Ghattamaneni Mahesh Babu was born to Telugu film Superstar Sri Ghattamaneni Sivaramakrishna Murthy, fondly known to one and all as Hero Krishna, and Smt. Indira Devi on 9th August, 1975. Born after brother Ramesh Babu (actor turned producer who established Sri Krishna Productions banner) and two sisters Padmavati (on whose name Padmalaya banner was established) and Manjula (actress, producer who established Indira Productions banner), he became the apple of everyone‘s eye in the family. He also has a third sister, the baby of the family, Priyadarshini. All siblings have the rare honor of having acted in films as child artistes.
Mahesh’s childhood was spent mostly in Madras (Chennai) under the ever loving care of his favorite paternal grandmother Smt. Durgamma and the rest of his family, while his father was busy establishing a name for himself in the Telugu film industry as the most hardworking actor filming in 3 shifts a day. So as not to miss out on their paternal bonding, Krishna made sure all the children spent sufficient time with him on location and on his sets, especially during holidays. The acting bug, thus started early in Mahesh‘s childhood. The film sets were a second playground and he did not hesitate to face the camera when asked to do a small role in his brother Ramesh Babu‘s debut film, Needa, under Dr. Dasari Narayana Rao‘s direction in 1979, at the tender age of 4. Mahesh studied at St. Bede‘s School in Chennai, where his school mates of the same generation were Surya Siva Kumar (Tamil film actor) and Vishnuvardhan (Tamil film director) while continuing to attend his dad’s filming during holidays.
On one such occasion, in 1983, at the age of 8, director Kodi Ramakrishna requested him to do a role in the film Poratam since they were having difficulty casting for the role of Krishna’s sibling. This was his first full length feature film and can be considered his debut film as a child artist. Producer / Director Dhoondy, one of the early backers of Krishna in his struggling days, watched a preview of the movie and was stunned to find out he was Krishna’s own son and remarked that there was a spark in him and he would become an excellent artist. True to that prognostication, Mahesh went on to win the hearts of many Telugu film lovers as a child artist through varied roles. In Sankharavam (1987) he faced the cameras with his father directing him for the first time. Veteran director A. Kodanda Rami Reddy directed him and his brother Ramesh for Bazaar Rowdy (1988), where he overshadowed his own brother and won accolades for jointly carrying the film on his shoulders. Mugguru Kodukulu (1988) saw him again team up with his brother and father, the father directing them all this time. This film was his paternal grandmother’s dream project, which she nurtured over the years as a vehicle for her 3 sons to act; however, Krishna’s siblings did not show any inclination to act so the project had to be taken up with her grandsons instead of her sons. Krishna, who had earlier given strict instructions to the technicians that Mahesh is not allowed to do any stunts himself, was surprised at the dexterity and skill with which Mahesh effortlessly handled such scenes. Mahesh and the technicians confessed that Mahesh had always done his own stunts even for earlier films despite Krishna’s orders. Mahesh never believed in doing something at the risk of someone else’s life and argued that he would rather put himself in the position of risk than someone else’s child. Ramesh also convinced his dad that his brother spent spare time rehearsing for the stunts including in his own bedroom so that he could execute perfectly without great risk to life and limb – such was his dedication even at that young age. Gudachari 117 (1989) reunited Mahesh with his first film director Kodi Ramakrishna in a James Bond type of flick for which his dad, the lead in the movie, was famous. Koduku Diddina Kapuram (1989), directed by Krishna again, had Mahesh in a dual role in a film based on The Parent Trap. Mahesh overshadowed the rest of cast, leading senior actor Mohan Babu to comment “ Ee budathadu manalni mingesthunnaadu,” Balachandrudu and Anna Tammudu (1990) saw the teenaged Mahesh Babu completing his first innings on celluloid after which he concentrated on his studies and went out of the public eye while letting nature take its course through the awkward adolescent years.
Loyola College, Chennai and a B.Com degree beckoned with familiar faces such as his old pals from school Surya and Vishnuvardhan. Vijay, another leading Tamil star’s son, was a peer, as was S. J. Suryah who would later become a successful actor and director himself. The off-celluloid years enabled Mahesh to indulge in his favorite sports of cricket and billiards. Several producers and directors were eager to cast him as quickly as possible and reintroduce him as a full fledged hero but Krishna always wanted to re-introduce Mahesh on Padmalaya banner when the time was ripe. Mahesh was still tender looking and hadn’t yet outgrown his boyishness and adolescence. Given the changing conditions in the Telugu film industry, with Krishna’s star status on the wane due to changing audience tastes and production costs getting high, Krishna finally decided to let leading producer Ashwini Dutt introduce Mahesh on the Vyjayanthi banner. For director, he chose one of his best friends in the Telugu film industry, the man Mahesh fondly calls “Mavayya” K. Raghavendra Rao, though the both had not done a film together in 14 years since Vajrayudham in 1985. Thus, in 1999, Mahesh was re-introduced as a full fledged hero with Rajakumarudu (The Prince) and since then he has been fondly called Prince by his fans and the tag stuck with even the media which refers to him as “Prince” Mahesh Babu. This film was a debonair start for “Prince” Mahesh’s career, with Bollywood actress Preity Zinta as his first female co-star, earning him the Nandi award for best male debutant. Superstar Krishna also appeared in a special role as his father and the movie hit box office gold, earning the highest collections ever for a debutant hero. His next release Yuvaraju followed in the year 2000. Directed by YVS Choudary, and co-starring Simran and Sakshi Sivanand as his female leads, the movie generated a bit of controversy since the young Mahesh acted as the father of a young son in only his second movie. Never one to let anything faze him, Mahesh brushed off criticism over his choice of role and the film did well at the box office completing 100 days in 19 centers all over AP.
His third movie Vamsi under the direction of B.Gopal had a role similar to the college kid role in Yuvaraju and Mahesh suggested it be changed so as not to repeat himself in subsequent films. With Reema Sen as heroine, the movie was shot for a few days and early rushes showed a mispairing and no on screen chemistry between Reema and Mahesh. Krishna brought production to a halt in order to search for a new heroine and after several attempts that did not work, a chance meeting with Namrata Shirodkar, who was in Hyderabad to complete some scenes for a long delayed Chiranjeevi starrer Anji, led Krishna to cast Namrata as the leading lady in the film. Call it destiny or fortuitousness, this momentous decision set in motion a series of events spread over several years that culminated in Mahesh marrying his third film costar, with the approval of his family, on February 10, 2005, in Mumbai. While the movie was a disaster at the box office, it had its share of interesting moments. The screenplay was provided by Satyanand, who trained Mahesh into honing his acting skills. Devisri Prasad debuted as a lyric writer for the song Vecha Vechaga Vundi, and also sang it under Mani Sharma’s music direction. The climax action sequences were canned in 46 days by Vijayan who wanted to get the quality as close to the Hollywood movies that inspired them. Though the director B. Gopal declared he was the reason behind the failure of the film, Mahesh brushed it off saying it was the team’s collective failure and not just one person’s. In 2001, his successful movie Murari, produced by hard core Superstar Krishna fan Nandigam Ramalingeswara Rao and directed by Krishna Vamsi, who was reeling under a dry spell at the box office, was released and earned him plaudits from all sections of audience and from critics. He bagged a Special Jury Nandi award for his splendid performance in the film. After the preview of the film, he got his ‘said-to-be-best’ appreciation from his father Superstar Krishna, who stated “Mahesh’s performance is stunning and it left me awestruck”. For most Mahesh fans, this is the movie that really endeared them to him, given his ease in moving from serious to light to emotional expressions in sometimes a single scene with an ease that eludes most veteran actors. Takkari Donga, produced and directed by Jayant Paranji was released in 2002, where Mahesh essayed the role of a cowboy, harking back to a legacy that established Superstar Krishna as the first ever desi cowboy in honor of his home production Mosagallaku Mosagadu. The movie was meant to be a popcorn flick aimed at the MTV and younger generation with a short attention span. With excellent photography, songs, acting, stunts, it entertained audiences and retained the impression that, after his father, Mahesh was the only one suited for such a role in Telugu films. His death defying stunts, which as usual he insisted on performing himself, especially the sequences under a moving train, thrilled audiences like never before. His untiring effort led to another Special Jury Nandi award.
He had another release Bobby in 2002, produced by his first director K. Raghavendra Rao and directed by debutant Shoban. This movie was a disaster at the box office. Mahesh’s next most memorable film was released in 2003. Okkadu, directed by Gunasekhar, again reeling from a stretch of bad luck at the box office, and produced by M.S.Raju under the prestigous Sumanth Art Productions banner remains a landmark film in terms of conciseness of screenplay. It was probably for the first time on Telugu screen that a hard core villain was shown as having tender feelings for a girl, the heroine, purely bereft of any ulterior motive such as wealth or power to be gained from her, so much so that he was willing to sacrifice anything for the girl. The movie went on to become the biggest blockbuster of the year. He won his first Filmfare award, for his performance as the boy next door in the film. The vintage scene of Mahesh at Kondareddy Buruju in Kurnool clenching his fist and taking on Prakash Raj head on will remain forever etched in the memory of Mahesh’s fans for the intensity in his eyes and his tough demeanor. This was after all the scene in the film that marked Mahesh’s growth as a serious action hero after the criticism that in Takkari Donga, for all his effort, he still remained a chocolate faced cowboy. His rough and tough demeanor in Okkadu unveiled a new dimension to Mahesh; such was its impact that producers clamored to remake it with him in other languages. Not one to rest on already won laurels, Mahesh diligently pushed back on himself starring in remakes and the film was later remade in other languages with others.
On the heels of such a big blockbuster, his next film in 2003 with Teja, a director who had not tasted failure till then and was turning into a brand himself, created high expectations. Nijam became a victim of a routine revenge story line and Mahesh’s newly minted star status did not help audiences receive his innocent chocolate boy next door characterization. Despite the result, Mahesh‘s spellbinding performance as naive ‘Sitaram’ received huge applauses all over, which again acquired him the prestigious Nandi Award as best actor. While Okkadu showed a new dimension to his image, Nijam unveiled a capacity to emote beyond anyone’s expectations, especially in the scenes between Mahesh and Brahmaji in the police station and the mortuary.