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.
He then worked in the direction of his college mate S.J Surya in Nani, produced by his sister Manjula, the story of an 8-year old boy transforming overnight into a 28- year old charming young man. The 2004 released movie, inspired by Big, did not do well at the box office due to a confused screen play and again miscasting Mahesh in a soft chocolate boy role that audiences could no longer accept after Okkadu. For hard core fans, though, Mahesh’s ease of morphing into a child like persona with all the innocence required is an ultimate treat in acting ability. S J Surya, who essayed the role in Tamil, remarked that he could not get close to even 10% of Mahesh’s acting in the Tamil version. The film will, however, be remembered for the best lyrics in the 2000s on motherhood “Pedave Palikina Maatallone Teeyani Maate Amma,” written by Chandra Bose. Mahesh again collaborated with Guna Sekhar for his next movie Arjun which was produced by his brother Ramesh Babu. This movie, released in 2004, turned in a decent performance at the box office. He received a Special Jury Nandi award for his emotional performance in role of loving brother who attempts to rescue his twin sister from the clutches of her evil in-laws. This film will remain etched in peoples’ minds for the Madurai Meenakshi temple set that was recreated as close to the original as possible and Veturi Sundararama Murthy’s lyrics on the history behind Madhura Meenakshi and the bonds between Tamilians and Telugus. 2005 saw the first release of Mahesh after his marriage with Namrata. Trivikram Srinivas’ second directorial venture, Athadu, was completely different from his prior works as writer and director and a stylishly made film with high technical values on the famous Jayabheri banner of actor, producer Murali Mohan. Mahesh once again captivated the audience in the role of an assassin Nanda Gopal/ Parthu, achieved critical acclaim and earned himself the Nandi award for Best actor. With Trivikram’s brand of punchy retorts in dialogues, heart warming family scenes especially the interplay between Parthu and his maradalu Poori and the moonlight scene in Poori‘s room, fascinating action episodes and fabulous songs, it remains a mystery as to why the movie did not end up being another blockbuster. Most audiences have repeatedly viewed this movie post release on DVD and on TV giving it greater appreciation than during its big screen release.
2006 saw the transformation of Mahesh from star to Superstar. Mahesh again worked with a director trying to find his bearings at the box office after a string of failures. Pokiri, produced jointly by his sister Manjula and Puri Jagannadh, and directed by Puri Jagannadh, became the biggest blockbuster in both their careers, earning for Mahesh the unsolicited title of Superstar spontaneously and unanimously from audiences and critics alike. Re-writing 75 years of Telugu Cinema Industry box office records, Pokiri drew huge crowds everywhere in AP , other states and overseas, and expanded the box office potential for Telugu cinema worldwide. Children equally embraced the movie despite its ‘A‘ rated Censor certification. Perhaps for the first time in Telugu film history, parents themselves refused to comply with the certification and argued with exhibitors to let their children in to see the movie. Mahesh’s mesmerizing performances as street smart ‘Pandugaadu’ with a North Andhra dialect and no-nonsense undercover cop ‘Krishna Manohar’ created waves at the box office thus springing up ‘Pokiri Mania’ everywhere. He received accolades from titans like Amitabh Bachchan , Ram Gopal Varma, Rajinikanth, Rajkumar Santoshi and other luminaries from the Indian film industry. This film was later remade in other languages but none of those versions created the mania that Pokiri did. Mahesh earned his second Filmfare award for Pokiri. He again collaborated with Director Guna sekhar in 2006, for the third time for the film Sainikudu which was released a few months after ‘Pokiri’. This didn’t reach the obvious high expectations developed after delivering a blockbuster like Pokiri. He portrayed the role of a responsible student, who subsequently works for achieving corruption-free politics, thus elucidating and emphasizing the need for involvement of youth and educated in current politics. For his next venture, Mahesh embraced corporate film making in TFI, by collaborating with UTV, with young director Surender Reddy for Athidi which made him the first corporate hero in Telugu Film Industry. Released in 2007, with plenty of shades of Pokiri but without a cohesiveness in narration, the movie did not do well at the box office, though it still managed to draw highest openings in his career. The failure of this movie to maintain its stamina at the box office left Mahesh in a quandary, trying to understand what audiences were really expecting from him.
On the family front, on 31 August, 2006, Namrata gave birth to a baby boy, giving Mahesh a wonderful gift. They named the boy Gautam. After Athidi Mahesh devoted more time to family matters with a new toddler to spend time with, supporting and helping Namrata cope with her father’s illness and then his death, followed by Namrata’s mother’s bout with cancer and her passing away in 2008. He supported Namrata’s first venture into TV production with a Marathi dance based show where Namrata and her sister Shilpa judged the dancing talent of contestants. He has also been involved in charity work, especially with cancer stricken children and other social causes that he doesn’t prefer publicizing. Recently he has become an idol for people who are trying to give up smoking ever since he publicly revealed how he quit smoking. Mahesh also lent his voice for the film Jalsa, directed by one of his friends and favorite directors Trivikram Srinivas, who directed him in Athadu, thus welcoming a new trend in Telugu Cinema. As a fallout of this, several other top stars have lent voiceovers for other stars’ films. Mahesh also signed on to do a movie with Trivikram Srinivas as director in 2009.
The Royal Prince of Telugu Cinema has endorsed several corporate brands during the time away from shooting and is currently the brand ambassador for ThumsUp, Navratan Oil, Univercell Mobile Network, Amrutanjan and Provogue . As part of his duties as brand ambassador he has been getting in touch with his fans from time to time and also started a Twitter account to get more close to his fans and hear their opinions. He is the first South Indian star to have more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. Primary shooting for his current under-production film Mahesh Khaleja is nearing completion. It is expected to release in October 2010. Mahesh has listened to advice from his Superstar father and entreaties from his fans and has decided to work on projects that complete faster. As part of this new approach, he will soon start primary filming on Sreenu Vytla directed Dhookudu for 14 reels Entertainment, where he essays the role of a police officer and is pairing up with newcomer Samantha Prabhu. This film is expected to release in the first half of 2011.