It was a sultry Saturday evening in Summer 2006, we Tamil guys had landed ourselves, plum middle row seats at Jayaprada for Pokiri. A Telugu friend had dragged us into this, over another Tamil film which all of us wanted to check out. This was my first Telugu big screen experience. Hitherto, familiarity with Telugu films involved loud-jarring footage at stay-overs,of rotund elderly uncles doing things, one generally has come to associate with a chimp on cocaine and Spiderman movies. So I wasn’t specifically upbeat when the screen came alive. But moments into the film, my prejudice changed, as air bound vegetables paved way for Mahesh Babu. He was nothing like the last Telugu hero I remembered- The punk; the shirt folded over a long sleeved tee; the swag; the devil may care attitude; the laid back dialogue delivery, like chewing betel mid-slumber; the effortless larger than life persona, made me an instant fanboy. For a while after that, he was suddenly everything I wanted to be subconsciously. I went for a bunch of his movies after that, even enjoyed Dookudu a lot, loved every bit of SVSC, didn’t understand the euphoria around Srimanthudu and felt bad when Spyder(I’m one among the handful who enjoyed it for its ambition) tanked. But nothing came close to the Pokiri experience as far as the MB persona goes.
So mind was a bit of a mixed bag, when the morning show of Bharat Ane Nenu commenced. Another Utopian story of a proverbial leader, served masala style, I thought to myself, from the trailers. For how better is it going to get from Leader or Mudhalvan, which form the realistic to commercial bandwidth around political-one man narratives. Then this scene happened minutes into the movie. Bharat’s driving his car and gets to know the people he’s about to rule, through the chaos they make around traffic signals. The means doesn’t seem to matter to them, everyone’s just preoccupied to get to the other end. This traffic signal’s a microcosm of the people’s attitude It’s a beautiful visual metaphor of falling civil standards. These are the kind of scenes that make you sit and take notice of a commercial movie’s integrity.
Bharat is an upright guy, not necessarily uptight, notwithstanding the monochromatic power clothing. He’s a creature of details. Look at how he finely moves his name plate, just enough to be in a straight line with his seat, on his first day as CM. MB plays him with characteristic dignity, lackadaisical arrogance and elusiveness, just enough to remain endearing, with accessible reverence. But that’s MB from any social gathering in reality. But it really doesn’t matter. The real and reel life elusive persona play off each other nicely, creating a synergy, larger than life. Like his contemporary Vijay, after all these years, MB too has still got some amount of boyish charm left in him, while going over men deliverables in fallen patriarchal set ups.
I loved Mirchi. It was raw, intense and unabashedly mainstream, with no other ulterior motives to pull. To me Srimanthudu wasn’t as spontaneous cinematically. It was overwrought with an Utopian central deceit. Janatha Garage was a much better mainstream experience, but again Siva was chewing more than he could swallow, trying to be environmentally conscious, while making a Thalapathysque film with a triangular love track and what not. In that sense, Bharat Ane Nenu doesn’t try too hard to be any particular thing, in the process finds it own distinct voice. It’s a simple story, narrated with a grand vision in a freely flowing style.
Wolf whistles are born, when a great story marries a superstar. That’s the thing about stardom. It can be worn like a flourscent shirt, loud and in the face. Or like a perfume, subtle and classy. He’s amongst the rare breed that does the latter. All of this is another way of saying, “Mahesh Babu is back. And in style.”