Friends and filmmakers Sekhar Kammula and Anish Kuruvilla discuss the making of Anaamika and giving Kahaani a new spin

The enthusiasm is unmistakeable as Sekhar Kammula gets talking about one of his most important films till date, Anaamika (Nee Enge En Anbe in Tamil). “I know I’ve done a good job. The film has been shot beautifully and is driven by storytelling. I am eager to see how people will accept a film that has no commercial trappings of a comedy track and a few songs,” he says.

While making the film, Sekhar forgot the original, Kahaani, and hopes the audience will also view it as an independent project. More than a remake, he’d like to call it an adaptation with fresh writing. “When the producers approached me to make this film, I was hesitant. The first idea was to make it in Tamil and then the bilingual prospects came up since it made business sense. People had already watched and liked Kahaani, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it again,” he says.

Around the time, the gruesome incident involving a 23-year-old in Delhi shook the collective consciousness of the nation. Sekhar wanted to make a film that voices his thoughts on women. He mulled over many ideas while he was busy with the ‘I care, I react’ campaign but none of these ideas lent themselves to a film. Then, he considered the offer of adapting Kahaani. “The good old way of filmmaking is the process where a production house approaches a director for a project. Here I had producers willing to back a bilingual project centred on a woman, so I thought why not,” adds Sekhar.

He took the help of writer Yandamuri Veerendernath to give a new spin to Kahaani and this is where a crucial decision was made — to not show the protagonist as a pregnant woman. “Motherhood and pregnancy draw different reactions, from respect to sympathy. I didn’t want the audience to look at the character with “aiyyo paapam” kind of sympathy. I wanted to see how a normal woman placed in an extraordinary situation would be accepted,” explains Sekhar. He feels the viewers will get over the Kahaani déjà vu in a few minutes and keep guessing what the new climax will hold. This is where Kahaani’s tag line ‘a mother of a story’ is in for a change.

In the Telugu version, Nayantara is an ethical hacker who comes from the US in search of her husband. In the Tamil version, she is a Tamil Brahmin navigating the alluring yet mysterious lanes of Hyderabad’s Old City in search of her husband. “She is neither fluent in Telugu nor Hindi. Long after making the film, I felt it had parallels with Mani Ratnam’s Roja,” he adds.

Vaibhav does the cop act that brought Bengali actor Parambrata Chatterjee into Bollywood’s spotlight and Pasupathy reprises Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s part. “They have all performed well and in addition, the cast includes several newcomers from the Old City,” cites Sekhar. He is happy he got to explore the Old City and its many layers. “A few Telugu films have tried it before but stopped at the surface level,” he says.

Sekhar is unmindful of reports that Nayantara was initially reluctant to promote the film and credits her for a mature, winning performance that will put all comparisons with Vidya Balan to rest.

Music and a thriller

M.M. Keeravani and Sirivennela Sitarama Sastry stepping into the project drummed up curiosity for Anaamika. How will their brand of music befit a thriller? That, feel Sekhar Kammula and his friend and filmmaker Anish Kuruvilla, will be the surprise factor. Anish and his team shot a video Raagam, thaalam, pallavi to show the creative thought process of Sekhar, Keeravani and Sirivennela.

“I am not sure when the three of them will work together again, I thought these moments had to be captured for posterity,” says Anish. The video was shot after the song-making process was over.

“I asked them to re-enact their discussions and music sessions and called it ‘re-mastering’. They were so involved that it looked like an organic process. The video is just a peek into a longer version I have in mind for a DVD. There are many cinephiles out there eager to know how a director goes about his work. I thought it will be of interest,” says Anish.

Anish and Sekhar go back a long way, supporting each other’s projects in various capacities. “I was away for seven months in Kerala working on my Malayalam film. When I returned, Sekhar showed me the first half of the film, I had no corrections whatsoever to suggest with the music. Keeravani has done a splendid job,” says Anish. He agrees the video is a good way to draw people’s attention away from Kahaani. “Sekhar has brought in his own thought process to the film,” he says.

Sekhar sums up saying, “With Anaamika, I’ve moved away from the romantic musicals I’m known for. My films have always had strong, independent women and with this thriller, I’ve taken that aspect forward.”