Gummaluri Sastry (Gummuluru N. Sastri) and Meer Abdulla, engineers and residents of the Washington District, attracted rave reviews in India for their first film, "Padamati Sandhya Ragam," a recent release that was made mostly in the Washington area. Now in planning is a series of cable productions on various aspects of American and Indian culture, arts and places of importance, to be shown in the United States and in India and other developing nations.
"We want to educate India about America and America about the good things that India can offer," said Abdulla, 30.
A number of Indian films are made in this country every year, with scenes shot in popular settings around Hollywood. These are high budget films with crews of film professionals camping in the United States for months. Sastry, 50, and Abdulla have declined offers to participate in the higher budget Indian films that are shot in the United States and aimed at making big money back in India. They choose instead to be independent filmmakers.
"We want to hold regular jobs, work on low budget education projects, retain the freedom to work at our own pace and to choose any artist we think fit," Abdulla said. There is a unique philosophy behind their endeavors.
"We have been in the U.S. for years and this country has been good to us," Sastry said. "In return to its hospitality, we feel obligated to celebrate its greatness before the world. In addition, as part of the Indian community, we want to preserve and exhibit the Indian arts and heritage."
Before making "Padamati Sandhya Ragam," Sastry and Abdulla worked together on stage in their leisure time, with Sastry directing the plays and Abdulla playing the lead role. From the amateurs who worked with them on stage, they put together a team of artists and crew, all holding full-time jobs and willing to work odd hours in making the film. The film was completed in two months on a budget of $200,000, with most of the scenes shot in the houses and shops of friends and neighbors. The cast of the film was half American and half Indian.
The lead characters, Tom and Shanti, fall in love, and Shanti decides to marry Tom despite the racial misgivings of Shanti's orthodox father, played by Sastry. However, Tom and Shanti fall into bitter arguments when Tom insists on holding their wedding in a church and Shanti insists on being married in a temple, the Hindu place of worship. The final message is delivered by Abdulla when he persuades them to marry once in each tradition. He explains to them that "whether you approach Him through Jesus, Krishna or Allah, God is one and the same. White, black or brown, we all belong to one universal family, the family of God."
Encouraged by the success of their maiden venture, Sastry and Abdulla are now working on a cable production, "Dances of India," being made for the American audience. The project is almost complete - on a budget of $300!!
They plan to syndicate the project to major television networks in the country. Among the six dancers who performed for the program are an American, two Indian Americans and three Indians. The program demonstrates the generic and the distinguishing features of different styles of Indian classical dance as they have been practiced for centuries. It ends with the latest innovation in this fluid art form, on a theme of "East meets West," which is a musical experimentation of an Indian musician, Anand Shankar, a nephew of the celebrated composer and musician, Ravi Shankar. Anand Shankar composed music with a combination of Eastern and Western musical instruments, to illustrate that music in its most elemental form, whether it is Eastern or Western, follows the same fundamental principles. From this concept, an experimental dance form evolved, gracefully blending the Indian classical and the contemporary Western styles of dance. This form of dance is now gaining popularity in India.
The two engineers say their future pursuits in art will involve a series of television episodes on America, the first of which will be on Washington. Also planned is a documentary on Williamsburg as a model of a proud preservation of a nation's history.
Sastry sums up: "We are doing this as a hobby, a fun pursuit and an artistic preoccupation. This hobby is very demanding on time and energy, but we believed in ourselves and we have been successful."
Author: Aziza Khan in WaPo dated Sep 21, 1989