It was mid-2002, i landed in Baltimore Airport a day ahead of the team. An eclectic team of 2 Telugus, 2 Marathis, a Tamil, a Gujju, a Bengali and a Delhite was put together to work on a short-term project. The policies wouldn't let company place all its eggheads in one plane, so we landed at our destination at different times. Later i met the Marathi folks and worked up a conversation. From them I found out that the second Telugu in our team was a National award winning movie director.
The intensity of magnetic attraction (also called వేలం వెర్రి) Telugus feel towards movies, stars or starmakers is rivalled in intensity only by Tamilians' star worship. Telugus and Tamils are teeming masses of movie-buffs, many born that way and if not, quickly and quietly assimilated into the folds. Only a groupie from such groups can understand the wonderment that whooshed through me hearing the news. Few other details quickly trickled in - Dollar dreams and Sekhar Kammula were name dropped. I had heard about Dollar Dreams, knew it had a decent run in Sangeeth, Hyderabad - beyond that my movie GK drew a blank. But now i was curious to know more.
A few hours later i met Sekhar Kammula and slotted him real quick as a simple hyderabadi with no filmy airs but one burning passion. "ఈ జాబ్ లో కెరియర్ గ్రోత్ ఇవ్వన్నింట్లో నాకు ఇంట్రస్ట్ లేదు" he said. A completed script save a few finetunes at hand (my guess, it was మంచి కాఫిలాంటి సినిమా in the making) and a lot of ideas was what he had to feed that passion. His simplicity, openness and a marked dislike towards overt aggression in business meetings or casual discussions, easily made him the easiest-going type in the team.
The team came together as close group really quickly, thanks mostly to the presence of 2 freshers and their endless enthusiasm. With having fun as the motif plans for Friday evenings and weekends were put together at a quick pace and then debated and agreed upon. Very few notable places in and around Baltimore and Washington DC were left out; Rental cars were utilized to the fullest possible extent as weekly fun times were ordered in. And to work away the weekday stress, Tennis sessions were relied upon.
Once on a weekend, during a tiresome search for parking and then during a tiring walk from the Washington Memorial to White house, Sekhar regaled us with a few shortfilm stories scripted and filmed by his fellow classmates in Howard University (not Harvard as some Telugu websites mistakenly mention). One story was about a newly married bengali couple visiting DC, roaming the lanes chipak-chipak-ke and having a good time. And then they get separated accidentally. The film captures the bride's contrasting emotions about DC before and after the separation. Another one about 2 parallel stories of a lady and a girl sharing the same name. The film takes us through an incident rendered suspensful because of mistaken identities.
Later, Sekhar gave us video cassettes of his "Dollar Dreams". In the movie, the last scene is an important one, it shows us the protagonist's decision on Dollar Vs Rupee dreams. Sekhar makes an appearance in that scene too. The only glitch? It comes after THE END card is flashed. Sekhar told us that the placement of that scene wasn't good - he realized the mistake after the movie's release.
12 weeks later, we all headed back to India to our respective cities and offices. I met Sekhar again in Chennai, he came there to meet our దాదాగిరి project manager. He mentioned about the finalized script, and his on-going work on finalizing the cast. I wished him the best. A few months later, i moved to the US. Sekhar had already left the company on a sabbatical to focus on the movie full time. I received reports about his hard work on the movie later from a mutual friend. A few months later Anand was released. I kept checking idlebrain (the website Sekhar introduced me to..) for a review and updates but an unending focus on Shankardada MBBS was all i found there. May be Sekhar made a mistake deciding to take a big budget movie head-on. Or may be not! 2 Weeks after Anand's release the word was out and slowly catching on. It was the same verdict Sekhar joyfully shouted out when i called him a week later. "SUPERHIT". And a well deservered at that.
Since then i didn't get a chance to speak with him, not until recently. But in the meantime I saw him once as an autodriver in a blink-and-gone role in Anand and heard him through the animated dog in Godavari. The other day i called him to congratulate on Godavari's success. Though he was busy with some story discussions (of "Happy days" i guessed later), he stepped out and spoke for a while. The same old, no pretensions, no filmi-airs kind of talk. Good!
I later read that "Happy days" is a story of college-going students and that Sekhar is working on showing us college students in a different light. Given the unbelievable amount of trashed dished out at us in the name of college humour (it all started with unwatchable Prema Desam, i think), it would be good to have a refreshing perspective from a nice guy and a good director like Sekhar. I am sure we will be saved of silly cliched Brahmanandam type students and helpless but vulgar MS Narayana type lecturers in Happy days. Expect a realistic, humorous and interesting portrayal of college life - you'll get it. Here's welcoming Happy days and wishing Sekhar all success.