Baahubali got people to pay more attention to Telugu film industry: Spyder star Mahesh Babu

By Hemanth Kumar

With Spyder all set to hit screens on 27 September, the film boasts a lot of firsts in its lead star Mahesh Babu’s career.

It’s his first bilingual film and the most expensive in the actor’s career so far; it's also the first time that he’s teaming up with AR Murugadoss. Moreover, his dream of working with acclaimed cinematographer Santosh Sivan finally came true with this film. No wonder the actor is extremely excited about the film’s release. “We have worked for more than one-and-half years to make this film. It’s the result of the blood and sweat of more than 1,000 people who worked in the team,” Mahesh says, talking about Spyder.

Admittedly, AR Murugadoss has been wanting to work with Mahesh Babu ever since he saw Okkadu, the film which turned Mahesh Babu into a star in Telugu cinema. The duo met for the first time while Mahesh was shooting for Pokiri; however, it took them another 10 years to finally come together for a project.

“Working with Murugadoss was the most exciting factor about Spyder for me. He’s a pan-Indian director and he has an unique way of presenting his stories. Besides, the film itself took 190 days to complete and there were days when we were all really exhausted, but Murugadoss would keep the energy level high on the set,” Mahesh says.

Mahesh Babu in a poster for Spyder. Image courtesy Twitter/@ARMurugadoss

Right from Spyder's inception, the entire team was quite aware that they were making a big film. In fact, by the time the film was ready for its theatrical release, it’s become the second highest budgeted film in Telugu behind Baahubali. “We knew the kind of budget that was required to make Spyder and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to make it into a bilingual. Yes, the film’s shoot got delayed and extended beyond our original plan, but that didn’t escalate the costs dramatically,” the actor says.

While the excitement surrounding Mahesh Babu’s foray into Tamil cinema is palpable, the actor himself had been waiting for the right opportunity for a long time now. “A lot of my films were dubbed in Tamil in the past, but Spyder is almost like a launch for me in Tamil. Acting in a bilingual film is a huge challenge and it’s easier said than done. Since I know both Telugu and Tamil, I thought it would just be a matter of an extra-take; however, the process was extremely cumbersome. I would take 4-5 retakes to get a scene right in Tamil, another 4-5 takes for the Telugu version, and then, we would do more takes for the close-ups of the same sequence. It was like making a film, and then remaking it at the same time. It was definitely a new experience for me and helped me grow as an actor. Recently, when I was on the sets of Koratala Siva’s film, the moment I was done with the Telugu lines, I asked, 'Is this it? Or do I have to do more?' [Laughs],” Mahesh tells us about the experience of making the film. “I learnt a lot more about being patient with artistes around me, switching between languages. I mean, this is the first time that I had to spend nearly 7-8 days to complete one scene! [Laughs]”

Ask him if he found the whole process of shooting for Tamil and Telugu repetitive and pat comes the reply: “It wasn’t repetitive. We have ensured that the Tamil version is slightly different from Telugu. Sometimes, your mind will just freeze and go blank while switching between languages, and that was a big challenge for me. We had different sets of supporting actors in Telugu and Tamil versions, and there are parts of the background score that are different in the two versions, although the run-time is pretty much the same. Full credit to Murugadoss for envisioning such different versions for the same content.”

Spyder narrates the story of Shiva, who works in the Intelligence Bureau, and the film unfolds from his point of view, with SJ Suryah playing the antagonist. “It’s only in the climax that the hero and the villain come face-to-face; till then, he remains invisible to the hero. How do you chase down someone if you don’t know how s/he looks? It’s a new concept and you’ll be absolutely thrilled with what SJ Suryah has done in the film. He’s really good as an actor,” Mahesh avers. He also denies rumours that the film is based on the concept of bio-terrorism or counter-terrorism. “We don’t want to reveal too much before the film’s release. There are plenty of surprises in store for everyone,” Mahesh adds.

The actor is all praise for his co-star Rakul Preet, who impressed everyone with her professionalism on the sets. “Learning lines in two languages isn’t an easy task and Rakul is really hardworking. Had it been anyone else, then I am sure that the shoot would have extended by another 20 days!” Mahesh asserts.

Born and brought up in Chennai, Mahesh Babu has always been associated with cinema, thanks to his father, Superstar Krishna. It so happened that whenever he had his summer vacations, he would go meet his father on a film set and before he knew it, Mahesh Babu became a child artiste. He was groomed to become an actor from a very young age. Growing up in Chennai back in the '90s, there was another secret wish that he harboured which has finally come true after all these years. Mahesh Babu wanted to work with Santosh Sivan, cinematographer of classics like Roja, Dalapathy, at some point in his career. “My wife (Namrata) had worked with him in the past; however, every time we thought of approaching Santosh Sivan, he would bluntly refuse the offer saying that his style of working wouldn’t sync with Telugu film directors. So, when Spyder came up, I was thrilled when Santosh sir himself called me saying that he’s doing the film because he had a good experience while working on Murugadoss’ Thuppakki. It’s a dream come true to work with him,” he confesses.

The buzz surrounding Spyder in Telugu and Tamil hasn’t gone unnoticed in Bollywood either. Apparently, after the first promo was unveiled, the team had numerous offers to dub the film in Hindi. “I’m really proud that Telugu cinema has evolved on the whole. And ever since Baahubali released, people have begun to pay more attention about what’s happening in Telugu film industry. I’m happy that Spyder is being viewed as another prestigious film from South,” Mahesh Babu signs off.