A few things haven’t changed with Sekhar Kammula. You hear about him only when there’s a film up for release. He’s content amid his old world surroundings in Secunderabad and his regular adda is a coffee shop in Somajiguda. Over coffee at this adda , he spoke to us about his new film, reflected on his previous projects and opened up on what shaped his thought process at different stages.
Excerpts from the conversation:
When did the idea of Fidaa come about?
The idea has been there for a while. I wanted to do a story set in the US. I have an admiration for the US where I spent a few years studying and working. Stereotyping creeps in when one looks at NRI characters in our cinema, which I wanted to steer clear of. It’s been a while since I presented a love story. We initially titled this film ‘Musuru’ (drizzle). Fidaa seemed more universal. The game changer was setting a part of the story in Telangana. When I shared a few scenes with my team, my assistant director Chaitanya asked if I remember any love story set in Telangana. We thought about it and felt this was a less explored area.
How did you go about getting the Telangana flavour?
We shot in Banswada in Nizamabad, which has distinct black soil and lush greenery. Instead of using junior artistes for scenes such as a wedding, we wrote down names of about 140 people from nearby villages and called them for the shooting. All the props used were sourced locally. Everything from topography to people contributed to the film. One of Fidaa’s biggest assets is Sai Pallavi.
Sai Pallavi has a huge following after Premam . How did you imagine her in a Telangana character?
I had wanted to cast her for Life is Beautiful . I happened to see her dance performance in the television show Dhee ; she had an arresting presence. At that time, her mother wanted her to focus on studies. Later I was pleasantly surprised to know about her work in Premam . For Fidaa , my only doubt was if she would look too fragile for the character. She came and auditioned and within minutes I was convinced. And I’m lucky to have cast Varun Tej. He’s a good actor and has the charisma to match Sai Pallavi.
Most of your films have strong women characters. Does it come from the women you grew up with and observed?
I grew up in a normal family in Padmarao Nagar. Both boys and girls were brought up equally. I always felt the girls in my family were smarter. To me, both the man and woman have an equal say in a relationship. I cannot write a love story where the hero dominates or stalks the girl.
When you write a love story, do you draw from your experience?
No story is easy and certainly not a love story. I won’t say there’s a lot of me in the film. Usually I complete the script and then my ADs (assistant directors) read it, but this time we debated a lot. My women assistant directors argued with me wherever they felt the characters wouldn’t react the way I had written; I incorporated some of these changes. In Fidaa , the conflict is caused by personalities. I think I’ve managed to put forth a strong thought towards the end and hope girls will love it. I missed that in Anamika .
On hindsight, what went wrong with Anamika ?
Maybe people didn’t like the changes I made to Kahaani . Or maybe I shouldn’t do remakes. Anamika didn’t even make people come to the theatres to see how I would have handled a remake. As a filmmaker, I want to discuss issues — discrimination in the name of gender, caste, race… For instance, when I was in the US, I realised the discrimination Blacks face.
I took up Anamika after the Nirbhaya incident, wanting to show a strong woman protagonist. Wherever I travelled and spoke to college students, I urged them to do more than participating in candle-lit marches. If someone teases a girl, stand up for her. If your sister wants to study, support her. Respect women who work at your home; make coffee when your mom is tired. Begin with small things.
At a broader level, I realised that the film has to be a hit if I want people to listen to issues I articulate. My biggest fear is that people might stop listening to me. Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon — tomorrow people will listen to someone else.
When Leader was releasing, you hoped that it will spark a change in people’s thought process towards corruption. Was it an idealistic approach?
I was both idealistic and enthusiastic. We all go through that phase. Now I’ve learnt to walk the middle path, try to make films that people will like and through which I can say something.
You mentioned that the US opened up your vision to discrimination. Can you elaborate?
I was doing my graduation. One of my friends made a film highlighting how Blacks are caricatured for their curly hair and other physical attributes. Until then, I hadn’t paid attention to it. It also got me thinking how I didn’t know enough about the plight of those who come from difficult backgrounds — caste and social strata.
You don’t seem to be in a rush to make films. What dictates your approach?
I need to be convinced about a story. I take six to seven months to write and then I edit it if it gets too long. I’m happy working at my pace but sometimes I feel the need to step up, especially when I see my daughter eagerly observing if my name gets mentioned among popular filmmakers on radio or other platforms.
Talking of editing, is it true that Fidaa has been trimmed to 2hr 15 minutes from its original duration of 2hr 45 minutes?
Not true. I write in a way that scenes are interlinked and cannot chop something randomly.
Musical : “ Fidaa has music by Shaktikanth and background score by Jeevan, who plays the keyboard for Keeravani. Shaktikanth came up with a number of tunes,” says Sekhar. “I like classical, raga-based tunes. References from old tunes and western country music play on my mind; this coupled with what my story requires finds its way into my films.”
Supporting cast : Fidaa boasts of a strong supporting cast in non-stereotypical parts - Sai Chand, Saranya, child actor Aryan from Florida, Seetharama Sastry’s son Raja and Geeta Bhaskar.
Trusted team : Editor Marthand Venkatesh, cinematographer Vijay C Kumar are part of Sekhar’s trusted team, along with his assistant directors Ravi Kumar, Sulochana, Kishore, Chaitanya and Swaroop.