The 60th birthday couldn’t have been more memorable for actor Sai Chand-it was the day when Sekhar Kammula approached him to play a father to Sai Pallavi in Fidaa . He didn’t foresee a film comeback and wondered if he still had it in him to be an actor. A reluctant Sai Chand even called his Maa Bhumi director Goutham Ghose to confirm, “Do you think I can still act after a 25-year sabbatical?”. The director replied, “Acting’s like walking or cycling. It’s something that stays with you forever.” Sai Chand had never been a father in reality, he wasn’t sure if he could pull off the role with enough authenticity. Sekhar Kammula’s insistence overpowered his hesitation and he didn’t look back later.
“The start was a nervous one. I felt like a newcomer. The rehearsals were of great help. Sai Pallavi and I bonded instantly.” It was a part where he had to be a mother and a father to the daughters. He had to internalise the role, for he didn’t have a personal reference to the character. “My father (writer Gopichand) had expired when I was about 6 or 7 years old and I didn’t know how beautiful fatherhood could be until I did this role,” the actor mentions.
Actors Sai Pallavi and Saranya had begun calling him ‘naana’ off sets too, sparking off an emotional journey that he still can’t get enough of. “I became a father-figure to everyone on sets since I was the oldest among the crowd. I have been receiving a lot of calls from people in the US saying that they had connected a lot to my character. What more can I ask for?” A cool on-set atmosphere helped actors deliver their best. “I was reminded of my films with Bapu and Vamsee. I knew Sekhar Kammula was a good storyteller, but he’s as good a human being too. I never saw him shouting and worrying about anything in a year’s time.” That Sekhar had focused on the lifestyle of the middle class Telangana society, helped the film’s cause, he feels. “He captured Telangana beyond its revolutionary dimension and showed how normally families here live.” It was 30 years ago that he went to a village near Banswada to shoot for a Doordarshan series on his father’s short stories. “The kids in the village whom I met then are grown up men now, who came to Fidaa sets with their children to meet me and recollect old memories.”
Did he miss acting all these years? “Till Ankuram , I had only acted in films where I felt I must be a part of it. I was getting a lot of roles later too. But Doordarshan gave me a chance to take my father’s stories to a wider audience. I got to make a lot of documentaries on the Diamond Jubilee phase of Telugu cinema, I had the privilege to interact with everyone from a Marcus Bartley to Suryakantham to Saluri Rajeswara Rao.” He had opportunities from UN knocking his door to make social documentaries. These stints took him to villages and helped him understand our roots. “This was a side I was never exposed to, given I was brought up in a city environment.” His only regret is about burning his hands with a home production that never got completed in the 80s. “I got carried away and I understood filmmaking wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed to be.”
He’s been flooded with a lot of acting offers post Fidaa ’s release, but Sai Chand plans to go slow. “ Fidaa gave me so many beautiful memories. I keep calling Sai Pallavi and Saranya and continue to converse like a father.
I had never regretted not marrying and not being a father, this stint made me feel otherwise. I want to stay in this space for a while before I take up anything else.” Sai Chand even plans to come up with a book ‘My Pretty Daughter’ on his Fidaa experience soon.