Not many Bollywood filmmakers know him but he’s BIG down South. He also has a signature style, which focuses on content and brooks no interference. That’s why he prefers to cast lesser-known actors or newcomers in his movies. And he has been delivering successful movies one after another. Sekhar Kammula’s funda is very clear – don’t go overboard with the budget; rather, make a profit by delivering quality content and turning it into a visual treat. Kammula is all set to remake Hindi blockbuster Kahaani in Telugu and Tamil. Produced by Endemol India in association with Moving Pictures, this remake is expected to go on the floors early next year. Let’s hear about the remake and much more from the man himself
Are you a fan of Bollywood?
Hard to say… but I do watch some Hindi films whenever I find the time. Like, I am waiting for Salman Khan’s Dabangg 2. It’s, like, Salman Ka Dabangg… you somehow enjoy watching his films. Watch them for pure entertainment, don’t use your brain. And, recently, I enjoyed watching OMG-Oh My God! It was a lovely film.
Have you watched Kahaani? What made you choose this film for the remake?
I didn’t watch the film when it released although I had heard about it. Then I was offered to remake it and I watched it. Since I was already aware of the suspense element, it didn’t catch my attention. I have done some sensible films in the South and several women-oriented films. In my films, the woman’s character is very central. In Kahaani, a woman takes the film forward. The genre also caught my eye. I have made political films, romantic comedies, youth-oriented films but suspense is a genre I have never approached.
Last but not the least, I loved the way the director has portrayed the city. The strong presence of Kolkata held my attention because we have similar locations in Hyderabad, which is also an old city. Also, the ISI plays a special role in Hyderabad. So there are many similarities.
You’re a writer too. Will you make some changes in the Telugu version?
It will be an adaptation and I will be working on the script. The flavour will remain the same but not everything. I will try to make the film with Hyderabad as the backdrop. I have seen the film just once but I don’t think I will watch it again so that I can make it in my own style.
Kahaani is also being made in English by Yash Raj Films. Does that put any pressure on you? Also, now that the plot is known, how differently will you present it in Telugu?
I don’t take on pressure and, yes, I have heard that YRF is making it in English. Of course, it will not be the same as Kahaani, scene-by-scene. I will bring in new twists and turns and also a new suspense but I can’t talk about them now.
Will you be casting Vidya Balan or someone else?
We are still working on the script, so it’s hard to say who I will cast, whether a newcomer or an established actress. I always write the script first and then decide on casting. In Kahaani, apart from the main lead, the supporting cast too was very strong and I personally give importance to that.
If you watch my films down South, I have mostly worked with newcomers unless the script demands a superstar. All my character actors have an important part to play. I always give the script more importance than the cast, and when writing a story, I never think about casting. After I finish the script, I begin the casting process and I usually end up casting new faces, who can get into the skin of the character.
Like when I was casting for Happy Days, I couldn’t cast anyone who didn’t look like a college student. I didn’t want to force the audience to believe they looked like college kids. I know this needs a lot of effort but, then, there are pros and cons to everything. Like, when I cast newcomers, they didn’t have a market at that time and I had to push the film real hard. So I cast seven to eight new faces including Tamanna Bhatia.
Did you train them?
Yes, that’s what I do when I cast a newcomer; I train them. We put them together, train them, work on the script, on their language. I took them away from their homes, to a resort, for two months.
Sounds like the TV series Bigg Boss?
(Laughs) Almost like that. I gave them two months so that they could bond. That way, the chemistry looks real on screen rather than artificial.
How different do you think the South audience is from the rest of the Indian audience?
I don’t think they are very different. Perhaps they look for more entertainment compared to the Bollywood audience. That’s why most Telugu films are massy films.
What do you have to say about the Hindi film industry?
I think ‘100 crore’ is the current scenario in the Hindi film industry. Achieving 100 crore in the South market is a little difficult and you can reach that mark only if you make a film with superstar like Rajinikanth. What is also exciting in the Hindi film industry is that, despite the 100 crore films, parallel films like Kahaani are making a mark and doing equally well at the box office. The industry and the audience have opened up to new ideas. Newcomers are getting a platform.
Even the South market is changing with every passing Friday…
(Cuts in) Gone are the days when a film used to complete 50 days or 100 days in the cinemas. These days, it’s just a matter of a week. If your film sustains for even three weeks, consider it a super hit. If it’s a big-star film, it runs for 50 days in single-screens but if a film has to make money, it all happens in the first three weeks. Then we have the satellite market, which is growing. And if a Bollywood producer wants to remake a film, it’s a bonus (Laughs).
Don’t you think the Tamil and Telugu film industries are very similar?
The audience is the same in both the states and big stars are now releasing their films in both languages these days. In the Tamil industry, there are two kinds of films – parallel cinema and commercial cinema. So raw films also work in Tamil, whereas the Telugu industry only has commercial cinema. Everything else is the same.
What’s your take on other regional-language industries?
Once upon a time, Bengali cinema was very strong. In the days of Sharat Chandra, they had a literary bent. Even the Malayalam industry is very strong. We have a big industry in regional cinema plus Bollywood and we churn out so many films every year.
How does the content of Indian cinema stack up against Hollywood movies?
One of my recent films went to Cannes and it was a nice experience but I am not into that because I make films for my audience. In India, we have so many issues, from political to romantic stories, corruption. Everyone has at least three stories to tell. In the West, they don’t have that many stories to tell. There was a time when they made films largely based on war and now they are making films on aliens. If we look back, we had stories on partition, etc. Currently, we have today’s social scenario.
Today, cinema is not restricted to one country and film festivals are giving all types of cinema a platform. Do you plan to reach out to the international market?
I don’t make films on the international level or keeping the international audience in mind. My films are very rooted to my own Telugu audience. Even when I studied abroad, I always thought our films were the best. We have emotions, songs and dance. That’s what I enjoy watching.