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November 19, 1997


Controversy is his middle name

Sunil Kumar in Hyderabad

Mohan Babu Controversy is Mohan Babu's twin brother. Not just in his political career. Not just in the Telugu film world. But even in his early years, when he was struggling to eke out a livelihood.

Migrating to Madras from his native Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh thirty years ago, he landed a job in Madras -- as the physical instructor in a school. But his joy was shortlived. He was shown the door, and the power of the arclights beckoned him.

''Those were the days when I was struggling for food,'' Mohan Babu told Rediff On The NeT. ''I know how difficult it is to succeed.''

Beginning his movie career as an assistant director, Mohan Babu flitted from one well-known director to another -- from Laxmi Deepak to Prabhakar Reddy to Dasari Narayana Rao in the mid-1970s.

Success eluded him. The struggle for livelihood continued. But the glamour of the tinselworld still mesmerised him.

The hunger pangs were trying to poll-vault him to the other side of the camera. But no producer was willing to bet his money on a six-foot hunk who was known for his brash style.

But Mohan Babu was unwilling to give up. ''I am a self-made and fighter to the core,'' he said. ''No one can put me down.''

Then came a villain's role, in Dasari Narayana Rao's Swargam Narkam. Followed instantly by fame. He was a star, but still not a hero.

Mohan Babu was eyeing the top slot, but the industry was sceptical. A prisoner of his image, Mohan Babu soared to greater heights as villain under Dasari Narayana Rao's direction.

But ambition was made of sterner stuff, and greater challenges. Soon Mohan Babu turned a producer -- he produced 18 films with some of them becoming runaway hits.

Then came Alludugaru, blessing him with the hero's halo. Several other hits like Assembly Rowdy, featuring him in the lead with Divya Bharati, brought him fame. And more controversy.

The film kicked up a row in the state assembly -- several legislators took strong objection to the title -- and gave enough clues about his political ambitions.

Known for his long association with N T Rama Rao, Mohan Babu joined the Telugu Desam party soon after.

A Rajya Sabha nomination from the state did not put an end to his acting career, which he now pursued more vigorously even as he flitted from one controversy to the other.

Mohan Babu's Adavilo Anna created a storm as the Andhra Pradesh Police Officers Association took strong to the star glorifying the banned People's War Group in the film. His explanation failed to convince the cops, but the film was a runaway hit.

Another film which saw Mohan Babu in the thick of a controversy was Pedarayudu in which he acted with Tamil superstar Rajnikanth. The film drew huge crowds, but the state government's Nandi awards eluded the star on the ground that it was a remake of a Tamil film. He was disappointed.

The star dashed off a letter to the awards committee last year, but it did not get him anywhere despite his clout.

Perhaps the committee sensed his differences with Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.

The war of words between the two Chittoor politicians was in the open with the Tirupati episode which saw Mohan Babu assaulting a TDP worker, allegedly over a land dispute.

Blasting Naidu for his ''hi-tech corruption'', the star-politician declared a war against his one-time mentor, threatening to expose his murky deals. And, for those with an emotional bent of mind in the gallery, a word of regret for betraying NTR was thrown. ''I am paying the price for backstabbing the TDP founder,'' he said, referring to Naidu's palace coup against NTR in 1995.

Stung by Naidu's attitude towards him, Mohan Babu launched a ''crusade against corruption'' and went on a hunger strike on Gandhi Jayanti day.

As his campaign against Naidu picked up tempo, Mohan Babu's Collector Garu came in handy. Naidu was seething with rage when the film was released last month -- it was a scathing attack on the chief minister. Mohan Babu was thrown out of the TDP.

Mohan Babu On the personal front too, Mohan Babu kicked up a row about his daughter's marriage. He was accused of attacking one of his daughter's in-laws after the girl married against his wishes.

"Yes, I did it. Which father will keep quiet when his daughter is being misguided?" asked Mohan Babu.

His latest film, like the star himself, had a tragic tryst with controversy. Said to be political in nature, the untitled film began on a bloody note -- today's car bomb attack occurred outside the studio soon after the film's inaugural shot was canned.

23 killed as Mohan Babu survives car bomb attack

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