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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

<img width=”320″ height=”320″ border=0 alt=”” align=”left” hspace=”10″ vspace=”10″ src=/directory/getdata.asp?about_id=c12ca6640ee073daffdf7f1264062b09-1> Few filmmakers acquire the accolades that have been bestowed on Indian-American filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan since the colossal successof his enigmatic 1999 release “The Sixth Sense.” Made on a relativelymodest budget of $40 million, “Sense” went on to become the 10th alltime highest box office smash and instantly elevated Shyamalan into the uppermost echelons of Hollywood’s power elite. The accompanying buzzplaced Shyamalan in the company of such new school luminaries as uentin Tarantino. The rise of a little known Indian-Americanfilmmaker from Philadelphia to such prominence was indeed phenomenal.

Born Manoj Nelliyattu Shyamalan in Pondicherry, India in 1970,Shyamalan’s family moved to Philadelphia when Shyamalan – “Night” tohis American friends – was still a toddler. Growing up in a householdwhere both parents, along with more than a few immediate relatives,were doctors, Shyamalan took up making home movies by the age of nine.

Attending a private school affiliated with the Episcopalian church had to have influenced the religiosity of his work, especially “The Sixth ense.” As an only child, Shyamalan immersed himself in movies Spielberg was an early favorite). As an only child the young hyamalan spent many late nights home alone when both parents were called to work. Shyamalan admits that powerful childhood memories ofseemingly unexplained creaking floors, water drips and window curtain movements have played themselves out in his later preference for haunted domestic interiors as settings for his stories.

After graduating from film school at NYU in 1992, Shyamalan made “Praying with Anger,” which went unnoticed, as did his 1998 entry “Wide Awake.” It wasn’t until Disney took a chance with a relative newcomer and offered Shyamalan “The Sixth Sense” in 1999 that Shyamalan acquired A-list credentials. Bruce Willis, on the lookout for a dramatic stop in the wake for the highly successful space adventure “Armageddon,” readily signed on. That year, only “Star Wars – Episode I” made moremoney than “Sense.” The then-29 year old Shyamalan had arrived. Since then, he also scripted “Stuart Little.” (“I wanted to write a movie for my new baby,” admits Shyamalan.) Shyamalan’s latest film, “Unbreakable,” reportedly budgeted at $65 million, has again raised Shyamalan’s profile.

Entertainment Weekly magazine recently named Shyamalan the 77th most powerful name Hollywood, no small achievement in an industry notorious for stagecraft and behind-the-scenes intrigue, not to mention one until recently highly dominated by white men. Despite Hollywood’s calling, the camera-shy Shyamalan stays far from Hollywood’s triumvirate of theRange Rover-cell phone-power lunch trap by continuing to reside in a highly affluent but quiet Philadelphia suburb, not far from where hegrew up. Shymalan and his wife Bhavna, a child psychologist, have two aughters.

When Shyamalan’s wife rarely-seen wife accompanied her husband to the scars show last spring, more than a few heads turned at the attractive couple in their close-to-the-front-row seats. The fact that his film was nominated was 6 little statuettes probably had something to do with the numerous camera close-ups. While “Sense” didn’t win any Oscars, the handsome 30-year-old filmmaker, sporting black formals, could easily transfer that look into playing a lead in any upscale Bombay or Chennai potboiler of his choosing.

The fame, fortunately, has been accompanied by fortune. After the $3 million Shyamalan received for directing “The Sixth Sense,” adequate in Hollywood for a first-time big budget newbie filmmaker, Shyamalan made a splash by getting $10 million for directing and writing “Unbreakable,” an eye-opening purse that catapulted him to the list of the highest paid screenwriters. However, Shyamalan must have broken a heart or two at Disney when he reportedly turned down Disney’s offer of $20 million to undertake two more Disney projects. The highly ambitious Shyamalan already has his eyes on a bigger prize. Steven Spielberg, Shyamalan’s favorite childhood celluloid deity, and George Lucas, the force behind the “Star Wars” saga, have approached Shyamalan to script what will likely become the fourth Indiana Jones flick. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hollywood’s barely-30 year old goldenboy has dropped hints about insisting that the 50-something Harrison Ford return for the fourth installment in the blockbuster series. With the white-hot streak that Shyamalan is riding, he may just get his wish.

Aniruddh C.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.