?

Dal chawal -- simple.

So what are the dreams now?

Dollar Dreams Well, Iíve almost completed my next script. The film is titled Anand. It means contentment, happiness. Iíve being working on it real hard. I hope the movie shapes out the way Iíve dreamt it.

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