A leaner, fitter Mahesh Babu opens up on the controversial poster and his unflinching faith in director Sukumar.

Mahesh had always been a chiselled actor but this time, there is hardly any discernible fat on him. He looks like a man in his 20s. A wintry morning on the sets of his forthcoming film at the Aluminium Factory, Gachibowli, the actor takes pride in his hard work to get the lean mean look for 1-Nenokkadine and discusses the plusses of his director and crew. “I didn’t cheat on my diet for a year but then I eat a lot of healthy, clean food. My trainers put me on a diet and I eat seven meals a day. It is not like I am really hungry; I am eating frequently but I was warding of the temptation of eating our Indian food. Sukumar asked for a certain athletic look and I gave him my word. Once I got down to doing it, the process became easy. I wanted to be fit and injury free as there is a lot of action in the story,” he says.

The actor is aware of the heat recently generated by one of the film’s poster, in which the heroine crawls on his foot prints on a beach like a canine behind him. He says the poster created unwarranted controversy and stresses there is nothing unpalatable or undignified and it was viewed in isolation. “It is a scene from a song and there is a line that goes ‘oka ganta fish padadhama’. We are sorry if we upset people’s feelings. Maybe we made a mistake, but if you see the film you will concur there is nothing distasteful.”

Mahesh is a tenacious person. If he takes a liking to a person or a habit, he clings to it. Call it sentiment, comfort level, the confidence he places in them or a rapport, he doesn’t let go easily. Not all view it in a positive way. For instance he’s been doing films with the same producers for some time now, including his next film. Ask him about this and he explains, “I’m happy with 14 Reels people. They are passionate about their work. I had worked with many producers but yekkado naku full satisfaction undadhu.  Take for instance 1.When Sukumar narrated the story, he clearly said the budget could go haywire and more time would be required. We all got into the project aware of the risk. If I had done this for someone else, they would have viewed Sukumar and me as criminals. I am happy with this space and set up and will work with others soon.”

The topic veers towards Sukumar and Mahesh tells us how the director met him many times to discuss the story and the producers. The first meeting was in Goa when Mahesh was shooting for Businessman. He heard the plot for 25 minutes. Sukumar was visibly disturbed by the noise, the music in the restaurant and didn’t narrate it well but confided in the actor that it was his dream film. But the ambience, the narration hardly mattered to Mahesh and he took a liking to the fresh plot and the director’s motivation to tread that extra mile. Mahesh agreed to do the film within half an hour.

He avers, “I loved Jagadam. Here too there is a novelty in frames, costumes and the entire look. Choreographer Prem Rakshit deserves a solo mention in the title card. The song ‘Who Are You’ is path-breaking; we haven’t seen a proper rock song so far. He gave up other films for this as we insisted he travel with us and stay connected with the story. In most films you see dances coming out of the blue with no connection to the story since dance masters land on the sets on the day of the shoot and the result — hero heroine separate ga eguruthoo untaaru. Kajal was not preferred as she had problems with her dates. We needed 90 days in London and so thought a new artiste would come without a baggage.”

1-Nenokkadine is a psychological thriller and it has the actor’s son play a cameo. But how did the child manage his dubbing? Mahesh is in splits reminiscing Gautham’s antics. He quips, “He enjoyed the shoot and dubbing thoroughly. Yesterday he was telling his mom he has a couple of days more of dubbing left and was questioning if they would call him or not and if they would release the film without his dubbing. He also said he would not like to be a part of the publicity.” A little star in the making? “For all I know the little head might be thinking this could be the best way to avoid school by going to the studio.”

So what about New Year plans? “New Year eve is always at home. It is a sentiment; we celebrate with a close set of people. Maybe on the 2nd or 3rd I might go on a short holiday but wherever I am, I am a bundle of nerves before the film releases. Who cares and remembers if my last film was a success? I need to work harder.”