Teja Sajja – Prasanth Verma duo successfully introduced the concept of Zombies to Telugu audience. ‘Hanu Man’ – the first of its kind superhero film in Telugu is all set for a Pan-India release, and the teaser is trending at No 1 spot raising hopes for the team. Teja Sajja feels lucky. ‘He has worked very hard, and is glad to see the result on screen,” he shares during an exclusive interview.

Teja Sajja is one of the most successful child actors of Telugu cinema, as he acted in over 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’ and ‘Chatrapati’ besides others. 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 a 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 all set for the release of his next film. The superhero film ‘Hanu Man’ by the director with an ambitious vision – Prasanth Verma, is one of the much-awaited films. Teja places 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:
The trailer for ‘Hanu Man’ looks exciting. Do share details.
It’s Prasanth’s baby – his idea. He was super excited with the idea that he would mix mythology with superhero element. For my generation and today’s kids, the only superheroes we know are from Hollywood. ‘Hanu Man’ will be the first Telugu super hero. I always try to do something new that will be noticed by a 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 after that. It is a big scale action ride, an out and out entertainer for kids as well as adults. The entire family would love to watch this film on large screen.

How was the experience of working in a superhero film?
I was very happy throughout the making, although 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, getting down only 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 became alright. I continue to have a nagging pain even now though.

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 some time for him, and my friends to understand I am pursuing films seriously.

‘Zombie Reddy’ was a 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.

What have these years in the industry taught you?
When I came back to work as a 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 uncle, Vinayak uncle and B Gopal uncle would promise to make films for me. I realised later that it doesn’t work like that. I have been trying to get good films since 2014. Prasanth and I wanted to make four more films. Some didn’t start, some stopped after the pooja; once 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 is not the criteria alone.

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

Tell us about your association with Prasanth?
‘Goodachari’ director Sashi was my friend. Prasanth was supposed to do the film, and he wanted a young hero; Sashi advised him to try me. We did regular auditions. We travelled for six months with the film, when we realised that the 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 the camera, and how the 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, today he does have a Benz car. I wonder how he manages to be so confident.

How did you get the role in ‘Hanu Man’?
For ‘Hanu Man’ 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 superpowers 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 about the power of Prasanth’s imagination and how he looked at the big picture. We don’t even realise it during the shoot when he would say that this is going to be big. He is hands-on in editing, graphics and re-recording. He watches the whole footage and trims stage by stage. It is only after the entire procedure of post-production that we understand what he has in mind, and the scale that he has imagined.

What’s next?
I am taking time to decide my next film after ‘Hanu Man’. It has to be a conscious decision making to not go by big names alone. This is my career and I have to be careful.