Mahesh actually turned down a chance to act in films till he was persuaded to accept a role by his volleyball coach. He talks to Akila Kannadasan about his journey from a small town to Kollywood

Little did Mahesh know that a volleyball match would change his life. He was playing for the State team. “Director Vasanthabalan approached me after the match. He asked me if I was willing to act in his movie,” says the 20-year-old who hails from Chinnalapatti in Dindigul District. For someone whose life revolved around volleyball and his gang of pasanga, entering filmdom was beyond imagination. Mahesh actually turned down the offer.

However, Vasanthabalan wouldn't give up. He made a flood of calls from his office. “I continued to resist. It was my volleyball coach Kannan who convinced me that such opportunities come only once in a lifetime.” The higher secondary student met Vasanthabalan in Chennai. “We started shooting for ‘Angaadi Theru' the very next day.”

A pathbreaker

The movie was a pathbreaker of sorts. It portrayed the lives of hapless young men and women who migrate from the villages to work in the textile showrooms of Chennai. Mahesh won accolades for his realistic portrayal of Jyothi Lingam, a village youth. “A lot of people said it did not look like my first movie. The credit goes to Vasanthabalan sir for that.” Mahesh says Vasanthabalan gave him acting tips that will go a long way in his career. “To him, acting was about edhartham (practicality). To cry in a scene, he would ask me to recall emotions that made me cry in real life,” he says.

Mahesh admits that he was no movie buff before coming to the industry. “In fact, when I met Anjali (the heroine of ‘Angaadi Theru') for the first time, I hadn't seen her first movie, ‘Kattradhu Thamizh'. She was very offended,” he smiles. “But I got a DVD and watched it that very night.”

Mahesh is currently working on “Veyilodu Vilayadu”, directed by N. V. Ramkumar and produced by Kalpana Palanivel. “It's the story of six youngsters with a passion for volleyball. They are a struggling lot who don't give up easily. It has elements of family drama and a breezy love track between the lead character and his athai magal (cousin). The music has been scored by Karthik Raja,” explains the director. “There is a surprise factor in it as well,” he hints.

“Veyilodu Vilayadu” has an interesting star cast that includes Ganja Karuppu and Manobala. Actor Thananya of “Kungumapoovum Konjumpuravum” fame stars opposite Mahesh. “Shooting is almost done — we shot for 60 days in Karaikudi and have a couple of songs remaining,” says Ramkumar.

Roping in new faces

Ramkumar has roped in a lot of new faces for the movie. He says, “I spotted a little boy watching us during the shooting. He is a charming kid called Ganesan. I offered him a role in the movie. He has performed really well.” Getting little ones to act is no easy job, says Ramkumar. “There is a knack to it. You should approach them like a friend — chit-chat a bit about dinner and other things and gradually get down to business,” he explains.

“Veyilodu Vilayadu” marks the Madurai-born Ramkumar's silver screen debut. However, the film industry is not new to him. He has been directing mega serials for over 15 years. About the transition, he says, “Serials are like eesal (winged termites) — their lifespan is very short. However, movies last a life time.”

Mahesh plays a volleyball player in the movie. “‘Veyilodu Vilayadu' is close to my heart since it was volleyball that provided me the ticket to fame.” Next in the pipeline is “Iravum Pagalum” opposite Ananya. “I play a Chennai boy in the film. It's my first city-based subject and I'm sporting a new haircut for it,” says Mahesh. His affable demeanour, smiling eyes and his Madurai Tamil with a sprinkling of ingittu (here) and angittu (there) are endearing.