5 Times Mahesh Babu Aced It
Looking at five of his best movies on the actor's birthday
Brahmotsavam(2016): Director Srikanth Addala, who contrary to the boxoffice results, has done a fine job and a very ambitious and ultimately unmanageable task of putting together the ultimate homage to that near-extinct institution that we once so revered.The Indian Joint Family. Creaky joints and all.The film is a sublime take-off on Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Saath Saath Hai . The sprawling acres of festivity populated by relatives friends and associated who keep popping in and out to partake in the pleasures of brotherly bonhomie. The epic canvas is done up with far more finesse than was seen in Barjatya’s film. In Bramhotsavam the vast family is captured in panoramic swoops of celebratory songs and dances shot in striking colours of ecstasy. It’s a pleasure to treasure watching Mahesh Babu step back from the centre of his universe to allow the whole mammoth cast a stroll across the canvas to remind us that the pleasures of a united Hindu family are not over. Not yet.
Filled with some very endearing actors Brahotsavam is what Barjatya’s Hum Saath Saath Hain would have been had it been done at a more aesthetic scale. The heightened emotions of a family that lives, eats, sings dances and, yes, worships, together are here scaled to a steep level of emotional expression. But the tone never gets shrill. This is the magic of Brahmotsavam that the disappointed audiences have missed completely. The characters are trapped in time-zone where bliss is generated by a self-governed democracy of domesticity that has no connection with the reality outside the family mansion. The way the director weaves in and out of the family idyll’s endless excursions into euphoria is emphatically endearing to watch. At the helm of the helium-induced euphoria is the father-son relationship played at a perfect pitch by Sathyaraj and Mahesh Babu. From their body-language we can see the two are buddies first, father-son thereafter.
Not that Mahesh Babu is any less attached to mother, played by Revathi. He can as easily discuss saree shades with her as he can thresh over entrepreneurial finer-points with his father. The hero here seldom sits still. He is all over the house including the ladies’ section, just like Salman Khan in Hum…Dil Chuke Sanam and Hum Saath SaathHain. He is the consummate metro-sexual man equally comfortable with his machismo and sensitivity.He befriends the two beauties Kajal Aggarwal and Samantha Ruth Prabhu, but commits himself to a relationship only with one.
Into the humdrum of the domesticity the director weaves the sounds of familial harmony and genealogical allegiances, torn sunder by the ‘outsider’, the disgruntled brother-in-law(Rao Ramesh) who can’t bear to see the joint strength of Mahesh Babu and his screen-father presiding over the domestic paradise.Mahesh Babu’s father’s quiet death(he dies unobtrusively while conversing with his son) signals the second movement in the plot where the hero sets out to trace and collect his family roots from all over the country. This is where the film’s silken threads , so delicately woven into the fabric of family together, comes apart at the seams, exposing a serious lapse of purpose and intent.
In some ways Brahmotsavam fails to hold together in much the same as the joint-family system. Just because family values are no more a matter of predominant concern to our society at large, it doesn’t follow that the dynamics of familial unity are to be discarded by our cinema. Bramahotsavam is a brave and winsome effort to show the joint-family system as far from dead.Long live the joint family.Creaky joints and all.
Spyder(2017): : There is nothing like a perfect spy thriller. But SPYder comes close. It is svelte, swanky and slick in a way that Telugu cinema is lately learning to be. Most important of all, the leading man, none other than Mahesh Babu, arguably Andhra Pradesh's No. 1 star, plays it so cool, he is almost the antithesis of Prabhas' sweaty over-exertive performance in the Baahubali series. An intrinsic aptness is applied to this film about intelligence and espionage. Though there are wide passages of unbelievable visual spectacle and plot twists that coil and recoil through a maze of unrepentant incredulity, there is nonetheless at the core of SPYder a yarn that induces an adrenaline rush in the audience while it rushes to go where angels fear to tread. SPYder, for all its overweening ambitions to keep the proceedings as real as possible, never quite manages to avoid the outrageous. There is a creeping tension enveloping the lengthy narrative. Though the film is two and half hours long, the length never sits uneasily on the narrative. Though the language is Telugu, I watched it without subtitles and I found no difficulty in following the plot.
Some passages in the screenplay are sheer ingenuity masquerading as masala fare. The post-intermission episode where Mahesh Babu playing a government surveillance agent, takes the help of television-addicted housewives to nab the terrorist, is a work of sheer genius. And the way the hero saves his mother and kid-brother from the sadistic villain has to be seen to be believed. Innovative writing in Indian cinema is hard to come by. One that synthesises thrills with a certain sobriety so effectively is rare. Murugadoss' writing is always ahead of his (considerable) skills as a director. And that's a good thing. While he lets Mahesh Babu's star power do all the talking (even while the actor himself remains distractingly quiet through most of the mayhem), the director leaves nothing to chance.There is no point of randomness in the plot. Every episode is written with a precise intent and pulverising purpose.Consequently the storytelling lets loose a cannon that blows the screen apart.
The plot's construct is controlled, measured and kinetic. The narrative takes time to build itself up into a frenzy of excitement. We are introduced to Mahesh Babu's Shiva almost as a boring whitecollar government officer determined to save distressed lives.
"I am no Superman or Spiderman," Shiva tells his friend and then proceeds with intense irony to peak the pique, as Shiva takes on a psychopath who has a back story that tells us with disturbing directness that the psychopath loves to kill for the fun of it.
Sarileru Neekevvaru(2020) : Mahesh Babu has always been the poster-boy for cinema with a relevant theme and contemporary topic. This is the first time I’ve seen him having so much fun with a role. In a film that takes him from the army base of Kashmir (where in the preamble we see him fool around with his sidekick/friend over a cup of coffee while a timebomb ticks away in a public square—cool, did someone say?) to the town of Kunoor where the righteous professor Vijayshanthi (back on screen after a long hiatus, looking serene ) is in need of serious help from our all-purpose hero. In-between Kashmir and Kunoor there is a lengthy train journey which is an independent film of its own. It comprises the fidgety plot’s romantic leading lady Rashmika Mandanna and her family desperate to marry her off to any man who would have her. Mandanna who really has no place in the plot, spends the entire film stalking and coochie-cooing our armyman hero who couldn’t be bothered less. He has far more important things to do than pay attention to woman whose IQ level is seriously underdeveloped.
Mahesh Babu’s confrontation sequences with Prakash Raj show more writing skills than some of the other episodes in this lengthy film that jumps audaciously from the comic to the action sometimes within the same scene. In one specially inventive sequence Prakash Raj brings on the mob to teach Mahesh Babu a lesson. As they move forward menacingly with blood in their eyes Mahesh loudly announces that Samantha(Akkineni) is visiting in the next street.
The mob disperses magically. One wishes there were more such cleverly conceived interludes in the plot which tends to wander into bylanes with deadends. But then we have Mahesh Babu. He is that decisive factor which makes the audience cast its vote in the film’s favour,no matter how scattered the flavour. Here he is more in the mood to please the masses than he has ever been. His pre-climax monologue on political corruption is bound to bring the house down, though you may be wondering how a cocky soldier reached the parliament. Sarileru Neekevvaru has plenty of patriotism and family sentiments. But most of all it has the audacity to use its charismatic leading man’s presence in loops of high-flying heroics which salute the enduring star-power of an actor who never seems to age. No matter that the provocation or the cause for rage.
Maharshi(2019): It takes a whole universe of guts to shoulder one’s responsibilities as an empowered citizen of India, as Mahesh Babu has done in this film.If you stay quiet you are accused of pacifism. If you speak up you’re an exhibitionist. Mahesh Babu who is a formidable icon in Telugu cinema, won’t remain quiet any more. Breaking free of his innate political reservations he speaks out in favour of farmers of our impoverished country in a voice that never strains to be heard.
On the surface Maharshi is yet another star-vehicle for Telugu cinema’s most revered contemporary superstar. To be sure, almost every frame of Maharshi is dedicated to eulogizing its leading man as he plunges into the role of a social crusader. The part sits easily on Mahesh Babu. He doesn’t shy away from comfortably occupying the moral high-ground that the narrative allots him.
Seldom does a cinematic hero looks so comfortable with his arrogance. Mahesh Babu Aplays a man who thinks the world of himself. He scoffs at his father (Prakash Raj, in a moving cameo), taunts his best friend Ravi (Allari Naresh who can’t decide whether he wants to spare isolation) who hero-worships him and drives away his girlfriend (Pooja Hegde, inconsequential) because…well, she doesn’t fit into his ambitions.Director Vamsi Paidipally knows how to tap into Mahesh Babu’s youthful image . The early scenes in the IIT campus are well executed. But it’s in the second reformatory half that the protagonist Rishi Kumar, and his story come into their own. The village sequences create a sense of imminence and generosity for the cause of the farmers.
The restorative image of a film that wants to heal the wounded selfworth of farmers is never squandered for effect.Every time Mahesh Babu speaks on the issue of bankrupt farmers we see not the star but the star’s conscience spilling into the frames irrigating the driest corner with tears that long to be shed.Indeed, Mahesh Babu’s transformative performance from arrogant conceit to conscientious farmer is arguably his best to date. He waltzes across the arching plot not missing a single step as he negotiates his character’s offensive conceit. The only time he is persuaded to slow down his vehicle of social reform it is to break into a joyful jig and song with his romantic interest Pooja Hegde who looks like she walked into the wrong film.
Commandingly, Mahesh Babu never hides his character’s arrogance, Somewhere he knows thatA the sneer won’t last. Good karma will. Maharshi exudes a sense of comfort and happiness in the midst of the wreckage and targeting.
Bharat Ane Nenu(2018): Mahesh Babu as Bharath, the heir-apparent Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, doesn’t need to raise his voice to be heard.When he talks, everyone strains to listen. And that includes us, the rapt audience. And when he rebukes the nosy press photographers for prying into his love life, I could almost feel the flinch.
For three hours, Mahesh Babu’s CM act had me glued to my seat. I cheered, clapped, whooped and whistled (okay I can’t whistle after seeing the incorruptible politician… I can’t lie). But this man, so secretive, so reticent and so reluctant to let the world know what he thinks, simply doesn’t respond to flattery or vilification. Hate him or love him, this man will continue doing what he believes in.
By default, after his father’s sudden death, Bharath is put in the seat of power. Before that, he is a carefree student in England, enjoying his life of moderation. Much like Rajiv Gandhi must have when his mother was suddenly annihilated. Come to think of it, there is a lot of Rajiv Gandhi in Mahesh Babu’s Bharath. The suave, erudite bent of mind, the ability to be persuasive without bullying his opponents… Except when bullied. Then we see a different personality.
There is an extremely engaging sequence at a hospital where Bharath’s politician-uncle (Prakash Raj, epitomising the sophisticated sliminess of the seasoned politician) who is actually responsible for Bharath’s unannounced chief ministership, tries to arm-twist Bharath into reversing his transfer decision for some errant bureaucrats.
“Please don’t embarrass me by insisting,” Bharath says gently before walking off with that understated confidence, leaving behind one red-faced politician-patriarch.There are numerous such moments of cathartic rhetoricism in the narrative where we witness the dynamic chief minister playing politics by self-made rules. Mahesh Babu makes the cool CM look cooler with his refusal to ‘act cool’. The only time I cringed was when Bharath asked his startled personal assistant about the clothes that the girl at the bus stop (whom the CM has been ogling every day on the way to parliament) must be wearing on that particular day.
Throughout the engrossing film, we see him taking decisions that give us hope for Indian politics, though I doubt a Chief Minister like Bharath will happen in my lifetime.
Bharath Ane Nenu gives us much more than rousing entertainment. It gives us hope. Hope for politicians who are fearless and corruption-free and who can put this messed-up country before self interest.Mahesh Babu makes it all seem feasible, desirable, attainable. He has solid support from writer-director Koratala Siva who doesn’t allow a moment of the inherent drama in the plot to be dissipated, diluted or to lapse into humbug.
I must also mention A. Sreekar Prasad’s editing which wraps itself around the sprawling saga with insistent economy, and Devi Sri Prasad’s music and songs which careen between inspirational and ‘perspirational’ depending on who is dancing to whose tunes.Most of the times, this fervent concoction of politics and drama has us wrapped around its little finger.
Forget the spoken language, Bharath Ane Nenu speaks the language that we all crave to hear. The language of incorruptibility. Get us a chief minister like Bharath and our faith in the democratic process would automatically be restored