A career in modeling as one of India’s top models followed by marriage to Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu and now mother to two little kids… Namrata Shirodkar’s life is picture perfect. In an exclusive interview to Ritz, the stunningly beautiful Namrata talks about losing her parents within 18 months of each other, adapting to life in Hyderabad and why she is not insecure about her very famous superstar husband.
It feels strange to meet Namrata Shirodkar in the spacious environs of her artfully done up home in Hyderabad. Strange because I have seen her umpteen times walking down the ramp dressed in designer clothes or in casual clothes at rehearsals for these very shows. But, far away from the glamorous life of Mumbai, she seems comfortable and content.
After a brief chat about common friends in the fashion world, we start talking about her life today. It is not surprising that she doesn’t at all miss the bright lights and the parties. “I was 17 when I started modeling and at 18 I did my first ad. After I won the Miss India crown, thanks to my friend Hemant Trevedi, who was instrumental in pitching my name for the campaign, I got selected for the Garden Vareli saree commercial. It was a walk in the park because of my previous experience and some of my closest friends till today are from the modeling world and we all keep in touch regularly.”
Namrata also acted in several films including Vaastav starring Sanjay Dutt and Pukar with Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. And, it was through a film that she met her future husband Mahesh Babu. Namrata recalls, “We met during the shoot of the Telugu film Vamsi, which I think is the biggest disaster of his career. We started dating halfway through the film and decided to take things as they come as we knew that marriage was what we wanted. We waited for four years as we both had work commitments, Mahesh had just started his career and with me being from Mumbai and belonging to a different community, it made sense to take things step by step.”
They did get married eventually, on the 10th of February 2005 in a low key ceremony held at the Marriott in Mumbai – very unlike the big fat weddings the Telugu stars who are contemporaries of Mahesh have had. Namrata says, “His family is beautiful and he has three sisters and a brother. His parents respect individuality and everyone is given their own space. They don’t interfere or say no unless it is something very wrong. Mahesh convinced his parents about me and they had no problems with us getting married.”
Love and loss
But very soon after her marriage Namrata lost her parents within a span of 18 months. She recalls sadly, “With Dad we didn’t even know till it was too late that he had cancer. Barely three weeks after it was diagnosed, he passed away. My mother got sick with cancer 18 months later and she was with me in her last days. You know you don’t even realise how dependent you are on your parents till you lose them.” Grieving over her loss was a tough time for Namrata but her husband supported her during this difficult time. “Shilpa, my sister was grieving too and she was in the UK so I couldn’t lean on her as much. But nobody could have helped me heal more than Mahesh. He was just there for me when I needed him the most and it has made us stronger as a couple. No one can replace your parents, you just have to find your own strength and fill up the empty spaces, deal with the loss and move on.” Namrata’s younger sister Shilpa, also an actress but two years younger had gotten married earlier and was based in the UK. She has since returned and runs a production company that produces Marathi movies along with her husband. She also has a ten-year-old daughter.
Married to a superstar
Speaking about her marriage, I realise that the superstar people idolise and one sees in larger-than-life hoardings is very different from his public image. Namrata’s words and voice evidently denote how deeply she loves her husband. She says, “My love for Mahesh is as unconditional as it is for my parents or my sister or my children. And why shouldn’t it be that way? According to me it is one of the givens – that the person you spend your life with should be someone you love unconditionally. We both wanted certain things out of our marriage, we sat and discussed everything and then took things forward. One of the conditions he had was that he didn’t want a working wife. And I had been through my career’s highs – partying, working long hours, travelling with friends… After a while you are ready for change and I didn’t mind not working. I am happy to see him grow in his career and I thrive when I see him happy with his work.”
Having said that, their marriage today is on a solid foundation and both of them have worked to keep it like that. Nine years on, and two kids later, they are more like best friends. Namrata says, “We look after each other’s needs in little ways. Even today I see him off at the door when he leaves for work and I rush back if I am out somewhere when I know he is returning home because he likes to have me and the kids to come home to. My son and I greet him at the door when he returns from work. If I am out somewhere, he will wait till I get back before we have dinner. My friends know I don’t leave the house when Mahesh is at home and it has been this way from the beginning.”
Mahesh, in Namrata’s words is very different from his peers. No entourage, no partying and straight home after pack up is announced. “We are like a typical British couple, dinner at eight and in bed by 9.30. That is because kids need a routine. If at all we are with friends, they come over or we go to their place. We don’t go out to party till late. He is an introvert anyway and he knows how to strike a balance between work and home. That is what drew me to him – there were no pretensions and no bratty attitude just because he is the son of superstar Krishna. What you see is what you get and he is very grounded. We are also best friends because I can say things to him nobody else would.”
Given the nature of the film world where marriages are often rocked by rumours of extra marital affairs, sometimes true, it can lead to insecurity in the spouse. Does she experience any moments of insecurity with Mahesh I ask? Namrata says, “I am not an insecure wife, I am happy to say. I have been part of the profession so I know how it works. He needs the space and freedom to excel. Mahesh has balanced his life with us and his work so perfectly that I have no reason to complain. He may work with beautiful women but he knows he has a happy and secure wife to come home to and not have to wonder about what the wife is going to say. That makes a big difference and our relationship is very deep so I have no reason to be insecure.”
Though they are close they have their similarities and differences. While both love to travel and discover new places, Mahesh is the impromptu traveller who can decide to take a holiday at short notice while Namrata likes to plan everything ahead. “We think differently on some things, especially on how to take our vacations. But whenever we do go on a holiday, we make sure it is a place where the kids will have a great time too and not just us. And yes, we never take off on a holiday without our kids – it is an unthinkable notion for us.”
We are Family Today, along with a partner, Namrata manages all of Mahesh’s endorsements and talks to the agencies regarding all aspects of the contract – from the creatives to the execution and the right stills and his clothes – on his behalf. There are 12 brands that Mahesh endorses. Other than that, she is completely involved with looking after her kids and home. Though she hasn’t gained weight since her modeling days, Namrata reiterates how her priorities have changed over the years while dismissing the need to be in swelte shape. “There is this complete paranoia when you have a baby and you are just finding your way through. Gautam, my first born was born at eight months so was underweight. The first year went in fattening him up. I had no time to worry about my weight or looks or anything. With Sitara, she was unwell during her first month and I had to be with her all the time till she got well.”
Motherhood has completely changed Namrata. With the wide-eyed wonder of someone who has had a life changing moment, she reveals, “It is a whole new phase – this little tot growing within you and then after they are born, the magical experience of looking after them. Motherhood makes you selfless. You know before the kids are born, one is usually self-involved, but you become more giving after you have a child. For Mahesh and me, becoming parents has been a beautiful experience. Gautam is seven and he still sleeps with us. My friends are amused but we are very comfortable. When he is away on his play dates, we miss having him in our room.”
She explains further, “How many more years is he going to need us like that? Soon he will grow up and do his own thing. Sitara is only 18 months old and is in her room with her nanny but we are waiting for her to grow up so she can join us in our bedroom. Gautam sleeps in his room sometimes but midway through the night he gets up and comes to our room.”
What is Mahesh like as a dad? I ask her. Especially since here, in Hyderabad, he is this macho hero bashing up the goons, romancing the heroine, dancing to foot-tapping numbers and worshipped by men and women of all ages. Namrata reveals he has been involved from day one. “One of my conditions before marrying him was that he should be present in the OT when I was having my baby. And he was – both times. There was no way I was having my baby alone. Today he is completely doe-eyed about Sitara and though she is younger she bullies her brother and knows how to get her way with all of us. Mahesh and Gautam share too strong a bond and Gautam is his life.”
Speaking of her son brings one to his acting debut. He recently acted with his father in their home production 1 Nenokkadine. What does she have to say about her son’s early foray into films? Namrata says, “We both discussed it and it was a well thought-out decision. Mahesh wanted him to act in the film as it was a home production. As parents we are completely transparent with our kids and more like friends. We asked Gautam and he agreed. For him it was like a vacation and since it was during his holidays he didn’t have to miss school even for a day. He of course had a blast with everyone on the sets spoiling him rotten. But he was very dedicated and trained seriously for his role. I went with him to the sets everyday and he would wait patiently till his shot was called.”
When the film released Namrata went to watch it in the theatre with her son. “I got all teary eyed and my throat was choking when I saw him on screen. I was overwhelmed and it was a beautiful moment. I felt so proud of him,” she says with a big smile.
With her modelling days truly behind her, Namrata is happy being the quintessential homemaker. A woman of stunning beauty, she looks content and serene, in the gorgeous home she conceptualised along with Mahesh. To reiterate how far she has come, Namrata says, “I don’t miss the fashion world at all. Recently, Tarun Tahiliani who is a good friend asked me to walk the ramp for him when his atelier here completed its first year. I wanted to back out as my son was unwell and I was torn between the devil and the deep sea. It was so stressful and I am just so glad I am out of it for good.”
Today, Namrata speaks fluent Telugu (“I forget my grammar only when I am angry”); she loves Andhra food and insists the biryani here is “unbelievable and unmatched… it is just so tasty.” She seems to have fit right in and her words and body language echo the contentment within her. She is softer than what I know of her from her modelling days, and mellower too – but it all adds a layer of depth to her personality and gives her a beautiful spark – an inner glow.
If there is one thing she wishes was different about her life, besides not losing both her parents fairly early, it would be this: “I wish I’d had my babies earlier, it would have been beautiful growing up with them.”