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Teja (film director)

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Teja shooting in The islands of Maldives
Born Dharma Teja
(1966-02-22)22 February 1966
Madras, India
Nationality Indian
Occupation Film director, producer, screenwriter, distributor, exhibitor, entrepreneur.
Years active 1985–present
Notable work
Home town Hyderabad
Spouse(s) Srivalli (m. 1992)
Children Aurov Teja (deceased) Amitov Teja, Aila Teja

Teja is an Indian film cinematographer turned director, predominant in Telugu and Hindi cinema. He made a slam bang entry into the film industry with a string of blockbusters, including Chitram, Nuvvu Nenu, Jayam and Nijam

After working as a cinematographer in Hindi and Telugu cinema from 1989 to 2000, he made his directorial debut in Telugu cinema with Chitram. Chitram is considered a path breaking film which went on to revolutionise Telugu cinema.[1]

Teja is famous for casting only debutant actors for all roles in his films. He introduced over one thousand actors and technicians to Indian cinema, including Uday Kiran, Nitin, Sadha, Kajal Agarwal, Navdeep and Sunil.[2]

He has garnered many awards, notably- Andhra Pradesh State Nandi Award for Best Director[3] and Filmfare Award for Best Director – Telugu for Nuvvu Nenu.

Teja is not only famous for his film work, but also infamous for his short-temper and eccentricity.[4] He is known to often use unconventional ways to obtain satisfactory performances from actors on sets.

Teja in a 2012 ABN-interview named various persons responsible for his younger son's death, he also further stated that he had done all sorts of odd jobs for survival, including illegal frying and sale of marijuana.[5]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Teja was born on 22 February 1966 in Madras, Tamil Nadu, to Jasti Balaram Krishna and Jasti Rani. His father was an industrialist, based primarily in Tokyo, Japan. Teja used to often travel between Tokyo and Madras.

The Teja family was considered the richest in the Tamil Nadu state in the 1960s.[6]

When Teja was aged seven, for reasons unknown, both his parents died. His relatives split the family estate and properties among themselves and he was forced to move in with his aunt and uncle. According to Teja, his aunt and uncle mentally and psychically abused him and forcefully made him do labour work.[7] Teja in a Maa TV interview recalled, being beaten with a belt night after night, and his aunt cursing that she should've gotten a higher share in his father's estate for taking him in.

Teja unable to bear the harassment, ran away from home. He slept on road pavements, and did any and all sorts of odd jobs for survival, such as truck and car wash, rickshaw pulling, and also the illegal frying and sale of marijuana.[8] Teja joked that he used to work for All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) party in Chennai, and used to black mark any Hindi text found either on billboards, posters or on walls, and later it was the Hindi film industry that would become his life.

Teja enrolled himself in a government night school in Central Madras, and worked during the day to feed himself.[9] Teja in many interviews recollected many traumatic events in his childhood, including being chased by gay police men, his sister being left at an orphanage by their uncle, him sleeping in rains on road pavements, and others.[10]


Teja doing any work he could get, ended up working in Tamil film shoots as a lighting assistant.[11] According to Teja the only reason he joined the film industry was because they served free breakfast and lunch at shoots, and he didn't have to worry about sleeping hungry at night.

Teja in only a year worked his way up. After working in lighting and sound departments he moved into the camera department and worked under Ravikant Nagaich, and W.B. Rao. He then took up assignments for documentaries presented in National Geographic Channel.[12]

Teja started growing popular among film personalities, after shoots and during breaks he used to tell his gang of friends short stories and movie ideas, one of whom was Ram Gopal Varma, 'Ramu' impressed with Teja's ideology, took Teja along with him to work on the latter's directorial debut Shiva.[13] Teja was hired as the first assistant director for the film, he also designed posters and handled the publicity. Teja's innovative poster designs gained him great popularity. The use of silhouettes and colouring the film's title in blood red raised eyebrows. He also played a pivotal role in the filming of the major action sequences of the film, those including the extremely famous cycle chain scene and others.

Teja later collaborated with Ram Gopal Varma on Kshana Kshanam, Rangeela, Raat, Raatri, Drohi, Antham, Gaayam, Money, Govinda Govinda, and Rangeela[14]

1990s: Cinematography[edit]

Teja debuted as cinematographer in 1992 with Raat, for which he won Nandi Award for best cinematography.[15] He worked as cinematographer for all of the following Ram Gopal Varma films. Aamir Khan, impressed seeing Teja's work gave him his next big break and employed him as the cinematographer for Baazi. Following which Teja had many simultaneous and back to back releases including Teerpu, The Don, Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hain, Krodh, Krishna, Shsahtra, Rakshak, Tere Mere Sapne, Vishwavidhaata.[16]

Teja in 1994, shooting for Ghulam

Teja became an industry sensation when he shot a night scene in Sydney airport with only two torch lights, along with assistant Sameer Reddy for Tere Mere Sapne. Teja was considered one of India's best cinematographers in the 90s along with P. C. Sreeram and Santosh Sivan. He garnered twenty nine awards for Best Cinematography.[17][18][19]

2000s : Directorial debut[edit]

Working as cinematographer, Teja used to frequently schedule Hindi film shoots in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh as to spend more time with his wife and son. Many schedules were planned in Ramoji Film City. Chitram, Teja's directorial debut was planned entirely in Ramoji Film City on budget of forty lakh rupees. Chitram, became a huge hit and paved way for a variety of new age romantic films in Tollywood.[20] Teja's next venture was Family circus, Starring Jagapathi babu, Rajendra Prasad, high comedy-drama. It had an average run at the box office.

Rise to fame[edit]

Teja gained tremendous popularity post the release of Nuvvu Nenu.[21] Nuvvu Nenu, an all-time blockbuster, was the year's highest grosser.[22] Nuvvu Nenu received six Nandi Awards and had a total run of three seventy five days.[23]

Nuvvu Nenu was remade in Hindi starring Tushar Kapoor and Anita Hassanandani, although it was huge success in the south, it failed at the Hindi box office.[24]

Motion picture companies[edit]

In 2002, Teja founded the motion picture production company Chitram Movies and its subsidiaries. He is also the sole owner and chairman of the motion picture exhibition company Jayam Movies Pvt. Ltd. which owns a string of movie theaters in Southern parts of India.[25]

Stardom: 2002 to 2006[edit]

Teja super size cutouts

Post Jayam, Teja became one of the Telugu's few star directors.[26] His name started pulling humongous crowds to theatres. Jayam (2002) is a Telugu film directed and produced by Teja, starring Nitin, Sadha, and Gopichand in the lead roles. It was massively successful at the box office. The film was shot on very low budget of rupees two crore, It had a gross revenue of rupees thirty eight crore.

A unique publicity campaign was launched for Jayam (Telugu), a hand mark of blood, was put all over the state, underlined with a text stating "Jayam choodandi" (translation: Watch Jayam).[27]

Subsequent films[edit]

Teja next venture was Nijam (English: Truth), released in 2003, starring Mahesh Babu and Rakshitha in lead roles. Nijam was a Average at the box office but gained critical appraise. Later Nijam garnered Cult following over the years. In the following years, Teja made Jai.[28] Actor Navdeep's debuted with this film, he was paired with Santhoshini and Ayesha Julka. It was dubbed in Tamil as Jairam. The film had an average run in both languages.

Teja later directed Dhairyam, and Avunanna Kadanna, simultaneously. Halfway through Dhairyam's shoot Teja dropped the project stating that the producer N. Sudhakar Reddy had changed and edited a part of the film without his consent. Teja returned his remuneration, arranged a press meet and declared he had nothing to do with the film. Dhairyam failed at the box office, whereas Avunanna Kadanna had a seventy-five-day run and was declared a hit.[29]

Exhibition and distribution[edit]

Teja later ventured into exhibition and distribution. He bought some cinemas including the Ramatalkies located in the centre of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. Ramatalkies is prime property and is valued over rupees two hundred crores. The junction in which it is located was renamed Ramatalkies junction.The orange Hanuman flag flies on top all of Teja's theatres.[30]

Teja working in a construction site.

Teja also set up Chitram movies distribution offices in Hyderabad and Vizag. He distributed films such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and many others in Nizam and other districts.[31]

Alleged trespass[edit]

Criminal cases were registered against the Teja family for allegedly trespassing into the house of film producer Chadalavada Srinivasa Rao.[32] According to the police, Srinivasa Rao, had bought an independent house belonging to Srivalli Teja at Plot No. 1363, on Road No. 45, Jubilee Hills for rupees fifteen crores (150 million) . Chadalavada made an initial payment of rupees three crores (30 million). An agreement was made to this effect and a sale deed executed in favour of Srinivasa Rao. But Rao had been evading payment of the balance amount of rupees twelve crores, police said. Soon after the agreement, Teja vacated the house and Rao took possession of it. Though Rao was not residing there he engaged a watchman to guard the premises.[33]

Teja later met the press and released copies of sale deed, sale agreement, GPA and others, and stated he was the sole and only owner of the house, and no agreement was made with Rao. The Teja family is currently residing in this house.[34]

Amitov Teja and mother Srivalli Teja, who were the fourth and fifth accused were removed from the charge sheet, on 6 June 2012.

CID Investigations[edit]

When allegations surfaced, the Criminal Investigation Department had summoned the Teja family and questioned them about the issue. In an official press statement the family said they met CID officials a second time but the officials reportedly said there was no need to question them further.[35]

The investigation was eventually stopped for lack of evidence.

Flops: box office decline[edit]

Plagued by unsuccessful business ventures, court battles, criminal investigations and financial distress, Teja began to view directing as a means to an end financially and started accepting films that many critics and fans alike perceived as being beneath his talent. Teja signed picture deals with production houses that would haunt him for the rest of the decade.[36]

Following this Teja made Lakshmi Kalyanam. Kalyan Ram plays the lead role alongside Kajal Agarwal. The film released on 15 February 2009, It did miserably at box office and was declared a flop.[37]

Many hoped Keka starring veteran lyricist Seetha Rama Sastry's younger son Raja, would change this. Keka was a much-hyped film and had the biggest Telugu film release at the time, but it failed miserably at the box-office. It was the biggest flop in Teja's career, pushing him into further financial troubles.[38]

Son's death and hiatus: 2011[edit]

The younger son of Teja, Aurov Teja died of prolonged illness in Hyderabad on Saturday, 19 March 2011.[39] Aurov had been suffering from breathing problems and cerebral palsy, caused by faulty medical procedures followed by the hospital at the time of birth.

The baby was taken to Beijing, China, New York, United States and Berlin, Germany for medical treatment. On the morning of 19 March 2011, the baby's condition deteriorated and was pronounced dead at 12:11 local time (12:11 IST).

Acquittal from all criminal charges[edit]

Multiple criminal charges against the Teja family were struck down by Nampally criminal court on Wednesday, 25 April 2012. The Judge said the house grabbing, trespass charges, links with anti-social elements were all bogus, he gave a judgement greatly in favour of the accused. The entire judgement paper was procured and published by Sakshi, a Telugu new channel.[40] All Criminal Investigation Department inquiries were shut down.


Further information: Teja filmography


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  28. ^ "Teja Love Flick Movie - Teja New Movie - Sri Productions New Movie - Teja New Movie Selections - Teja New Movie Artistes Selections -". Telugu Film News - Telugu Movie Ratings - Telugu Film Reviews - Telugu Movie News - Telugu Movie reviews - Tollywood Latest News. 
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  33. ^ "Director Teja loves newcomers". 
  34. ^ "Director Teja To Direct Under Sri Productions Banner Again". The Hans India. 
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  36. ^ "Teja falls prey to credit card cheat". The Times of India. 
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  38. ^ "Director Teja Opens Up On 'Weakness'". 
  39. ^ "Latest News Archives - Reviews, Movie Rating, News, Censor Talk". Retrieved 2016-07-21. 
  40. ^ "Account Suspended". Retrieved 2016-07-21. 

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