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The Young ‘Super’ Hero: Hanuman

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The Young ‘Super’ Hero: Hanuman

Teja Sajja – Prasanth Verma duo successfully introduced the concept of Zombies to Telugu audience with Zombie Reddy. With Hanuman – the first of its kind super hero film in Telugu declared a hit Pan-India and trending at No 1 spot even when pitted against the giants in the Telugu film industry. Teja Sajja feels lucky. ‘He has worked very hard, and is glad to see the result on screen,” he shares during an exclusive interview with Rajeshwari Kalyanam 

Teja Sajja was one of the most successful child actors of Telugu cinema. as he acted in 50 films with the biggest production houses and some of the top actors. He began to work from 1998 in top films of the time like ‘Choodalani Vundi’, ‘Indra’ ‘Kalisundam Ra’, ‘Gangotri’, ‘Chatrapati’. He took a break as he reached the age when getting good age-appropriate roles was becoming difficult, and he had to finish his education. In 2014, when he made a comeback as lead hero, it was important for him to shrug of his image as child actor. His supporting role in ‘Oh Baby’ was well acclaimed but he had to wait until ‘Zombie Reddy’, a Prasanth Verma directorial to be taken seriously. Two more films ‘Ishq’ and ‘Adbhutam’ later, he is now basking in the success of his much awaited film that released for Sankranthi. In the super hero film Hanuman by the director with an ambitious vision Prasanth Verma, Teja playa the role of a villager Hanumanthu, who gains super powers by the grace of Lord Hanuman. Amritha Aiyar is the female lead in the film.

Excerpts from an interview on the making of this film

What makes Hanuman special?

Hanuman is Prasanth’s baby – his idea. He was super excited with the idea that he would mix mythology with super hero element. For my generation and today’s kids, the only superheroes we know are from Hollywood. Hanuman is the first Telugu super hero. I always try to do something new that will be noticed by larger audience. I feel very lucky doing this film. This is a film about what happens when a normal boy from a small village gets superpowers with the blessings of Lord Hanuman; how he realises his super powers and what he does. It is a big scale action ride, an out and out entertainer for kids as much as adults.

How was the experience of working in a super hero film?

I was very happy through-out the making even though it was very straining. Prasanth wouldn’t okay the shot until atleast 10 takes. And, all this while I would be on the ropes. For 15 – 20 days, I was only on the ropes, only getting down to eat.

Infact, during the first schedule itself I had C3, C4 injury. I couldn’t move my head at all. I was in tears. I wondered if I would be able to finish the film. However, I went through physiotherapy and it was alright. I continue to have a nagging pain even now, but i am happy with the result.

I remember when I was training at the gym before the film. Prasanth saw I was aiming for six packs and stopped me. He was looking for a lean guy who gets super powers. He just told me to ensure I was flexible. At the time I did not understand what he meant. Now, I know. I had a few sequences where I had to jump from 40 to 50 ft. We did some scary stuff for the film.

When was the first time, you felt you finally arrived as a hero in the film industry?

I guess it was after ‘Zombie Reddy’ released. Personally, I was happy with ‘Oh Baby’. It collected 40 crores. Family audience loved me. But funnily at home, even my father didn’t see me as a serious film person. I guess it took sometime for him, and my friends to understand I am pursuing films seriously.

‘Zombie Reddy’ was huge push mentally too. My confidence levels increased. I was worried about the title, and wondered if it should be changed. I tried convincing Prasanth. My worry was about the non-urban audience – if they would get the zombie concept. Prasanth said he would make a teaser, and everything would be sorted. And, rightly so, the film was a huge success when it released just after Covid lockdown

Tell us about your association with Prasanth?

‘Goodachari’ director Sashi was my friend. Prasanth was supposed to do film, and he wanted a young hero; Sashi advised him to try me. We did regular audition. We travelled 5-6 months with the film, when we realised producer didn’t have the money. We went to a new banner with a new script. He tried and tried. It was seven years of struggle. He was with me during the toughest times, and that helped.

Prasanth has been a very confident man. He always knew he would make it. I was worried about how I would look as a hero before camera, and how audience would receive me. But he was sure of his work and craft.

There is an interesting story from when he first made money and wanted to buy a car. I suggested that he should keep the money away for a rainy day. He just said – ‘On a rainy day, I will go around in a Benz’. And, he did get a Benz car. I wonder how he manages to be so confident.

How did you get the role in Hanuman?

For Hanuman he wanted an underdog young boy, who looks like he cannot beat up people or fight. It is a delight to watch someone like that gain super powers and become strong – like Tom Holland in ‘Spiderman’.

He knows exactly what I can do. And, he offered the role.

I didn’t realise then that Prasanth’s imagination and how he looked at the picture to be so big. We didn’t even realise it during the shoot when he would say this is going to be big. He was hands on in Editing, graphics, re-recording. He would watch the whole footage and trim stage by stage. It was only after the entire procedure of post-production that we understood what he has had in mind, and the scale that he imagined.

What have the years in the industry teach you?

When I came back to work as hero in the industry. I was in a dream land. I had been working in the industry as child actor since 1998, with the best of the production houses, and directors. And, I thought I would have it very easy – Raghavendra Rao Rao uncle, Vinayak uncle, B Gopal uncle would promise to make films for me. I realised it doesn’t work like that. I had been trying to get good films since 2014. I and Prasanth wanted to make four more films. Some didn’t start, some stopped after the pooja; but Prasanth refused to replace me as his hero.

Looking back, I feel this period helped me in growing, it helped me in getting experience to judge my scripts well. I used to think working with big directors, and names meant success. But when I saw the films that I hoped to be cast in didn’t work at box office, I realised that it is not the only criteria.

I used to take rejections to heart, but all that journey has made me what I am today. And, I have seen that ‘In the end everything connects.

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