In a quiet Hyderabad bylane, tucked away in the plush locale of Jubilee Hills, is an imposing 15,000-sqft minimalist home. ‘Ghattamaneni’, reads the nameplate. This is the home of Mahesh Babu, a superstar of Telugu cinema, former actor and model Namrata Shirodkar and their two children.
As you enter the private sanctum, you are immediately greeted with two large statues of Shirdi Saibaba and Ganesha. The man of the manor walks up to greet us with a warm smile. Namrata, perched on a highchair in a compact make-up room adjacent to the living space, looks up and greets us. This is the couple’s first shoot together after nearly 18 years of marriage.
The two met on the set of Vamsi in 2000. “It was one of the biggest disasters,” Mahesh laughs. “But I met her, we fell in love on the sets and started seeing each other. We dated for five years before we got married, but we pretty much knew that this was serious after two years.”
Inside their stylish, informal office room, a large, gold-framed Ramesh Gorjala, with a bold, red visage splashed across half the painting, occupies the pride of place. Sunlight filtering in through the windows accentuates the laughing buddhas. Here, Mahesh and Namrata complement each other effortlessly not just in looks, but also in their easy banter. Her body language is poised and confident, while he — both literally and figuratively — takes a backseat, happy to let his glamorous partner take centre stage.
The road to stardom
There’s nothing starry about this superstar, whose estimated worth is around $1.13 billion. “I attained this temperament with experience. I do have a temper; it’s a high-pressure job, and I flare up sometimes. But with experience, I noticed that if you’re calm, it’s easier to get the work done.”
Acting has always been an intrinsic part of his life. Mahesh was bitten by the bug as a child artiste, when he made his debut in his father and veteran actor Krishna Babu’s film Needa. Today, the 46-year-old has over 25 films to his name, eight of which won him prestigious awards.
“I have been blessed with an amazing career, but it is a challenge to maintain this status as expectations increase with each film. I select my scripts (on my own) and have been doing so since the beginning of my career,” he explains. “As a policy, I don’t discuss the films I sign even with my wife. I’ve made mistakes that have helped me evolve.”
“If a film doesn’t do well, it hurts. I’ve had a good phase in the recent past, but it was inconsistent earlier. There were experimental films that didn’t work, like Spider. You get carried away, but not looking back puts many people at risk, which is unfair. It’s not just me (involved in a film), but distributors, exhibitors and others. Now the stakes are so high and budgets have risen, upwards of `200 crore.”
In sync in every way
The lady of the house is in total command, slipping into her persona from her super-modelling days with ease. We hear her speak to the photographer and instruct her staff around the house and commend her fluent Telugu.
“I was not planning to learn Telugu, but I felt that it was important to learn the language since his fans here look up to him so much. I got a tutor, but it was so overwhelming initially. One day, I broke down when I felt I could not do it. That was when Mahesh asked me to stop stressing and begin by speaking to the staff,” she explains.
As the interview unfolds, Mahesh is comfortably ensconced on a sofa, slowly opening up. Though he relaxes further when Namrata walks in. Twenty years ago, was it love at first sight? “Yes. He was so endearing when I met him. Vulnerable, innocent and polite. You don’t find men like that (anymore). I was ready to marry him after two years of dating him. But we had a baggage of films to complete before we could tie the knot,” Namrata says.
The strong bond the couple shares is unmissable. There is an understated affection that comes across to any outsider. When you compliment their strong marriage, Namrata touches wood instinctively.
Partners through thick and thin
To the outside world, Mahesh is a good-looking actor, but his heart belongs to his family. He loves travelling to Europe and Dubai with his wife and children and plans family holidays during their vacations.
“Baden-Baden in Germany is one of our favourite locations. It is a small town, but the kids love it,” he reveals. Even while parenting 15-year-old son Gautham and 9-year-old Sitara, the two are in complete sync. The couple has kept them grounded, giving them as normal an upbringing as they could.
“We don’t take fan worship seriously. Outside, I may be a big star, but at home, I’m just a husband,” Mahesh shrugs. “My wife keeps me grounded, and my kids treat me like a regular dad.”
Namrata chimes in, in good humour: “Mahesh spoils our kids rotten! While they may be used to flying First Class and accustomed to luxuries, I try to create a balance in their lives. They often fly Economy with me. They must learn to sustain themselves in all circumstances. I’m from a very middle-class family and know the real world.”
“So our daughter Sitara buys herself expensive stuff through brand endorsements [she has 443K followers on Instagram). But, of course, she goes running to her dad for an iPad, and all my efforts go down the drain.”
(Excerpts from an interview published exclusively in HELLO! MAGAZINE, October issue)...