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  • Real Name: Jasti Dharma Teja
  • Born: 22 February 1966 (Madras, Tamil Nadu)
  • Primary Cinema: Telugu
  • Parents: J B K Chowdhary
  • Spouse: Srivalli Teja
  • Children: Amitov Teja, Aila Teja, Aurov Teja (deceased)

Writer, cinematographer and director, Teja, known primarily for his works in Telugu cinema, has several blockbusters to his credit including Chitram (2000) which is considered to have revolutionised Telugu cinema, Nuvvu Nenu (2001), Jayam (2002), and Nijam (2003). He is known for his path-breaking romantic dramas, plots involving extreme conflict, low-budget productions, strong female characters, close-up fight scenes creating a claustrophobic effect, and a Teja credit card shown during intermission.  He debuted as a cinematographer with Ram Gopal Varma's 1992 bilingual horror film Raat; his work won him the Nandi award for best cinematography. He worked on approximately 20 films as a cinematographer, including Drohi (1992), Baazi (1995), Tere Mere Sapne (1996), Ghulam (1998), Sangharsh (1999), and Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hain (2000). He is credited as a writer for approximately 17 films, including Chitram (2000), Nuvvu Nenu (2001), Pitaah (2002), Keka (2008), and Sita (2019). His directorials include 18 films such as Family Circus (2001), Jayam (2002), Lakshmi Kalyanam (2007), Keka (2008), and Ahimsa (2023). He has also produced the films Jayam (2002), Nijam (2003), Sambaram (2003), Jai (2004), Keka (2008) and Jyothi Lakshmi (2015). He has garnered several state Nandi Awards, as well as the Filmfare award for best director – Telugu for Nuvvu Nenu. He is also credited with encouraging new talent, introducing leading stars such as Kajal Aggarwal, Nithin Reddy, Navadeep, Ileana Dcruz, Sunil, and more. Identifying as anti-caste, anti-religion, and anti-region, he also legally dropped his surname for this reason.

Born on 22 February 1966 in Madras (now Chennai), Tamil Nadu into an affluent family, his father J B K Chowdhary was an industrialist and exporter, based primarily in Tokyo, Japan. When his father suffered heavy losses in his business, Teja was compelled to start working at an early age. Taking up whatever work came his way, he served as a lighting assistant as well as in the sound department for Tamil film shoots.  Moving into the camera department, he worked under cinematographers Ravikant Nagaich and W B Rao. He went on to take up assignments for documentaries presented on National Geographic channel. However, the journey wasn’t easy and Teja would sleep on the footpaths and drink water to quench his thirst and hunger, until filmmaker Ramgopal Varma gave him a life, so to speak.

In 1992, he debuted as a full-fledged cinematographer with Ram Gopal Varma’s seminal film, Raat. A supernatural horror shot simultaneously in Hindi and Telugu, it starred Revathi. Critically acclaimed, it was noted as an effort to bring horror films into mainstream Hindi cinema.

The same year, he also cinematographed Ram Gopal Varma’s action crime thriller Antham (1992), starring Nagarjuna and Urmila Matondkar. In 1995, he worked as cinematographer on Baazi (1995), directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. Starring Aamir Khan and Mamta Kulkarni, it depicted a tough and honest police officer’s one-man war against terrorists and a corrupt politician who have planned to assassinate the chief minister of the state.

Over the years, he cinematographed Ashok Honda’s action thriller Rakshak (1996) starring Suniel Shetty, Karisma Kapoor and Sonali Bendre; Joy Augustine’s comedy drama Tere Mere Sapne (1996); the Vikram Bhatt-directed Ghulam (1998) starring Aamir Khan as an amateur boxer who revolts against a local gangster; Tanuja Chandra’s Sangharsh (1999) revolving around a rookie CBI officer who must enlist the help of an incarcerated criminal in order to catch a serial child killer; and the action comedy Krodh (2000) about an overprotective brother who wants to keep his five sisters safe from the cruel world, but faces antagonism from them after they turn against him. He also cinematographed Mahesh Manjrekar’s comedy crime drama Jis Desh Mein Ganga Rehta Hain (2000) starring Govinda, Sonali Bendre and Rinke Khanna; B V Ramana’s Shubhavela (2000); the comedy drama Family Circus (2001); and the Kundan Shah-directed comedy thriller Ek Se Badhkar Ek (2004).

As a director, he made a splash with his debut itself – Chitram in 2000. The Telugu-language romantic comedy film, which he had also written, starred debutants Uday Kiran and Reema Sen in the lead roles. The film was sensational hit in 2000, and was hailed for delivering a wholesome entertainer by narrating the theme in an entertaining way to attract all kinds of audience. Planned entirely in Ramoji Film City on a budget of Rs 40 lakh, it paved the way for a variety of new age romantic films in the Telugu film industry.

His 2001 directorial Nuvvu Nenu was a commercial success, winning four Filmfare awards South, including best film – Telugu and five Nandi awards in various categories. A romantic drama, it depicted two lovers whose respective parents are against their union. An all-time blockbuster and that year’s highest grosser, it reportedly had a total run of 375 days.

His romantic action drama Jayam (2002) went on to become a huge hit both critically and commercially. It was dubbed a visual delight especially in song situations. 

His action drama Nijam (2003) starred Mahesh Babu, Gopichand and Rakshitha. The plot depicted a young man who is guided by his mother in a methodical manner to avenge his father against the perpetrators who falsely accused and killed him. The film drew positive reviews for its “mass-attracting episodes” as well as Mahesh Babu's brilliant portrayal of the character. With this film, he also brought out Talluri Rameswari—of Seetamahalakshmi (1978) in Telugu and Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye (1977) and Sunayana (1979) in Hindi fame—out of hibernation and made her enact the role of Mahesh Babu's mother. She delivered a terrific performance in the film. Later, addressing rumours about Nijam's below-average performance at the box office, Teja maintained, “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.”

His political action thriller Nene Raju Nene Mantri (2017) featured Rana Daggubati and Kajal Aggarwal in the lead roles, along with Catherine Tresa, Navdeep, and Ashutosh Rana in other pivotal roles. It received positive reviews and was successful at the box office. Hailed for its gripping and enthralling narration and hard-hitting dialogues, the bonding between the lead characters was deemed to be the bedrock of the film.

His more recent release was Ahimsa (2023), an action drama romance film, starring Ananth Babu, Rajat Bedi, Bindu Chandramouli, and Abhiram Daggubati

Teja also set up Chitram film distribution offices in Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam. He distributed films such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007), The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) and many other hits in Nizam and other districts.

Known for his maverick character and for speaking his mind, he had gone on record to say, “Our heroes only pay lip service about new and different stories but in practice, they prefer films with a few punch dialogues. I can’t make films with big heroes. It’s like making films confined to jail. Our stars don’t understand a good story. You can’t make anything but a routine film with them.”

On the personal front, he has been married to Srivalli Teja since 1992. He has three children - Amitov Teja, Aila Teja, and Aurov Teja (deceased).



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