Mahesh Babu's evolution as the quintessential action hero — from Okkadu to Spyder

Hemanth Kumar

October 03, 2017 11:28:00 IST

There’s a running joke among Telugu movie buffs that all Mahesh Babu needs is a gun, Ray-Ban goggles, and a reason to run. And viola! You have a movie.

While this might sound like bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is, no one runs in Telugu films like Mahesh Babu. You can’t not notice it. If one could draw parallels, it’s akin to what Tom Cruise does in Hollywood films. That Mahesh Babu has often dabbled with action films, which are replete with chase sequences, has further given action choreographers a valid reason to compose more such stuff for the star.

Mahesh Babu in Spyder.

You’ve seen it in almost all his films, starting from his earliest action films like Okkadu to his recent thriller Spyder. And then, there’s the never ending fascination with guns and Ray-Ban goggles. All this and a lot more, there’s a case to be argued in favour of Mahesh Babu for being one of the quintessential action heroes in Telugu cinema.

In one of his earliest films as a child artiste, Koduku Dhidhina Kapuram, which was directed by his father Superstar Krishna, a young Mahesh Babu takes on a bunch of goons and in the midst of the fight sequence, there’s a dialogue which says, “Vaadu pillodu kaadhu. Pidugu.” (He isn’t a kid. He’s a thunderbolt.)

Whether it was destined that he would go on to become an action hero or not, Mahesh Babu has slowly but consciously built that image for himself.

By the time he returned as a lead hero with K Raghavendra Rao’s Rajakumarudu, Mahesh Babu joined the likes of Pawan Kalyan and NTR Jr, who took over the reins of Telugu cinema from the erstwhile generation. One of the defining moments in his career which cemented his place as an action hero was Gunasekhar’s Okkadu. The action drama was a blockbuster in 2003 and Mahesh’s intense portrayal of a kabaddi player, who goes all out to rescue a girl, set the ball rolling for the rest of his career.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Tollywood saw a slew of faction-based dramas, set in the backdrop of Rayalaseema region, including Samarasimha Reddy, Narasimha Naidu, Indra, and Aadhi.

Each one of them went on to become a blockbuster in its own right. Okkadu too is partly set in Rayalaseema region; however, a gripping screenplay, along with Mahesh Babu’s performance, set the film apart. Another defining action film was Trivikram Srinivas’ Athadu and there’s a good reason to believe that the acting style which Mahesh Babu imbibed in this film continues to influence him till date. It’s understated and it often leaves the impression that the subtlety is lost in translation.

And then, there was Puri Jagannadh’s Pokiri where his lackadaisical attitude was laced with bursts of anger and sarcasm. It worked like magic. And yes, he runs a lot in Pokiri. And there are guns too.

The film which truly changed his acting persona was Trivikram Srinivas’ Khaleja. The silent and brooding style was a thing of the past. Never was the actor more talkative in a film than what he was in Khaleja, and it continued in his subsequent films like Dookudu, Businessman, and Aagadu. The comic timing came as a delight to the actor’s fans and it’s become an USP in his recent films. For most part of his career, Mahesh had been flip-flopping between action dramas and family dramas, and at times, films like Srimanthudu and Dookudu had a bit of both.

For the longest time, he had been facing a barrage of questions from the media and fans about when he might play the role of a spy, a la James Bond. After all, it was his father (Superstar Krishna) who was the first to adapt James Bond like character in Telugu cinema with Gudachari 116 way back in 1966. It’s almost it’s meant to happen. The only question is when. Even when SS Rajamouli casually asked Mahesh Babu’s fans if they want to see him in a character like James Bond or Alluri Seetharamaraju (again, one of Krishna’s evergreen hits), the response was overwhelmingly in favour of James Bond.

Not surprisingly, when AR Murugadoss’ recent film Spyder was touted as a spy thriller, many believed that this would be the culmination of what he had been promising all these years. However, he sprang a surprise once again. Spyder has been termed by many as a film which lacked heroism because of how understated the performance and the character was.

Quite early in the film, Mahesh Babu says, “I’m not a Spiderman or a Superman. I just want to save people’s lives before something bad happens to them. That’s what makes me happy.” It was the story of a hero who didn’t want his heroism to be obvious. No wonder the film polarised a lot of people and the reactions have been extreme. But the character is what it is, and it was in sync with how both Mahesh Babu and Murugadoss preferred in general. “Our tastes are similar and we bonded a lot over that. Both of us prefer heroes being subtle on screen, and that’s what we tried to do in Spyder,” Murugadoss said prior to the film’s release.

One film which came particularly close to having a Bond/Bourne-like action sequences was Sukumar’s 1-Nenokkadine, which had this elaborate chase sequence in the streets of London. Although the film bombed at the box-office, it had everything that you expect from an action hero - guns, bikes, and a hero running towards his goal.

Truth is, in an industry which relies so heavily on dialogues to convey the emotion, Mahesh Babu has carved a niche for himself by approaching it differently and being normal to a large extent. It has worked for him, so far.

But the question to be asked now is if it become a cliche now. For now, the only mantra is to keep walking. Or shall we say - Keep Running.

Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 11:28 AM