Down — but not out

Telugu film director and cinematographer Teja. Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam.   | Photo Credit: C_V_SUBRAHMANYAM

While for a few in the film industry he is a maverick, for others he is a perfectionist who would not flinch to slap the lead actors to bring out the true emotions of them. Well, he is Teja, the director who created waves with an unconventional debut film Chitram, which was produced by Ramoji Rao.

Having directed and produced a couple of hits like Chitram, Nijam, Jayam and Jai- he also has to his credit films like Keka that bombed at the box office. Despite a string of failures in the recent times, Teja is not a dejected soul. In hibernation for some time, he is planning his next directorial venture with Suresh Movies, starring Venkatesh. He is also working fulltime in renovating a cinema hall that he has purchased in Visakhapatnam. Teja has taken over Rama Talkies and is pumping both money and time to create what he says is going be the ‘best' cinema hall in the country. “It is going to be a cinema hall ahead of its time, with all the latest features. I want to make movie going an experience,” he says, keeping the salient features in suspense just like his films.

Rough cruise

In a free flowing chat with The Hindu Metro Plus, the filmmaker tells the story of his life, which could as well be a good script for a super hit. His is a typical rag to riches story. Though he corrects, ‘I am not rich yet'.

Having lost both his parents at the tender age of seven years, Teja ran away from his uncle's home in Chennai to pick up the job of a truck cleaner at the age of eight years. “I consider no job to be menial. And rather deem each as a unique work experience,” he says.

He worked as truck cleaner and then as a waiter at an Udipi restaurant for a pay of Rs.2 per day and later joined a film studio as a boy who would run all types of errands. He slowly moved into the camera department and worked under veteran cinematographer Ravikanth Nagesh. This he says was the first turning point in his life and he soon fell in love with the camera. Picking up the tricks of the trade early, he moved as assistant for a cinematographer by name Mahidhar.

“Since my early days, I had the habit of telling short stories. And during the breaks, I would narrate simple short stories to the spot boys and assistants in the sets. This caught the eye of a small time assistant director, and he asked me to join him, as he was intending to make a film of his own. He also promised me a monthly salary of Rs.1,500. At that time the amount looked enticing, as filling the stomach was priority. I approached my then employer and told him about this. He just said, “You are a fool. You want to join a person who has no standing and is still one among the numerous assistant directors”. But by that time, I had decided to quit, as our wavelengths matched and joined him. Braving all odds, we launched the film, and it turned out to be the biggest hit of that decade. The film was given a cult status, and the director was instantly propelled to stardom. The film was Shiva and the small time assistant who directed the film was Ram Gopal Varma. That was just the beginning,” says the filmmaker.

Teja then joined RGV as cinematographer, and filmed a couple of hits like Raat, Antham, Money and Rakshana.

With the success of the films, he was impelled into the film world as a hot shot cinematographer. He moved to Bollywood on a call from Aamir Khan, and worked for a number of projects like Baazi and Ghulam. In all, he shot about 30 films in Bollywood before taking up an assignment with National Geographic channel. He acknowledges the stint with NG as a learning experience. “Technically they are at least seven to eight decades ahead of us,” says he.

It was during this period, when he was busy shuttling between Bollywood and NG assignments in Sri Lanka that he tumbled upon Ramoji Rao and Chitram came into being.

“The meeting with Ramoji Rao was totally accidental and ‘me' becoming a director and a producer later was linked to it,” says Teja.

The maverick believes that there are two types of filmmakers in the industry: One who is an imitator and has a longer industry life and other a creator who has a shorter life, but is a trendsetter who nurtures up coming talents.

On where does he fit in, he candidly observes, “I am a creator, who at times has lost control while playing for the gallery- with or without knowledge.”

On his new project with Venkatesh, he says, “The script is ready and shall start the shoot once the cinema hall gets operational in a couple of months. We are also looking for a fresh face in the opposite role.”

On his style of film making, Teja points out, “I am a perfectionist- who would like to merge the styles of art film and commercial film and shoot in an authentic way.”

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Printable version | May 1, 2021 5:55:54 AM |

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