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Interview with Teja
Date: October 15, 2008, Hyderabad

After a big hiatus, Tollywood's outspoken director Teja is making a vengeful comeback with Keka, starring a staggering number of debutants. Introspecting into his past, Teja took a break to give the mixed output for both teenagers and adolescents. He doesn't feel like boasting as he makes a poignant statement about himself that he is "a creator and not an imitator." He is also sick about some filmmakers "copying" his films. In an exclusive interview to Idlebrain, Teja speaks at length about the making of Keka, its debut artistes, the pursuit after unrelenting PC Sriram and the choice of Chakri. Last, but not the least, he defends the so-called vulgarity in his films.

Why was there a big gap between your last film and Keka?
I took a break to do some introspection. I was even worried if my hits like Nuvvu Nenu and Jayam were flukes because all my films followed were flops. I realized that I entered into a vicious self destructing circle where I might end up making the same films again and again. I also fell sick and had a surgery.

I realized that I never was able to deliver hit for outside producers in the recent times, because I worked on producer's terms. Hence I made those films without conviction. There were certain films I directed which I hated to watch on big screen. I would not expect the movie lovers to watch them either.

I decided that I should make films that I like the most. I am not here to blame audiences because they did not encourage bad films. I should make a correct film and then expect it to become a hit.

Why did you end up making your own themes again and again?
Heroine's marriage is settled with a guy. The hero comes and takes her away. This is the story of Jayam. Don't you think story of Okkadu and Varsham is also same. Why don't you ask those filmmakers why they copied my films?

The climax of Nuvvu Nenu was repeated in Dil, Idiot and Aata. It is okay for others to copy my stuff. But you ask me when I copy myself.

But the movies you mentioned were entertainers and hit films. But your own copies flopped at box office?
There are two kinds of filmmakers – creators and imitators. I am a creator. I make an authentic film and I am open for criticism.

I want to sincerely apologize to all the people whom I let down with my latest films. I wasted their money. I want to regain the fame of a good entertainer with my next film Keka.

What makes you think that you are a creator?
I sincerely feel that my brain started growing after my teens. I still think like a teenager. Teenager has the ability to think fresh and question the rules and regulations. That is why I feel that I am a creative director. I am neither a good father nor a good husband because of the same maturity levels.

You accepted that Nijam was a flop immediately after the release though you were the producer. What went wrong with the film?
Nijam script does not need a big star like Mahesh Babu. Since Mahesh Babu acted in that film I changed the script radically to suit his image. Had I done Nijam with new comers, it would have become a silver jubilee film.

So Keka is born out of your introspection. How different is Keka?
I made Keka in a new format. I employed new kind of screenplay in Keka. I teamed up with good technicians. I want to enhance the movie watching experience with Keka film. I worked really hard on Keka.

You initially signed Ilayaraja. Why did you shift to Chakri?
After signing Ilayaraja, I developed health complication. Working with Ilayaraja means I need to fly to Chennai frequently. My doctor asked me not to leave Hyderabad. Chakri has been asking me to work with him for a long time. Chakri is the best possible alternative in Hyderabad to get Ilayaraja kind of music.

How did you manage to rope PC Sreeram in?
PC Sreeram is one of the finest and legendary cinematographers in India. Thota Tharani referred me to PC Sreeram. When I approached him, he asked me to give story narration. He objected to the first two scenes and after that he felt that the story has a modern touch. After listening, he said that the second half is breathless and he would do it. But he wanted the entire script to be given in English. I tried many translators here and nobody could able to translate the emotions in the script properly. I sat down on translation and finished the English translation of the script in 40 days.

When I called him after 40 days he said, “Teja, your silence disturbed me. I signed Mani Ratnam’s next film, I am going to Kerala for locations scouting.” I told him that I would wait him to complete Mani’s film. I kept this script aside and called Rasool to do another script with him as the cinematographer. Then I got a call from PC Sreeram asking for the English version of the script.

When I told everybody that I am signing PC Sreeram, they discouraged me saying that "you are a mental guy and PC Sreeram is another mental. You both could never work it out together."

I gave an advance cheque and the printout of the script to my executive producer Jagadeesh Reddy and sent him to Chennai. When he gave cheque, PC Sreeram categorically said that he would take only after reading the script and satisfied with it. He called me after reading the script and said that it's fantastic and accepted the cheque.

PC Sreeram was asking when we were going to start the project. I had not materialized the heroine yet. I went to Mumbai and signed the heroine. PC Sreeram came to Hyderabad. In three days, we started the shoot and shot the first song in Rajahmundry.

How different is PC Sreeram?
I have the ability to look at the world with a different point of view. When I was working as an assistant to DOP for Simhasanam movie, they were shooting the miniature of fort in an outdoor. When DOP asked me to get lights, I brought an indoor light. They laughed at me and asked for outdoor light. I argued why we should not do it with an indoor light. They got convinced and shot it and the result was different.

PC Sreeram is also a kind of guy who keeps on questioning the fixed rules and traditions of cinematography. He is also a perfectionist. He would not shoot if he is not convinced about anything. We have a certain part of the story taking place in Kolkata. We used a mansion in Hyderabad to shoot that part. He did not like the ambiance and said that he would not shoot it here. He asked us to move to Kolkata. We hired the house in Kolkata where the Parineeta film was shot. Meanwhile, my executive producer was irritated with PC Sreeram's shooting cancellation spree. But, when you look at the final output, you realize what a perfectionist PC Sreeram is.

The first two reels and the climax of the film were shot in Kolkata. We have Bengali, Telugu, Oriya and Urdu being spoken in those reels. We made the actors speak the real languages and used subtitles in Telugu.

We also went to Rajasthan to shoot a couple of songs.

Being a cinematographer myself I know how precious the work of PC Sreeram is. As a director I am very happy with the output.

Are you aiming at youth again with Keka?
My film Chitram is the story of adolescents. Jayam and Nuvve Nenu belong to teens. Keka belongs to the people who are in between their teens and adolescence.

Tell us about the new actors you are introducing?
I am introducing 40 new actors with this film. Ishana is the heroine. She is a mind blowing actress. She is an Indian, but brought up in South Korea and Dubai. Her parents are pucca Indians. There are two heroes in the film. We are exposing one hero in the photographs and hiding another hero for the film. I will talk about the heroes and other new actors after its release.

You had a King Fisher talent hunt for Keka. Why did you not take any of those winners?
I was never the judge of that talent hunt. I never sat as one of the judges of the hunt. My Keka script would not suit the winners of talent hunt. Hence I started it off with other actors. I am going to prepare a script that suits the winners' strengths.

You are said to be an economical producer. Why did you spend so much?
I wanted different look and approached for this film. The technicalities of Keka will take Telugu film industry to the next level. I spent around 5.5 crores on Keka and I am releasing the film on my own. Even if somebody buys, I might have to release it on deficit.

The film nagar is abuzz with the rumors that there is vulgarity in Keka film?
There is a scene in Chitram where hero tries to slide his hand towards heroine's bosom and she stops. Is it vulgar? Does it not happen in between teens? Are Mumaith Khan's pelvic thrusts not vulgar? We don't call item songs vulgar because our commercial directors kept on repeating in films and made them a standard in movies. Keka will be a film that each and every family can watch with family members.

You have the knack of extracting the finest performances from your actors. What is the secret?
The secret is about detailing. When I write script, I write it in detail about each character and characterization. If you show me any scene in my film, I would show you different things which you might not observe. When I do such detailed home work, I know exactly how a character should behave. And I make the actor behave just like the character I wrote. You can see great acting from my actors because they play the character which I write with lot of conviction and belief.

When is Keka release?
I am releasing the film all over the world on 23 October. I may release it a couple of days in advance in USA.

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