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Indian-American Filmmaker Offers Comedy, Car Crashes

Indian-American filmmaker Jay Chandrasekhar is being called one of Hollywood's most promising young directors. His comedy Dukes of Hazzard, which was released in August, features police chases and car crashes, ingredients that made it one the summer's moneymakers. The director learned his craft on small independent films, but is feeling at home in the big-budget world of Hollywood.

He has a very traditional Indian name, Jayant Jumbulingham Chandrasekhar, but Jay, as he likes to be known, has his finger on the pulse of young American moviegoers.

He says his parents, both doctors, long ago gave up the idea of his attending medical school. He took time off from studies at Colgate University in upstate New York to go home to Chicago and learn stand-up comedy.

"So I did that for nine months and I decided, OK, I'm getting laughs, and maybe I can give it a shot," he recalled. "So I went back to school and started a comedy group, which was a sketch group."

His comedy troupe, called "Broken Lizard," mixed stage sketches with videos. After graduation, the group's members moved to New York City to get more serious about filmmaking. Jay took a film class, learning how to load and use a camera. The group made a half-hour film, then an independent feature. For financing, Jay turned to his parents.

"I raised money through my parents and many of their doctor friends, my uncles," he explained. "I knew a lot of doctors, and I so I hit them each up for $5,000, $10,000."

In increments of $5,000 to $10,000, he finished the film, using himself and his friends as actors. The low-budget picture took first place at the Hamptons Film Festival, and the attention brought the group more than $1 million in funding for their next film.

Called Super Troopers, the comedy about bumbling state police became a cult favorite after its release in 2001.

More funding came for a bigger-budget movie, a horror comedy called "Club Dread," released last year.

Then came a call from Warner Brothers Studio, which tapped the young director for a high-profile feature, Dukes of Hazzard.

Based on a popular television show from 20 years ago, the comedy follows three young friends who try to thwart a crime lord in fictional Hazzard County, Georgia. The film stars pop singer Jessica Simpson and features veteran actor Burt Reynolds and country music star Willie Nelson.

The film's budget was $50 million.

"It was a big jump. In Super Troopers, we had four police cars, and we broke two of them on the first day," he noted. "In Dukes of Hazzard, we had 35 police cars. And we'd trash them, send them into the shop, and they kept coming back out again."

Warner Brother didn't mind the repair bill. Dukes of Hazzard earned more than $30 million its opening weekend alone. It will come out on DVD in December.

The director says a big-budget film is no more difficult to make than a small-budget movie. He says the financing gives him a high caliber crew, professional stunt coordinators, more room to experiment and less need to compromise, especially with car crashes.

"Jump it, flip it, blow it up. Your first idea can be realized, and it's nice," he explained.

The entertainment industry journal Variety has named Jay Chandrasekhar one of the young directors to watch in Hollywood. At 37, he is just settling into new offices on the Warner Brothers lot, getting ready for his next film, a comedy called Beer Fest, which is also aimed at a young audience.

What else is down the road for the young director? He says expect more high-energy movies and more car crashes, which audiences love.

"I think that one thing is very universal for everybody. Everybody loves to look at the bottom of a car as it flies over your head," he added.