Mirarva Coffee shop, Somajiguda is the usual hangout place for me and Sekhar Kammula whenever we sit for an interview. When I asked Sekhar Kammula that he has to don my hat as an interviewer for idlebrain.com, he gladly obliged. Idlebrain.com presents you the interview of Anish Kuruvilla done by Sekhar Kammula on behalf of idlebrain.com -
After acting, co-directing, exec-producing for so many years, what prompted you to come up with the story of Avakai Biryani?
I am a ‘state of mind’ kind of guy. So my story reflects my state of mind. I could come up with different subjects in different points of my life. During the time of the Godavari shoot, I came up with the idea of ‘Avakai Biryani’. It came very natural to me and it was meant to happen.
When I wrote this story, I had lots of time to think about how I am going to shoot the film. If I were to come up with a story in early my 20’s, I would have gone for fantasy/adventure kind of film. Over the last 10 years of working with you has mellowed me down and I am more mature now.
What were your fears and expectations when you came to narrate the story to me?
When I narrated the story to you, I expected 50/50 chance of you accepting the film. There are some elements that appeal to your sensibilities and some elements are unique to me. The avakai girl character will be liked by you. But there are some elements which might not be liked by you. Lucky, you liked the soul of the story.
Another apprehension I had was the audience’s expectations. They come to theaters expecting a Sekhar Kammula’s movie. But this is entire different from Sekhar Kammula’s earlier films. I believed in the story and stuck to my guns.
Regarding expectations, I wanted to get rid of production hassles in this project. You never had the luxury of not having production issues because you were the director and producer of all your films.
Were you fearful of my involvement in shooting?
No. You involved only during the scripting stage. After I gave you the first draft, you asked for some modifications and by the time I came up with the 3rd draft you were satisfied. So, your involvement in the script is an advantage to me. But, you were never involved during the shooting process. The script of Avakai Biryani is a compilation of two years of my research and notes.
In a way I feel lucky because not many debutant directors get a chance to work with a knowledgeable and passionate producer like you.
Are there any influences of me or other filmmakers on you?
I worked with Mani Shankar, Nagesh Kukunoor and you. Mani Shankar is a technical wizard. I learnt to be passionate about technique of filmmaking from him. Nagesh Kukunoor is obsessed with planning and troubleshooting. I learnt planning, organizing and troubleshooting from him. I learnt the grammar and structure of filmmaking from you.
Which influences of me you have on Avakai Biryani film?
1. Usage of natural dialogues
2. Characterization of heroine (independent and ambitious with personal pride)
3. Taste of music
Why didn’t you hire any of my regular technicians?
Being a new director, I need the sense of control. I worked as an assistant director to the editor Marthand K Venkatesh, the cinematographer Vijay C Kumar and the music directors KM Radha Krishnan / Micky J Meyer. If I work with any of these people, I can’t be demanding. I want to work at the same level with them. I can’t sit in the studio and make a film. My films are made over a cup of coffee in café or over a dinner.
I could have taken the same technical team that worked for Happy Days and fallen back on the reputation of your earlier films. But I want to be independent.
Were you afraid to tell me that Kamal would be hero when you narrated the script?
Yes, I was little apprehensive about your reaction when I proposed the name of Kamal Kamaraju for the male lead. But with Kamal, I can demand a lot. Kamal carried the entire film on his shoulders.
Do you know the budget of the film?
No. I don’t know how much it cost to make Avakai Biryani.
How man cans of negative did you use to shoot?
I wanted to shoot the entire film in 60 days, but ended up shooting it for 85 days. My target was to use 250 cans, but ended up using 385 cans. But it is still less than what you have exposed in your films - Anand (400 cans), Godavari (500 cans) and Happy Days (500 cans). Each can have a raw film of 400 feet.
Avakai Biryani is a small-town story. But you are a Malayali brought up in Hyderabad city. What was the biggest challenge for you?
I am worldly-wise though I am born and brought up in Hyderabad. I am not an upper-class guy. The biggest challenge in the film was to make it authentic without being artsy. And I had to do the balancing act between authenticity and commerciality.
The title of Avakai Biryani sounds more like a comedy?
Avakai Biryani is not a comedy film. It is a romantic and coming of age drama. There are a few moments that make you smile/laugh when you watch the film. Avakai Biryani makes you understand a fusion between two cultures/traditions. Avakai Biryani is the title that captures the mood and the philosophy of the film. It is a wholesome, healthy, tasty and delicious film.
What do you think is my best film so far?
Godavari! When you first narrated the story to me, it did not make a sense at all. It took me lot of time to visualize what you meant. The entire exercise is like understanding marine engineering and physics of shooting on a boat. Godavari experience made me what I am today. It is very close to my heart and is a landmark period in my life.
How do you compare Godavari with Avakai Biryani?
It is like comparing your own kids. Godavari is like an elder son. Avakai Biryani is a new born baby.
Do you expect any awards for Avakai Biryani?
I try not to think about awards. My focus is now on to make Avakai Biryani a box-office success. The critics and audiences response is important to me now.
How did the censoring go?
Avakai Biryani got a clean U certificate. They gave me four audio cuts and one visual cut. I had to delete a reference to a particular community in those four audio cuts. There is a full-blown-kiss in the film and that visual was deleted. There is lot of poetry in that kiss. You told me that this kiss will beat the Geetanjali’s kiss scene. It was sweetly done. It makes me sad that the visual was deleted.
Why the kiss part was not there in the script you gave me?
It comes as a montage scene in ‘Ninnu Choodagala’ song at ‘Tapanedo aagena’ lyric. I told you while narrating the song, you seem to have forgotten.
Were there any tense moments during the shoot of Avakai Biryani?
1. We were shooting in a highway which falls under forest reserve. In the middle of night, some people came and asked us to pack up. One guy was forcibly taking the camera. I resisted him in order to protect the camera. He hit me and I hit him back. I went into the car that carrying girls. They broke the car glass and asked me to step out. They took me hostage for the entire night.
2. There is an auto-race sequence. We did not hire any action director for that sequence. In one such scene, the auto toppled and I fell on my assistant director Suri. And Suri had to be hospitalized for the next six months undergoing physio-therapy. I felt bad. I am happy that Suri is normal now. This incident taught me not to take risks. I should have hired an action director for chase sequence.
What does Avakai Biryani means to you?
Everyone wants to his/her personality and identity. I made Avakai Biryani to express my identity.
Why did you choose ‘O Auto Driver Story’ as the tagline to the film?
It sets the right kind of expectations for the film. It tells that it is not a comedy. Avakai Biryani film revolves around the love, life, struggles and aspirations of an auto driver in a small town.
What is your gut feel of Avakai Biryani that is releasing tomorrow?
I am feeling nervous. I am confident and at the same time apprehensive. Avakai Biryani is a small film with a big heart. I narrated the story in my way. I am little nervous about people comparing my film with your earlier films.
What will you do if the film becomes a super hit or if it did not do well?
If it’s a hit, I will be happy. Otherwise, I will get on with my work.
You are dedicating Avakai Biryani to your parents?
When I told my parents that I want to enter film industry 10 years ago, they were disappointed. But, they let me do what I wanted to. My debut film Avakai Biryani means a lot to them. Hence I am dedicating it to my parents.
Whose comments on your film you are waiting for?
I have a bunch of friends in USA. They are ruthless when it comes to films. I am expecting their honest opinion.
Why should people watch Avakai Biryani?
Avakai Biryani is a good story filled with noble ideas and ideals thoughts. This film will send a very strong and positive message to the society. It is narrated like a fable/fairy tale. It is a 2:20 hours film which you will not regret watching.
What is your next project after Avakai Biryani?
I am a moment kind of guy. Avakai Biryani’s commercial fate will determine my destiny.
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