Why Mahesh ‘Cool Dude’ Babu Is a Gift to the Telugu Film Industry
Why do you need to know about Mahesh Babu? For starters, it’s his birthday today. But here’s why cinema needs him.
Mahesh Babu was a reluctant child artist who surprisingly became a Telugu Superstar. Surprising, because very many across the woods (Bolly, Holly, Tolly, Molly, Jolly) have lost their stardom to puberty, regardless of how long they tried to delay it.
Babu is a genre by himself; it is one that he has himself created and inhabits. Allow me to elaborate.
Breaking the Mould and How!
Mahesh is a star child, son of veteran actor Krishna, who is a star you can’t help but appreciate... But only if you are Telugu.
Balakrishna and NTR junior (NT Ramarao’s son and grandson), and Ram Charan (Chiranjeevi’s son) are others with famous fathers.
These stars bank on not just their celebrity status, but also on how similar they are to their fathers. For example, in many of NTR junior’s movies and in Ram Charan’s second movie there are specific scenes and dialogues that kindle nostalgia and force you to make the connection between the son and the father. You get the feeling that they are improved clones of the original, who are better at dance and fight scenes.
But Mahesh Babu is the only actor who is nothing like his father. From very early on, he has paid attention to himself as a performer. He unlearned all that he was taught as a child artist. For example:
(Look, I’m sorry, but a birthday is an occasion to bring out the old albums for some good-natured, traditional embarrassment.)
Doesn’t Stand Out, But Stands Tall
He dances well, but he’s not extraordinary. Flubbery Junior NTR can jiggle around him with surprising grace and Allu Arjun is by far the best dancer in the country, except for Prabhu Deva. I believe he can out-dance Hrithik.
Mahesh can dance, but he’s no dancer. And yet, he has his own style, which is quite appealing. He knows how to handle his face and smile, no matter what the step.
What about his physique? Ram Charan, Prabbhas (who allegedly weighs 150 kilos as Bahubali) and Allu Arjun are ripped. They would give Salman and Aamir serious gymming goals, I kid you not!
Mahesh Babu has never bared his chest, nor flexed a muscle on screen; not even the perfunctory bicep. And yet, when he gets into a dog fight on screen, you know he can smash a granite pillar in two, and throw a two ton elephant of a goon up in the air and squish him like a sullied chapati. Yet, the only physical trait that is harped on in all of his movies is that he’s tall.
I believe that he’s found a sweet spot: he’s neither unrealistically ripped (like Salman Khan), nor does he lack innate charm (unlike Salman Khan). His charm is refreshingly tenuous: he can transmogrify it instantly into seething anger.
Only Mahesh Babu can hulk it, softly.
The God Of Remakes’ New Makeover
Both Tamil and Hindi cinema have no idea how much they owe Mahesh Babu. Most of Vijay’s super hit movies and Salman Khan’s come-back-of-sorts movie (Wanted) are all remakes of Mahesh Babu’s blockbusters.
You can’t copy Rajinikanth. Chiranjeevi’s style is purely Telugu. But movies like Okkadu, Pokiri or Dookudu are based on getting you to love Mahesh Babu; the way he looks, walks and talks. Story, screenplay, everything else, is incidental. When MB comes on screen and smiles his smile; there will be butterflies.
BUT, Mahesh has played the same character for over a decade. And age shows only if you were to binge watch all of his movies back to back (which I did).
Happy Birthday MB! Here’s wishing you (and us) more of Seethamma Vakitlo.... and Dookudu, and no more Bramhotsavam.
(The article is being republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Mahesh Babu’s birthday. It was first published on 9 August 2016.)
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