Makes and breaks the Telugu industry

Balancing celebrity with humility and professional with the personal, Mahesh Babu is the reigning Superstar of Telugu cinema whose appeal transcends generations.

In the movie-mad land of the Telugus, where stars are demigods and fandom a religion, Mahesh Babu is undoubtedly the chosen one from his generation. His fame is already the stuff of legend, and his success and failure at the box office makes and breaks the Telugu industry as a whole. It’s surprising then to see the superstar stroll in sans entourage at the Vogue shoot. A noiseless professional, he comes armed with his boy-next-door charm and works with the crew, posing with ease and being a team player from start to end. Stardom aside, at home he is simply Mahesh—the son of Krishna, husband to Namrata and father of Gautham and Sitara.

I haven’t seen a more disciplined and dedicated person. He doesn’t settle for less. And he can balance work-life very well, says his actor-wife, Namrata. But unlike the cocksure, infallible characters he plays, the Mahesh at work swings between glorious success and bitter failure. As he talks about his journey so far, the 44-year-old (who doesn’t look a day over 25) confesses, Failure is a hidden treasure. I learn from them. I analyse it. But the initial pain is hard. Namrata helps me through that.

Ask Mahesh about his illustrious trajectory, and he’d have to turn back the clock to how it all began—at the age of four, almost by default, thanks to his father Krishna, a Superstar from an earlier era in the Telugu film industry.

Mahesh recalls how his family summered regularly in Ooty, where his father would film songs for the six or seven movies he starred in each year. On one of these visits, his father asked him to play a role in Needa (1979). The four-year-old jumped at the opportunity and the film went on to become a hit. Mahesh proved to be a natural, and soon all holidays came with a dose of histrionics. Every summer I would do a film in those two months. My only training was the way my father made those films with me when I was a child star. It couldn’t have been done more beautifully.

In 1999, Mahesh transitioned from child star to his debut as the romantic lead in Raja Kumarudu, which won him the State Nandi Award for Best Male Debut and the affection of an audience that cut across generations and bestowed upon him the title Prince of Tollywood. But what followed was not so easy. It was a record-setting launch, but my next few films failed. Until he nabbed the supernatural drama Murari in 2001, It was a family film with a plot that was completely new. That was the first time that people thought I could act. Then failure again until Okkadu (2003), which, to be honest, is what made me a star.

What’s unique is even after a 20-year-long career, his public image remains clean and free of scandal. He’s seen as the good Telugu boy grounded in family life rather than being caught up in the trappings of fame. On Social Media, fans see a doting dad to his teenage son and seven-year-old daughter, and a loving husband to his wife. Their chemistry is unmissable on set, where Namrata discusses his look with the stylists and he follows her lead. Namrata and I have been married for 14 years. We understand each other well. And we let each other be. That’s the most important secret to a successful marriage. Space. And of course, children—they ground you. I have to credit my dad for teaching me that. When he came home to us, he wasn’t a star.

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