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His father's son

Y. SUNITA CHOWDHARY

His father's superstar image has helped him but teen heartthrob Mahesh Babu still prefers doing things his own way.


All the hard work my dad put in and the indelible impression he created for himself in Telugu cinema has spilled over to my career

Photo: K. Gajendran

Smile a while Mahesh Babu feels `Okkadu' wiped away all his doubts and insecurities.

Ten films in five years and Mahesh Babu has already achieved the cult status accorded to top heroes. His debut film Rajakumarudu not only set the box office on fire, it also made him the chocolate-faced lover-boy of an entire generation of swooning girls. Since then he has done a spate of romantic films, blockbusters like Murari, Arjun and Okkadu among them that have struck a chord with the audience.

The lover boy image notwithstanding, Mahesh has slowly and surely moved on to do many diverse roles and proved himself as one of the most versatile performers in Telugu cinema.

When we ask the man in question how it feels to be an icon, Mahesh flashes his ever-charming smile and says modestly, "I have barely done a few films and even if some of them did not work, the majority of the audience always felt that I came up with good performances. Also, I feel that all the hard work my dad put in and the indelible impression he created for himself in Telugu cinema has spilled over to my career. I'm not sure if I would have had such a following on my own. By virtue of being his son, the legacy of the image was passed on to me."

Mahesh says he would also credit the success of his childhood films to his current screen image. "I'm also lucky to have a lot of people who love me and are constantly behind me, giving solid support. All I need to do is work hard, give a good film and make them happy. The amazing thing with the fans in Andhra Pradesh is that once they become your fan, they always remain your fans."

As a person he is reticent and believes in living life on his own terms. As an actor there's nothing artificial or contrived about him. He says, "I am a very private person. I'm here to work in films. If my films are good, the audience will watch it. I don't need to give interviews and attend talk shows to push my film. I am uncomfortable talking about myself. I love my fans. They have been there throughout. It is just that they expect too much. In a way, that's good because I am working towards keeping to their standards, learning from my mistakes."

In a field where hype and hoopla reign supreme, Mahesh is calm and confident. "It has been a learning experience. I never involve my dad in work and have always strived to make it on my own. I think I'm mature enough to select good stories but earlier, had I taken advice from my father, I am sure the outcome would have been better. But 10 or 15 years down the line, I would have to do everything on my own. So being independent was a conscious decision. I do one film at a time because that way, I can have better focus. I wanted to do different films simultaneously but that didn't work."

Talking of getting branded, Mahesh observes that Naani was a dud in the State but did well in Tamil. "Here if you have a particular image, you've got to work accordingly. I'd better stop experimenting and stick to action roles." Mahesh adds that as an actor he doesn't sink his teeth into a role believing that it is going to change his career graph. He listens to the narration and if he likes what he hears, he goes for it. He doesn't think about critical acclaim at that point. Nijam clearly facilitated the transformation of this action hero into a solid screen performer capable of delivering quality. "Yes, it was one of my best performances to date and was very difficult as well. I did Okkadu around that time and immediately went to work on this particular role. The emotions I needed to portray were heavy and Teja moulded me into the role."

Mahesh's working relationship with his directors has been very fruitful. He says all these men have different styles and it has been a tremendous experience learning the nuances of the trade. But has he ever been dogged by insecurity?

"To be honest, in the initial stages, yes. I was apprehensive about living up to people's expectations plus there was no way I wanted my dad's reputation to be tarnished even with a single bad performance. But Okkadu wiped away all my doubts and insecurities. Success can be a heady feeling and can throw you off balance so one needs to concentrate and be braced for any eventuality. Unfortunately the slots we are in, the budgets that revolve around us, it is imperative the film be a super hit. So it's not that easy handling all this."

Among all his films, Mahesh cites Arjun and Okkadu as his all-time favourites. "One reason I loved working in these films is that the whole atmosphere was peaceful. My directors took charge of just about everything including my costumes. All I had to do was just go to the sets and give them what they asked for. Arjun was a cost failure but it's close to my heart because of the standards it set. Mani Sharma had given a fantastic background score for almost all my films and he remains my favourite. And Murari was an elevating experience. My dad watched the film and never said a word. But I could see his eyes turn moist, he just choked. Those reactions keep me going."

And it looks like this hero will keep going a long, long way. As they say, like father like son.

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