By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna: India-born Austrian film director Sandeep Kumar is celebrating spring with a difference this year. He has installed lights and cameras in the heart of the city’s Botanical Gardens to film the first song for his “Servus Ishq” in Bollywood style.
At this time of the year the Hirschstetten Botanical Gardens are a riot of colours with 360,000 spring flowers already in bloom and another 1.5 million summer flowers about to burst to life. Kumar calls it an enchanting backdrop for a movie.
“I could not have asked for more. This is an enchanting backdrop to a romantic song that I will film in different parts of Austria,” Kumar told IANS. The mahurat of “Servus Ishq” or “Hello, Love” was held here at a temple to the chant of mantras and breaking of a coconut.
An Indo-Austrian production, the film is slated for release early next year. “Servus Ishq” is written, produced and directed by Kumar as a musical drama that is a colourful mix of romance, songs and spirituality. It is also the first crossover film to be simultaneously shot in the English, German and Hindi languages.
Kumar is delighted to have Mumbai-based Afroz Khan compose the music for the five songs in the film, two of which are sung by Mohammad Salamat of “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” fame.
“I have so many stories in mind. Most of them are about my own experiences of an Indian living in Austria. I am so comfortable being Indian and Austrian. The delicious taste of feeling at home here and there is a theme close to my heart,” said Kumar whose first film “Kesariya Balam” is the story of a Rajasthani woman reborn in Vienna.
“Kesariya Balam” premiered in Vienna in 2010 and has bagged numerous awards in the country, including the prestigious Austrian National Champion Director award in 2011.
Kumar came to Austria about a decade ago after studying business management in the US and in Germany. For many years he worked as a management consultant during the day and wrote scripts after dark.
Now he has taken a break from his office to film “Servus Ishq” that stars Victoria Nougeria, first time Austrian actress and second year student at the acting school Schaupielschule Krauss here.
“Servus Ishq” is the story of Maya, played by Nougeria, an Indian girl with Austrian roots. Nougeria was chosen after a countrywide audition of 150 contestants for the same part. She has learnt Hindi and Bollywood dance.
In the film, Maya is shown arriving in Vienna from India in the footsteps of a diary left by her late grandmother who was Austrian.
Shot entirely in Austria, “Servus Ishq” traces the pilgrimage of Maya to the picturesque city of Mariazell, about 200 km from here and sacred to Catholics, where she lays her Austrian grandmother’s ashes to rest. During the same journey Maya also finds the love of her life.
“The magnificent church from the 17th century and the Erlaufsee lake nearby serve as yet another spectacular backdrop to our tender love story,” said Kumar of Mariazell.
The inspiration to include the location as part of the film came after his Hindu mother, who also lives in Vienna, told him that she felt like praying at Mariazell.
“I accompanied my mother to Mariazell and experienced a memorable feeling of spirituality. This was a surprise to me. My impression was that spirituality is dead in contemporary Europe,” recalled Kumar.
The song and dance saga is choreographed by Vienna-based Kathak danseuse Neha Kapdi, originally from Mumbai, who also stars in the film.
Kumar’s crew of 25 people is mostly Austrian. Master cinematographer Max Leimstaettner is the director of photography.
Film was always Kumar’s first love, but he was advised to study business management in the hope of enjoying a more stable and profitable profession.
His love for the performing arts goes back to Delhi’s St. Columba’s School, where he was four years junior to Shah Rukh Khan. His most cherished memory remains the sharing of the stage with Shah Rukh when the Bollywood Badshah played the wizard in the school’s version of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”.
While shooting outdoors, onlookers come up to Kumar to ask if he is Shah Rukh Khan. For fans here, Bollywood and Shah Rukh are synonymous.