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Interview with Teja by Jeevi

: 2nd June 2002 Venue: Rama Naidu Studios
Other Interviews
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Milind Soman (Hero)
Arunima Roy (Producer)
Mani Shankar (Director)
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RP Patnaik (Music Director)
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Karunakaran (Director)
Sri (Music Director)
Gudipoodi Srihari(Film Critic)
SJ Surya(Director)
AM Ratnam(Producer)
Tammareddy Bharadwaja(Producer n Director)
Jayant C Paranji(Director)
Kodi Rama Krishna(Director)
Chakri (JD Chakravarthy)(Hero)
Ramana Gogula(Music Director)
Naga Babu(Producer n Actor)

From a cinematographer (Raatri, Antham, Money etc.) to a sensational director (Chitram, Famliy Circus, Nuvvu-Nenu) Teja has come a long way. He has defied the myth of stardom by coming up with new formulas for movie direction with his movies. Made within a shoestring budget, Chitram resurrected the position of Usha Kiron movies, which returned to movie production after a brief hiatus, as one of the top banners in Telugu film industry. Coming from Varma School, Teja like his mentor has always welcomed new talents (RP Patnaik, Kula Sekhar, Usha, Uday Kiran, Reema Sen, Anita, Nitin, Sada(f) and others) to work for his movies. met Teja at Rama Naidu Recording Theater, where he was busy with the DTS work of his latest venture Jayam. He squeezed an hour from his busy schedule to please his fans and visitors of for this exclusive interview. Teja, like his name, is a fiery guy with the guts to speak his mind out without any qualms. Here are the excerpts from his frank and furious interview -


Tell us about your background and your journey towards the making of Chitram

I was born in Madras (now known as Chennai). I belong to a very poor family. I lost my mother at an age of three. I don't even remember how she looks like. Somebody showed me a photograph and asked me to pay homage and I was told that the lady in that photograph is my mother. My father was addicted to alcohol and he also expired when I was a kid. I have an elder sister and a younger sister. Our relatives adapted each one of us. But one of our relatives joined my sister in an orphanage. So I came out of my house and joined as a lorry cleaner to make my living. My sister joined the relative's house from which I came out. I worked for years as a lorry cleaner to earn my bread and butter.

I then joined as an assistant to a cameraman and worked with him for various films. But he mostly specialized in the special effects aspect of a movie and I was more interested in working for a regular commercial cinema. I had a habit of narrating small storylines and an upcoming director asked me to help him with story and dialogues. I joined him as an assistant director and worked for a 6-month project. When that movie released, it went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of Telugu cinema. In case you are wondering what that movie is, its Shiva and the director I assisted was Ram Gopal Varma. I also worked as a cameraman for the second unit of that film.

Ram Gopal Varma made me the cinematographer for the film Rathri followed by Antham, Money etc. Then I got a break in a Hindi film called Baazi [directed by Oscar nominated Lagaan director Ashutosh Gowariker]. I also did a few other films in Hindi.

During that period Ramoji Rao garu opened Ramoji Film City (RFC) and I helped RFC by getting some Bollywood projects for them. One evening Ramoji Rao garu happened to spot me in RFC and thanked me for getting Bollywood projects. I was taken aback by his generous gesture as I had experienced that 95% of the people live in their artificially created fake paradise and they fail to acknowledge small people who contribute to their success. I strongly believe that, his humility to acknowledge deserving people of their help irrespective of their position made Ramoji Rao garu what he is today.

During that time, Usha Kiron movies produced a film Mechanic Mavayya with a budget of 4 crores with Raja Sekhar as hero and lost a huge money. I asked about the remuneration of Raja Sekhar and found that he charged 50 lakhs as his remuneration. I wanted to dispel the myth of big stars. So I approached Ramoji Rao garu and told him that I would do a film for him within a budget of 30 lakhs. I also told him that there are a whole lot of talented technicians and artists waiting for a break and that they are even willing to do a film for free. Some girls are even ready to sleep with guys to get a heroine chance. We are not asking them for that. We are requesting them to do it for free as it would be mutually beneficial.

He asked me to narrate the story. He listened to it till the interval and then he told me that he couldn't judge the film properly as the story belongs to 16-17 year segment. But he assured that he would give me 10 lakhs more than what I asked for. He told me that he had the confidence in me as I came from a very poor background and worked very hard to reach the position in which I was at that time. I asked him if I had to narrate the story to the story department of Ramoji Film City. He asked me not to bother about anything else. He also told me that he is writing his 40 lakhs as a loss and that he does not mind even if the film becomes a flop.

I took a room in Yatri Nivas and finalized the script and selected the cast and crew for the film. We paid Rs 11,000/- to the cast and crew for their pocket money. We made the film as per the budget and released it and the rest is history.

You are branded as an arrogant person by the media and film industry. But you seem to be a very simple and humble guy with a tinge of frankness. Why did the media create such an image for you?

That's because I don't take any crap. May be because most of the people out here don't know what they want and what to give. They are in a state of confusion. Most of the film people out here have false prestige and inflated egos. If I don't like anything, I say it on their face. Hence, people brand me as an arrogant man as I don't act like a sycophant. Even when it comes to my team, I make sure that all the people are professional, dedicated and sincere. Otherwise, I would throw them out of my projects.

Most people like to hear eulogies about their work than sincere feedback. Let me narrate this small incident to you. I was working on a subject for a movie with this hero at his residence. A film of that hero released on that day and a herd of people visited him with flower bouquets to congratulate him on his film's success. They started showering him with praises saying that the movie received a 10-week talk and 100 days talk. The hero was naturally happy and was gladly accepting all the encomiums. His wife and kids were cutting cakes to celebrate his happiness. When the hero went inside, I told his wife that everybody is lying to him and that the film was an utter flop. The film was taken out of the theaters by Monday (within three days).

People in this industry love lies. They are complacent to living in a fake world created by sycophants. That's why most of the films by big stars are full of fakeness. There is no authenticity in their films. Hence it is natural for the filmy people to brand me arrogant when I bluntly say the truth on their faces. They mistake my bluntness for arrogance.

I am not saying that I am an ideal person. I do a lot of mistakes. I have lot of negative points and a very few plus points. But it's those few plus points that are helping me become successful.

Why are you so frank?

I try to be very straight forward as it relieves me of all my headaches. If we are diplomatic and hide our true feelings inside, we start acting, which leads to a lot of tensions. I want to have a nice and worry-free sleep every night.

I would like to tell an incident here. When we were making Chitram, Atluri Rama Rao garu [the executive producer of Usha Kiron Movies] arranged a press meet. He took me aside and asked me not to reveal two things. The first one was that the film's title is Chitram, as somebody else already registered it and that RFC guys were trying to get it through a deal. The second point was that I should not reveal the budget as 40 lakhs as the press might think that it's a cheap film.

The first thing I told in the press meet was that the film's title is Chitram and that the budget was 40 lakhs. By doing so, it relieved me of my pressure. Then I asked the press to shoot me questions as I could answer them with a peaceful mind.

I heard that you faced a lot of problems to release Nuvvu Nenu as there were no buyers. Is it true?

Yes. Because of the failure of Family Circus, buyers were apprehensive about the box office performance of Nuvvu Nenu. All the buyers, who pledged their commitment with the film, failed to pay the full amount. A buyer being apprehensive is totally understandable and natural.

Nuvvu Nenu has a lot of scenes that are inspired by popular Hindi films. Is it coincidental or deliberate?

It's not coincidental. I never claimed that Nuvvu Nenu is an original script. I told everybody right from the beginning that Nuvvu-Nenu is a very old story and there is nothing new in it. I told them that the only new thing in that film is the casting and treatment. Even today, I am telling you that the story is not original.

Take any love story. There are only three major factors. There would be a guy and a girl who belong to opposite status. After they fall in love, the togetherness is established. A problem creeps in and they get separated. How they get back to each other forms the climax. This forms the base for any love story, be it Romeo Juliet, Laila Majnu, Bobby, Maine Pyar Kiya, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Nuvvu Nenu or Jayam. The only difference in a few love stories is that they end with a tragedy.

Critics have not been kind to Nuvvu Nenu, though it became one of the biggest blockbusters of last year. What could be the reason?

Critics watch a film to rip it apart. However good the film might be, they eye it with an intention to scrutinize it coming under the pressure of their identity. Normal viewer watches it with an emotion and if he identifies himself with the emotion running in the film he likes it and makes it a blockbuster. But a critic goes to a movie with scissors and unscrupulously divides the film into separate threads called story, artists, music, photography, direction, dialogues, screenplay etc. Hence, they miss the emotion of the film as a whole. Moreover, critics are of the opinion that they are more intelligent and smarter than the director of the film. They don't watch the film for themselves. They watch the film to recommend it to others. In spite of critics ripping Nuvvu Nenu apart and complaining, people who watched it as normal audience liked it. When critics dissect the films like they usually do, they become mathematicians, but not movie lovers.

That is what happened when Sony entered Hollywood and took over Columbia. When a major company takes over another company, calculations do come in. Instead of being creative, they played it safe by coming up with sequels to blockbusters like Rocky - Rocky II, Rocky III, and Rocky IV etc. This is what happens when mathematicians take over the field of art.

I once tried watching a film from a critic's point of view. I then realized that critics (or reviewers) never watch a movie from a common point of view. They think they are greater than the director. When they write reviews, they try to advise the audience and try to make an impact on the decision making process of the audience. I tell you there would never be a film, which would truly and perfectly satisfy all the critics.

Tell us about your latest movie Jayam

Jayam is being made with an old story but with a new treatment. I know I might be sounding cliché tic but you have to watch it to believe me.

There is another rumor that you have planned to release Jayam on the same day of the release of Sreeram because that film was supposed to have some dialogues, which were meant to degrade you?

Yes. I planned to do the same. But, they have withdrawn those dialogues in that film. And now I don't want to release Jayam opposite Sreeram. Though the makers claimed that it was not deliberate, the writers (Paruchuri Brothers) had a history of doing these kinds of acts. In the past too, they degraded a journalist in their film by making false references to him. Since I live in a civilized world, I stepped down four steps after they decided to take two steps back.

In an interview to a magazine, you said that you wanted to release Jayam on the same day as the release of a director's film because he humiliated you. Can you comment on that?

It's not a director but a filmmaker (producer) I was talking about. He missed the opportunity, as he did not start his film yet. Otherwise, I would have definitely released Jayam opposite his film.

Who is that producer?

Wait and watch. You will realize it soon as my next film would be releasing opposite that film. I don't believe in taking revenge through expletives. I believe in hitting back with my work.

I believe in giving quality output. With my quality work, I have knocked down the stars and everybody knows that. I met so many stars to make films with them. They don't give you any encouragement. In addition to it, they would make you feel dejected. How to get even with those stars? Make a super hit with new comers and prove yourself! That is what I have done with Chitram and Nuvvu Nenu. You now know the chaos in the industry. Big stars are facing severe identity crisis.

What is the need to put 10 songs in Jayam?

The audiocassette has only 10 songs. But, the film would be having 15 songs. The viewers are used to watching films by superstars. We proved that we could make films with non-starters as well. Generally people are used to watching 6 songs in films. Now, we are proving that we can make super hits with 15 songs as well. What matters in a film is its capability to convince the audience. The number of songs we have is not an issue at all. My film is an emotional experience. It's not a numerical experience. It has nothing to do with number or mathematics.

Do you have any specific reason for using RP Patnaik as the singer for eight songs out of 10 songs in Jayam audio album?

When we did Chitram, I wanted RP to sing all the songs. But with a great difficulty he agreed to sing one song [Maavo song]. Before RP sang for the tracks of Jayam, we tried different singers for those songs. But nobody matched the emotion that RP showed in his voice while singing the songs. I don't look for the softness or tenor in a singer's voice. I look for the feel and emotion in the singer's voice. And RP had it.

To tell you the truth, I don't really care for voices when I listen to songs. Even today, I don't recognize the voice of the singer by listening to any song. I look for the emotion and depth in the voice. After Ghantasala garu, the only singer I found to have emotion in his voice is RP Patnaik. His voice suited the mood and emotion I was looking for in Jayam and everybody would accept it when they watch the film on the big screen. If people can accept Balu singing all songs in an album for decades, I don't find any reason in they not accepting RP as a full-fledged singer.

Media was rife with the news that you were going to do a film with Chiranjeevi. Is it true?

Both of us never had any announcements or statements. It's the media that speculated about it. Chiranjeevi garu seems to have told in an interview that he would like doing a film in my direction. But nothing has been confirmed yet.

I saw a news article in that I was planning to do Jayam with Allu Arjun. When a person is successful, people start guessing about his new moves. To be frank with you I am a very unpredictable guy and my decisions change their course of direction on the fly. And I never force myself to stick to any of the statements I make.

If I had spoken about any thing 4 years back, it would not have a weightage of even two grams now. But if I talk anything today, it carries two tons of weight. When a person becomes a celebrity, he tends to change. He would be very careful speaking in interviews and would change himself to act as per the statements given in the interview. But I am not like that; I don't want to kill the Teja inside me because I am famous now. So, if you hear any rumor about me, just call me up and I will give a frank and reliable information.

Tell us about your personal life. Are you married?

I am married. It was a love marriage. I have two kids - a boy who is five years old and a girl who is two years old.

Do you have any suggestions to the director wannabes?

I never give any suggestions to anybody.

How did you learn the art of direction?

Direction is nothing but plain commonsense, which is quite uncommon in the Telugu film industry at present. My world is very small. My imagination and creativity is limited to small screen area of 2.3:1. I don't give any advices to anybody. I only advise people who are acting in my films to get the maximum effect.

Do you have anything to say to the visitors of

It's not birth, family, cast, riches, intelligence or money that take you to places. It's sheer hard work that takes you to greater heights. If you have the will, you can become whatever you want. No power on the earth can stop a sincere worker.

Interviewed by Jeevi
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