Chicago ‘CA$H’es in on indie film scene

By Luke Wilusz

The spicy aroma of authentic Indian cuisine filled the lobby as the chatty crowd mingled and enjoyed drinks and appetizers. Cameras clicked and flashed as filmmakers and their guests walked the red carpet to talk about why they were all there that night: “CA$H.”

Columbia’s Office of Alumni Operations held a red carpet Chicago premiere for the film “CA$H” at the BIG Cinemas Golf Glen 5, 9180 W. Golf Road, in suburban Niles on April 7. The film was produced by Columbia alumnus Naveen Chathappuram.

“I’m really humbled,” Chathappuram said about the premiere. “I’m observing all this. I’m experiencing it. I’m just trying to hold on to the experience because I know it’ll be a blink, and then I’ll be doing something else. I’m just trying to soak it in right now.”

Chathappuram attended Columbia as a film major from 1996 to 1997 before leaving to pursue a career opportunity on a film called “Beyond the Soul,” which was released in 2001.

“I didn’t enter as a producer,” he said. “I just followed a director, but I helped him finance it and I helped him put it together. By the time I was done with it, I had ended up producing a film. So I didn’t know I was a producer until I was done.”

Chathappuram was largely responsible for convincing director Stephen Milburn Anderson to shoot “CA$H” in Chicago.

“He loved Chicago,” he said about Anderson. “It was the first time he came here. The only thing was, he wanted me to prove that there were A-list crew here, and as soon as he found that he was convinced.”

Anderson, who wrote the film in addition to directing, said he had originally intended to set it in Los Angeles. However, his visit to Chicago convinced him that the city was a better fit for his characters.

“I really thought that this movie would be better served to shoot in Chicago than L.A.,” Anderson said. “It’s the people who live here and want to be here—I go to a restaurant in Chicago and a waiter is a waiter, and not a frustrated actor—so this common couple [in the film] seemed like it would be more at home in Chicago. I was won over completely.”

Richard Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office, said “CA$H” reflects the strength of the city’s vibrant independent film community.

“It stresses Chicago’s identity as a home for independent filmmakers,” Moskal said. “But for that film to be such a Chicago production, and then to get national, if not international distribution, I think just further cements Chicago’s reputation as a place independent filmmaking can thrive.”

Anderson said he plans to shoot his next picture here. However, he expressed hopes that Chicago would remain an indie film town and avoid exploitation by large, Hollywood studios.

“Chicago’s always been used [in movies], but not over-used,” he said. “L.A. is over-used. New York is over-used. Chicago is a gem, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Moskal said there has been a growing trend of film and television production in recent years.

“The local independent film making community is really making great advances,” he said. “A growing number of films have gotten national distribution, which is a big thing for an independent film. If nobody sees your film, they don’t know that it was even made, so that type of success is only going to give the whole filmmaking community a huge boost in credibility.”

Zeenat Desai, the film’s media director, is an alumna of Columbia’s public affairs journalism program. She said the film garnered international attention early on, and that became its marketing focus. She said the film will be distributed in 21 territories worldwide.

“We saw that much of this fan base was international, being that Sean Bean is a UK star and Chris Hemsworth is Australian,” Desai said. “So eventually, when we took the film to the Cannes Film Festival, we saw that there was a very high international interest in the film.”

“CA$H” was released in select theaters on April 9. For more details, visit