Shades of villainy

Screen veteran

Shades of villainy

He started out as a physical education teacher but knew deep down that cinema was his true calling.

A stint at the Madras Film Institute, in the illustrious company of the soon-to-be superstars Rajnikant and Chiranjeevi, helped hone his talent and Mohan Babu, the strapping six-footer, was all set to hit the silver screen in Tollywood. However, with well-entrenched megastars already in the fray, it was not that easy for a newcomer to create an impact or even bag a significant role.

Mohan had to take his place behind the camera as an assistant director before he caught the eye of Dasari Narayan Rao, who saw a spark in the aspiring actor and cast him in a pivotal role in his film Swargam Narakam. The film turned out to be a runaway hit and Mohan, who had made his debut in a lacklustre Kannavari Kalalu, suddenly found the tide turning in his favour. Four decades and over 500 films later, the suave villain who metamorphosed into a hero and even chanced his luck as a comedian, remains one of Tollywood’s most popular stars and has just rolled out his latest venture Mama Manchu Alludu Kanchu, a comedy film produced by his son Vishnu Manchu.

Telugu cinema has seen quite a few talented actors donning the villain’s role like Rajanala, Sathyanarayana, Prabhakar Reddy and so on, but Mohan added a new dimension to screen villainy, using his imposing height, body language and dialogue delivery to great advantage. In another Dasari film Shivaranjini, Mohan essayed the role of a sophisticated, sinister villain with aplomb and a fair share of credit for the film’s success came his way. Several villain’s roles were written especially for him, suiting his style, and many of them including Alluri Seetharama Raju, Gorantha Deepam, Driver Ramudu, Premabhishekam, Grihalakshmi, Khiladi 786 and Janaki Ramudu had phenomenal runs at the box-office.

The NTR connection

Even before he entered films, Mohan idolised N T Rama Rao, who alongwith another thespian A Nageshwara Rao, ruled the roost in Telugu cinema for several decades. One of the roles that Mohan prized a lot was that of a British police officer in the NTR-starrer Sardar Papa Rayudu. The two again came together in filmmaker K Raghavendra Rao’s Major Chandrakanth, which turned out to be a superhit, and despite the towering presence of NTR, Mohan could hold his own.

Like many others, Mohan too eventually made the transition from villain to hero. As a protagonist, Mohan got the opportunity to work with most of the leading directors of the time. He tasted great success in the company of leading heroines in films including Alludugaru with Ramya Krishnan, Assembly Rowdy with the late Divya Bharti, Veedevadandi Babu (Shilpa Shetty), Pandavulu Pandavulu Tummeda (Raveena Tandon) and in a film that was released in 2014 Rowdy, directed by Ramgopal Varma, where his co-star was another veteran Jayasudha.

Behind the camera

After floating his own production houses, Mohan has passed the mantle over to his two sons Vishnu Manchu and Manoj Manchu, and his daughter Manchu Lakshmi Prasanna. In the film Rowdy, Mohan acted alongside his son Vishnu who played the hero. Mohan also tried his hand at politics after throwing his weight behind N T Rama Rao when he formed the Telugu Desam Party, and also served as a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, but disillusioned with politics, he eventually left the party.

The actor, who miraculously survived a bomb attack at one of his shooting spots that killed over 20 people, has turned into an educationist and runs a chain of colleges in various towns of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Philanthropy is another of his abiding interests. Films, however, continue to take up a significant part of his time and he is still game for challenging roles but now the interest has veered from villain and hero roles to character and comedy roles, wherein he believes he can still make an impact. The actor, hailed as ‘Dialogue King’ and ‘Collection King’, has indeed come a long way and still retains the love and affection of his fans who have always stood by him through thick and thin.


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