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Interview with Siva Kumar by Jeevi
Date: 9th January 2006

Siva Kumar - BITS alumnus and a protégé of Mani Rathnam - is making his debut with Siddardha’s Chukkallo Chandrudu. His film is releasing on 14th of January. Siva Kumar tells how he fulfilled his dream of making films. Here are the excerpts -

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Tell us about your background and how you entered into films?
I was born in Mana Madhurai and did schooling over there. I joined BITS Pilani in 1991 and completed by graduation in 1995. Then I went to USA to do MS in Mass Communications with an ancillary in Film Theory in University of Florida. I completed my MS in 1997.

I was always immesely interested in writing. I wrote stage plays when I was studying in BITS. Mani Rathnam’s Roja affected me a lot. I could not sleep the day I watched Roja film. That is when I decided to enter into filmmaking.

Just like an average Bitsian, I too was born in a middleclass family. My father wanted me to study well and do a job that guarantees good living. He wanted me to concentrate more on education and less on extracurricular activities. When I got admission into MS in Mass Communication, I convinced my father that I would work in news channels like CNN when I complete it. But deep down my I heart, I knew that I would become a filmmaker. I procured the phone number of Mani Rathnam through internet in 1996. I penned it down on a piece of paper and started looking at that paper everyday. I did not dare to call then because I want to be perfect on my side when I call him up.

My thesis subject was ‘Comparative study of production technique in Hollywood and Indian Cinema. I attended all film screenings in my campus for those two years. I used to watch 2 films a day irrespective of the languages. The day my thesis subject was approved I decided to call up Mani Rathnam.

On that day, I was in my room with my roommate. My roommate placed coffee in a micro-oven and went into kitchen to bring some sugar. I called up Mani Rathnam and luckily he picked it up. I told him that I am a student of MS and am interested in working with him. He asked me to send him my resume. Then my roommate came out of kitchen and I told him that news. In an impulsive way he said, “My coffee is still not ready. But your future is ready”.

After receiving resume Mani Rathnam called me and asked me if I knew Tamil. I told him that I was in Tamil medium till my +2. He asked me to write a story and send it to him. I wrote a small story in Tamil and sent it to Mani Rathnam. Mani Rathnam asked me to meet him when I come to India after completion of MS. I sent the same story to a popular Tamil Magazine ‘Ananda Vikatan’. Ananda Vikatan published that story.

I completed my MS and returned to India. I took an appointment with Mani Rathnam. He was impressed with me and agreed to take me in direction department. But he asked me to wait for 2 more months as he don’t want to keep me idle without any work or designation. When I told my father about my plans of getting into films, he was worried and asked me about my job in CNN. When I told him that I would be working with Mani Rathnam, my father agreed.

I was hired by Mani Rathnam 20 days before the last schedule of ‘Dil Se’ film. My first day of shoot included the canning of ‘Chayya Chayya’ song. It was a thrilling first day. I was designated to supervise sound effects for Dil Se.

Sakhi was my first complete film as assistant director. Me and Shahid Ali (director of Bunty & Babli) were the assistant directors for that film. I was involved in script, casting and dubbing where as Shahid Ali was involved in art and costumes. The whole unit of Sakhi was comprised of youth barring Mani Rathnam. That is when I saw how my master Mani Rathnam used his creativity in transferring the script on to the screen. After the completion of Sakhi, Mani Rathnam said that we are ready to direct films.

Shahid Ali made his debut as director in Hindi with Saathiya (Hindi remake of Sakhi). Vikram Singh offered me to direct a Tamil film titled Acham Thavir (Fear Not) with Madhavan and Jyothika in the main leads in the year 2001. After a shoot of 20-days, the producer went into deep financial debt due to failures of 3 films he just made. We tried to revive it, but could not manage financial support. That film was shelved.

During the shooting of that film, we went to Syria, Damascus to shoot a song. But none of our crewmembers had passports. When I requested Mani Rathnam for help, he gave me Siddardha. Siddardha came to Syria and we worked together. He was the best assistant director I had seen so far. He became the pillar of strength and we developed deep friendship. That film was stopped and our friendship continued. Since then we used to meet at our houses for coffee and discuss lots of things about filmmaking. Siddardha told me that he got an offer in Boyz as hero.

I did a couple of commercials and money was really good. But I did not want to get lured by money and loose my objective of filmmaking. I went back to Mani Rathnam and joined him again. He appointed me as the chief assistant director for Hindi version of Yuva film. Siddardha worked as an actor in Telugu/Tamil versions.

After the release of Yuva, Siddardha worked for NVNV. After the release of NVNV Siddardha narrated me the story of Chukkallo Chandrudu. He also said that I would be directing that film and he would act. KS Rama Rao asked Siddardha for his dates and Siddardha suggested my name as the director. KS Rama Rao enquired Pani (Mentor of Mani who works in Mani Rathnam’s office) for my credentials. I narrated film to KS Rama Rao and he immediately liked it. But I need a person who knows complete Telugu in writing department. That is where Kona Venkat stepped in. Myself, Siddardha and Kona Venkat sat together to develop the final version of the script. We three share the screenplay credits for CC.

What are you promising the film lovers with your film Chukkallo Chandrudu?
It is going to be a nice entertainer without any serious sociological message in it. It is basically a feel-good film that can be enjoyed by the whole family. The entire film is laced with nice humor. This film relays heavily on the characterizations of ANR, Siddardha, Sada, Charmee & Saloni. Characterizations and performances would make the magic work in Chukkallo Chandrudu.

The strengths of the films are

1. Feel good factor where you can smile and enjoy
2. Performances of lead actors
3. Identifiable moments
4. Music that clicks with the youth

How is it like working with the living legend ANR in your debut film?
He is a true legend with a rich experience of 65 years and all throughout he is on the top. I was very nervous when I went to narrate story to him. After listening to the story, he said that I am like his grandson. But since I am a director, I should be treating him like a kid. The only problem I had with ANR is that he comes to sets even before the prescribed time. That put lots of discipline into us.

How is it like working with a versatile producer like KS Rama Rao?
He looks old in terms of age, but he is pretty youthful at heart. You can see that energy in grueling tasks like locations scouting. He is basically a passionate lover of films. I still remember an incident that happened in our abroad shoot. Since light was fading faster, we shot the film nonstop till 4 pm. I made sure that everybody is offered the food first and then I took the plate as the last person. Then I observed KS Rama Rao still waiting for me to start my food. KS Rama Rao is a true leader and lead us by an example.

Are you nervous about your film’s release?
Result of this film is definitely going to affect me either in a good way or a bad way. Strangely, I am not really nervous. I am the kind of guy who loves the journey. I know that I can control the process, but not the results.

How comfortable are you with Telugu?
I leant Telugu and I would love to Continue in Telugu. For a medium like cinema, language is never a hindrance.

How did BITS help you shaping up your personality?
BITS changed my personality. I improved my English a lot as I came from Tamil medium. It taught me to be positive in life and it made me learn to be independent. I still dream about BITS. BITS gives us flexibility to choose our own profession. And it makes you a global citizen.

My Favorites

1. India: Shivaji Ganesan, ANR, Dileep Kumar and Kamal Hassan
2. Hollywood: Gene Hackman & Robert De Niro

1. Shobha
2. Katharine Hepburn

1. Hollywood: Martin Scorsese (I worship him)
2. India: Guru Dutt, Mani Rathnam, K Bala Chandar and K Viswanath

Best films
List is endless, here are the best among the bests -
1. Pyasa
2. Nayakan
3. Sagara Sangamam
4. Annie Hall
5. Taxi Driver
6. Citizen Kane

What are your hobbies?
1. Reading
2. Listening to all sorts of music
3. Cricket

Are you married?
Yes I am married to Maya,who works in British Counsel in Chennai.

Other Interviews
Venkat Kuchipudi
Rasool Ellore (Cinematographer & Director)
Raju Sundaram (Choreographer)
SS Rajamouli (Director)
Sameer Reddy (Cinematographer)
Marthand K Venkatesh (Editor)
Sayaji Shinde (Villain)
Shashank (Hero)
Gangaraju Gunnam (Producer)
Meghana Naidu (Heroine)
Venkatesh (Hero)
Gowri Mumjal (Heroine)
Deepak (Hero)
Siddardh (Hero)
MS Raju (Producer)
Chiranjeevi (Hero)


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