Indian origin director creates a bit of Bollywood in Austria

Vienna, Feb 9 (IANS) Indian origin Sandeep Kumar is being feted for bringing a bit of Bollywood into the lives of movie buffs in Austria. He is the producer, director and lead actor of "Kesariya Balam", the country's first crossover film Bollywood style and he is often asked if he is Shah Rukh Khan!

"Kesariya Balam", which is about separation and reincarnation, is Kumar's first feature film, but he has won several awards for short films made by him in the past. The shooting of the film is making news in the country.

"Indian Magic in Vienna" reads one Austrian headline while "Love Without Borders" is splashed across the page of another daily. "Leave Reason and Logic at Home" is the caption in a third newspaper below a photo of the 37-year-old filmmaker, who is a management consultant by profession.

The making of the film is also proving to be a colourful distraction in a country caught in the throes of winter. Apart from inspiring the paparazzi to stalk crew members up a glacier in the Alps and to witness a lusty song and dance sequence filmed beside the river Danube, Max Leimstaettner from the University of Vienna is also recording the making of Kumar's film as a case study for a thesis.

Under the topic "Embedded Industries-Cultural Entrepreneurs in Different Immigrant Communities of Vienna", Leimstaettner is looking at questions like the strategies and networks used to produce art here that is traditionally linked to India.

Yasemin Cetinkaya admits that the winter this year feels a little more bright, and a few degrees warmer as the 23-year-old Viennese spends much of her time on the sets of "Kesariya Balam".

"It is very interesting for me to work for this film. It makes me very happy to be surrounded by so many songs, dancing and colour," Cetinkaya, an ardent Bollywood fan and production in charge, told IANS.

Cetinkaya also plays a small part in the film about an emotional relationship between an Indian dance master, his Indian love and a Viennese actress.

Gerlinde Seitner from the Austrian Film Institute, who visits Kumar on the sets, points out that Oliver Paulus has already made "Tandoori Love", Switzerland's hilarious ode to Bollywood that premiered in Zurich in August 2008.

"It is high time that we Austrians had our own crossover film Bollywood style," said Seitner.

The son of German scholars, Kumar graduated in management studies from a German university and has lived in Austria for nearly a decade. In between his work in the world of finance, Kumar continued to make short films. And Kumar's passion for Bollywood has now become infectious.

"When Kumar asked me if he could use garments from my boutique in the film I promptly agreed. Apart from my love for everything Indian, it is also good publicity for my designs to be seen on screen," Herbert Riegler, Austria's leading fashion designer, told IANS.

While Kumar is happy to have the means to make a feature film, he admits he had never bargained that Bollywood fans here would one day ask him if he is Shah Rukh Khan.

Apart from flattering the feathers off him, the question makes Kumar laugh at the thought that as a child he actually knew Shah Rukh. Kumar was five years junior to King Khan in school and his face lights up as he talks about Bollywood's super star.

In the play "The Wizard of Oz" staged by the students of St. Columbus at Delhi's Kamani auditorium, Shah Rukh was the wizard while Kumar had the role of an extra. He recalls the superstar as a very talented actor who always stood out from dozens of others on stage.

"But he was mischievous and often punished by teachers like Father d' Souza," Kumar says to the delight of Shah Rukh fans in Austria.

Shah Rukh is so popular in Austria that Elke Mader, vice dean of the Cultural Anthropology Department, Vienna University, is investigating both online and offline how happiness evoked by the Indian superstar is expressed and lived as an inter-subjective experience.

Shah Rukh is part of the senior anthropologist's study to explore the emotional networks of Indian cinema fans in Europe.

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