Mahesh Babu on how he experimented with his looks for Maharshi, and taking a break from social dramas
Mahesh Babu acknowledges that he has been criticised for not changing his look in recent films, but he believes Maharshi will change that perception.
Mahesh Babu says that he can't imagine his life without his films and family.
"Namrata (Shirodkar) has been my strength all these years," says Mahesh.
Mahesh reveals that when he was first approached for Maharshi, he was busy shooting for Bharat Ane Nenu.
The first time he faced the camera, Mahesh Babu remembers, he was just four years old. By then, his father, Superstar Krishna was one of the biggest stars in Telugu cinema, and Mahesh Babu went on to act in numerous films as a child artiste. “I really enjoyed that phase of my life, as an actor, because I could be on a film set during Summer holidays. Later, my father advised me to finish my studies before making my debut as a lead actor. I’ve been playing lead roles for the past 20 years. I’m 43 now. I’m a very emotional person, and I’m quite attached to my films. My family and films are my life. I can’t imagine doing anything other than this,” the actor confesses.
Although he made his debut with Rajakumarudu in 1999, Mahesh Babu credits Murari (2001) as his first major breakthrough as an actor. “That film showed people that I could act,” he laughs, adding, “I still remember watching the film along with my father, and after that, my dad put his hand on my shoulder. He didn’t say a word, but I understood that he was very pleased with my work. It’s still the best compliment and most memorable moment of my career.”
Now, there is an air of excitement about his upcoming film, Maharshi, directed by Vamshi Paidipally, which will be the 25th film of Mahesh Babu’s career as a lead actor. “It’s funny that everyone is treating this as a landmark in my career, when several actors in my father’s generation had acted in nearly 300 to 400 films (laughs). Having said that, filmmaking has become a tough task these days. We need to spend at least 8 to 10 months to complete a big-budget film, and if someone manages to finish it in five months, that in itself is a big task. Although technology has improved by leaps and bounds compared to what it was two decades ago, it hasn’t made the process any simpler. We still have to put in all the hard work to execute the film and to ensure that it turns out to be good is not simple either,” Mahesh Babu avers.
The first time when Vamshi Paidipally met Mahesh Babu to pitch the story of Maharshi, the actor was busy shooting for Bharat Ane Nenu. “I thought I would tell Vamshi that I can’t do the film because of my prior commitments. However, I loved the story so much that I asked him if he could wait for couple of years. He was clear that he wanted only me to play the lead role and he kept working on the script for two years. When he gave me a final narration before the shoot, I was bowled over with the depth in my characterisation, and how Vamshi’s team treated it like a biopic of Rishi. It has a beautiful journey and Rishi will be seen as a college student, a successful CEO, and finally as a farmer. And Vamshi also took care that it works at an emotional level. Maharshi is a content-rich film and I’m really happy to be part of this,” the actor reveals.
One of the challenges for him, Mahesh Babu says, was pulling off his role as a college student convincingly. This segment reportedly runs for nearly 45 minutes in the story, and also has Pooja Hegde and Allari Naresh playing vital roles. “I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now and have done 24 films. At this stage of my life, if I have to play a college student, I have to look convincing in that part. The credit goes to Vamshi and cinematographer KU Mohanan for making me look good,” Mahesh smiles. In the recent past, the actor has been criticised for not experimenting much with his looks, and Mahesh acknowledges that too. “I’ve been told that my look has been the same in most of my recent films, but you should understand that the look is designed as per the character in the story. At best, you can change your hairstyle or grow a beard to don a new look. In a way, Maharshi will be different because I’ve three roles to play — as a student, a CEO, and a farmer.”
Maharshi focuses on the life of the protagonist, who goes from being quite selfish to being selfless, and how he brings about a big change in society. Although Maharshi follows a similar trajectory as seen in Srimanthudu, where the lead character goes to the village to bring a huge reform, the actor says that there are no similarities between the two films. “Srimanthudu was all about adopting a village. Bharat Ane Nenu focused on accountability in public life. I don’t want to reveal much about Maharshi now, but it has a very strong point. I’m confident that it’ll make a huge social impact,” he adds.
Ask him whether his journey as an actor has been fulfilling or not, the actor puts things in perspective saying, he says, “I’m grateful to all the directors that I’ve worked with for giving me interesting characters to play. They have helped me to grow as an actor and made me a star. Krishna Vamsi’s Murari showed people that I could act. Gunashekar’s Okkadu made me a star. Later, Trivikram Srinivas’ Athadu opened a big market for me in the US, and Puri Jagannadh’s Pokiri made me a superstar. Similarly, Sreenu Vaitla’s Dookudu showcased a different dimension of my acting persona. Sukumar’s 1-Nenokkadine is one of my favourite films even though it didn’t do well at the box office, and Koratala Siva gave me two blockbusters with Srimanthudu and Bharat Ane Nenu. Of course, I’m still jittery about my films because the stakes are so high that you can’t go wrong. The pre-release business is so high that you need all your films to become blockbusters so that everyone makes money. That’s the pressure with every film. People forget about your previous films if your current one doesn’t work well.”
The actor also credits his wife, Namrata Shirodkar, as the driving force of his life and career. “She takes care of all the creatives when it comes to TV commercials and brand endorsements. Namrata has been my strength all these years,” he says.
In the past few years, Mahesh Babu has ventured into film production, digital content, and even multiplex business with Mahesh Babu being a partner in AMB Cinemas, a swanky multiplex in Hyderabad. “It’s been my dream for the past six years to own a swanky multiplex. I wanted it to be like a five star hotel with the best projection and sound in the country. I would often discuss about it with Asian Films’ Sunil Narang, and now that that dream has come true, I couldn’t be any happier. Also, we are producing a film with Adivi Sesh. I really liked his work in Goodachari, and we have plans to back more films with good content.”
Meanwhile, the actor has already agreed to play the lead role in Anil Ravipudi’s upcoming film, which is expected to go on floors in the last week of June. Initially, there were plans to collaborate with Sukumar. However, the two decided to work together after some time. “I was eager to do a full-length entertainer post Maharshi. My previous few films have all been intense social dramas, and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. That’s the reason why I decided to collaborate with Anil Ravipudi. I’m going to work with Sukumar soon. He’s a dear friend. There’s also a film with SS Rajamouli and Trivikram Srinivas each, and we’ll have to see when we find time to work with each other.”
The actor confesses that he has become a lot more cautious before signing films and it is largely due to the mistakes that he made in the past when he went ahead because of the faith he had in some directors. “I’m in no rush to take up more films, even though I would like to do couple of films every years. I have learnt from my past mistakes. There was a time when I would listen to a story for 20 to 30 minutes, and I would get so excited that I would agree to do the film. However, it doesn’t seem as exciting anymore once you hear the full narration. Now, I insist on a bound script before the shoot even begins. That’s the way to go,” Mahesh Babu signs off.
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