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Teja: Our heroes don’t know film appreciation

Daksha and Dileep in 'Hora Hori'  

Director Teja created a stir during the audio launch of his forthcoming film Hora Hori, stating that the Telugu film industry has been stuck with two formulas — the Gundamma Katha formula and a ‘babu’ formula. The ‘babu’ formula, he outlines, has a hero coming to a new city or village, is inconspicuous until his past is revealed before the interval. In Gundamma formula, a hero comes to work in the villain’s house, the villain’s daughter falls in love with him and no one has a clue. A comedian who knows this, tries in vain to reveal the truth.

The man in question is unfazed with reactions, both positive and otherwise to his speech. As he awaits the release of Hora Hori, Teja fields questions at his office. Excerpts:

Your speech has been widely discussed on social networks. How has the industry reacted? Weren’t you concerned of rubbing a few the wrong way?

I’ve been in the industry since I was 8 or 9 years old. A few individuals aren’t important to me; the industry is. The online audience likes, shares, re-tweets and favourites these posts and considers this also a form of entertainment. The same audience has made another ‘babu’ formula film ( Srimanthudu) a big hit. Either people haven’t changed or they are starved for entertainment.

Many in the industry called and told me they agree with what I said. Our heroes like scripts that are considered safe bets. To cite an example, the producer of the Tamil film Ghajini was in financial trouble before its release. When I got the DVD, I passed it around to a few others to see if someone would buy the Telugu remake rights. A few top heroes said there is no story and the second half is weak. The Telugu dubbed version and the Hindi remake went on to be blockbusters. Many of our heroes don’t know film appreciation; what they know is self appreciation, which reflects in the fan-appeasing dialogues we see in films. It’s time they think of appeasing the common audience and not fan clubs.

Collections are not a measure to judge if the audience is happy. We have a huge population and a fraction of it wants weekly entertainment and goes to movie halls. One group supports one hero and the other supports a different hero. When the real audience steps out in huge numbers, you have a blockbuster like Baahubali.

At the audio launch, you quipped that people accuse you of following a ‘Jayam’ formula. How would you assess yourself?

I realised that I was also playing safe after Jayam. I had to do something new. Hora Hori will have traces of Jayam because it has come from me. The theme, treatment and story are different. Since Jayam is considered a cult film, anything I do is benchmarked against it. To describe that story in a line — a girl whose marriage is fixed with one guy runs away with someone else. Hasn’t the same thread been explored in Okkadu, Varsham, Bhadra and Gangotri? If the audience sees one shot of a girl and a boy running under a tree cover, they think I’m repeating Jayam.

Do you feel you’ve broken out of that mould?

I’ve made Nijam, Oka Vichitram and Veyyi Abaddhalu Abathalu that are so different from Jayam. I worked with Mahesh after he had a flop called Bobby; but Nijam released after Okkadu and people drew comparisons. I don’t argue when people say Nijam was a flop. The film was made with a budget of Rs. 6.5 crore and sold for Rs. 21 crore. I repaid money to whoever lost money and still made a huge profit.

We recently collated data on the audience that has watched Jayam, Baahubali, Magadheera and Pokiri at the film chamber. The number of people who’ve seen Jayam is more than Baahubali. Over the years, the number of people that’s going to theatres has come down. At that time, tickets were priced at Rs. 20 and now it is Rs. 150. Jayam was made with a budget of Rs. 1.80 crore and made a profit of Rs. 32 crore.

What’s the crux of Hora Hori ?

We explore the psyche of youngsters with suicidal tendencies through the hero’s character. We hear of people who want to take their lives after failing in love; I know, because I’ve fallen in love. The film opens in a Telugu-speaking area and then shifts to Agumbe, Karnataka, the rainiest place in the world. In the film, the girl’s character is disturbed after a few incidents, and has to be moved to a pleasant place.

What were the challenges of shooting in a wet place like Agumbe?

Agumbe is infested with leeches, snakes and the surfaces are slippery. The actors wore kneepads. I retained a couple of shots where the hero skid and fell. The sound of thunder and rain permeates through the film. I wanted the film to have a wet look. In India, poets romanticise breeze, rain and moon whereas the West romanticises the sun.

You also used a rain machine for the film.

Yes, perhaps this is the first time such a machine has been used. It was designed in Tarnaka and has the ability to change the size of the droplets. Normally, film units use rain sources from different spots and you can see droplets coming from different directions, which looks unreal. As a cinematographer, I never liked it. For Ghulam, I shot a sequence in real rain.

Tell us about your cast and crew.

The cast was selected through a talent hunt. Daksha has done a few Tamil films. When I met Chaswa, I immediately felt he’d be ideal as the villain. I asked him to put on weight and told him he has to look ugly. Daksha, Chaswa and Dileep were trained by Ramanand before the shooting. Malayalam actress Seema plays the part of a grandmother, she is a terrific actress.

Cinematographer Deepak Bhagavanth was the official photographer for Thanjavur temple before studying cinematography. We shot the film in natural light. I think he will bag awards for his work.

In this film, we’ve used the fourth wall technique. If a conversation is happening within four walls, imagine a wall being knocked off from which the audience sees what’s happening. The camera angles, lighting, performance is all kept real. The songs, too, are situational. I felt Kalyani Koduri’s background score is mind blowing. He is good at grasping emotions. Chachipovalani undi is not an easy phrase to set to music and he did it so well.

Every technical element blends in well with the story.

Looking back, do you feel you could have done something differently?

Maybe I shouldn’t have done Nijam with Mahesh. I could have chosen a lesser known actor or a newcomer. People couldn’t accept a star killing people because he is told to, by his mother.

Are you averse to working with stars?

Practically speaking, stars wouldn’t want to work with me because I am not a hit director today. Maybe they are also scared of the intense performance I expect from them. My stories have strong women characters and stars wouldn’t work in such films.

Having been in the industry for long, do you rue the lack of scope for content that moves away from formula?

It’s a venomous circle here since many theatres are indirectly controlled by stars. The industry needs new script writers and directors. Once I deliver a big hit, I’ll stop directing and introduce directors. I enjoy playing god by giving breaks to people who have no industry backing. Heroes, villains, comedians, technicians… you can’t make a Telugu film that doesn’t have at least one person introduced by me. I am frank to actors that I can’t pay them much, but I can give them a career that will help them earn for a lifetime. When I signed Gopichand, he had flops behind him. I paid him only Rs. 11,000. He has come far today.


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 9:35:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/director-teja-hora-hori/article7534922.ece

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