She is the daughter of Telugu superstar Mohan Babu. But she is determined to cut her own path. She started her career in Hollywood and then became a prominent Telugu actress and producer. She has also conquered the small screen in the South and made her foray into Bollywood with Department. Here’s the versatile, straight-talking Lakshmi Manchu in conversation with Rohini Nag
Is the pressure to live up to expectations any greater, since you are the daughter of Mohan Babu?
Absolutely! They immediately start comparing my three-year career with his 30-year career. There is always constant scrutiny. It is quite different for a woman in the South, especially if you are an actor’s daughter. They think a daughter cannot carry the legacy forward like a son can.
Does this influence your career choices?
Not at all. I cannot act in the shadow of people’s judgement and expectations. I have to believe and I have to commit to what I do. The kind of films I produce and act in have to be something that I choose rather than what people think I should do.
You chose to start your career in Hollywood. Wouldn’t it have been more convenient to have launched yourself in Telugu films since you have your father’s support?
(Laughs) If it were easy here, I wouldn’t have gone all the way to Hollywood. In the South, we are so adamant when it comes to women from respected families, coming into the film industry. However that is slowly but surely changing. The perception of women in the industry is very different now than when I started my career.
Does your experience in Hollywood help you here? How different is Hollywood from our film industry?
The difference is like night and day. There is no comparison. Their approach to films, even a college film, is mindboggling. They invest so much energy and attention into every detail, from equipment to story. If they want a certain shot in a certain way, they do not compromise. They get that shot regardless of what it takes. Technically, we have a long way to go to be at par with the kind of cinema they make.
Your father Mohan Babu started his career with negative roles and then became a mainstream hero just like Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna in Hindi films…
I guess, when one has a career spanning so many decades, one has to explore diverse acting options. All I knew while growing up was films. My father ploughed back all his money into making movies and never ventured into anything else. Looking at my father, I learnt that you should never put all your eggs into one basket. For instance, you should never say, ‘if I am a leading man, I will only play leading man’. If he did, he wouldn’t have gotten so many opportunities. He was always open to opportunities that came to him and he made the best of them. That’s why he is where he is today.
You are a successful actor and producer, and you directed a short film back in 2006, Perfect Lives… Any plans to turn to mainstream direction?
I have no plans to turn director any time soon. I will consider it only when I have a story that is compelling enough.
Your last film as a producer, Gundello Godari, drew a phenomenal response. Do you plan to produce a Hindi film?
I have been talking with quite a few people to produce a Hindi film. But I want it to be something I can put my heart into. So far nothing has intrigued me enough to pursue making a Hindi film.
Many South films are being remade in Hindi and are yielding impressive ROIs. Are you interested in selling the rights of your films or remaking your regional films in Hindi?
Why not? But Gundello Godari is not the kind of film that can be remade as it would be a Herculean task. Other than that, I am open to having my other films remade in Hindi. Basically, I make films for people to watch. The wider the audience, the happier I am. Why would I ever say no to that?
Mani Ratnam’s Kadal was your debut Tamil film and Ram Gopal Varma’s Department marked your Bollywood debut. Did you deliberately choose to debut with established names?
Absolutely not. I would have done it no matter who it was. I am just blessed to have got the chance to debut in the Tamil and Hindi industries with big names. In fact, I had just finished shooting a film with Ramu when he asked me to be part of Department. I had said no, I didn’t want to play that character. But how can you say no to Ramu?Compared to Mani sir, Ramu is easygoing, sweet and easy to work with on the sets. Whereas with Mani sir, I had no clue to what he wanted. I always had a question mark regarding what he wanted from the character. Both of them are gods in filmmaking and I’ve learnt a lot from them about filmmaking.
Were you disheartened by the way your role shaped up in Department?
Yes, I was but that is done and gone. I don’t care much for it because, as an actor, all you can do is show up and do your best. After that, you don’t have any control over it. That’s what happened with Kadal too. What is important is I gave 100 per cent when I was there. And I am very grateful for the opportunity I got.
After Department, why haven’t you signed on for another Hindi film?
I haven’t been approached with anything exciting. As an actor, I need something really good. I have to come to Mumbai for something but I have been busy with work here and haven’t had the opportunity to come and spend time there.
Your brothers Vishnu Manchu and Manoj Manchu are both actors. How are their careers shaping up?
Very well. They are hardworking and very talented. Both of them are constantly busy with their respective movies.
Except for Gundello Godari, Manoj Manchu has featured in all the other films you have produced. Why not make films with other actors?
(Laughs) Manoj is my lucky charm. Nothing like that. It’s just career choices and he just stands out when I make films.
Your Telugu talk shows became a rage in South India. Any plans to have a Hindi talk show to widen your fan following in India?
(Laughs) I don’t want to kill the Hindi audience with my Hindi language skills!
What are your future projects?I am living a dream right now. I am acting, I am producing and I am doing television. I am just grateful for everything there is. I am not running after anything but taking up whatever comes my way and doing the best I can.