Actor, producer and TV personality Lakshmi Manchu comes from an illustrious film family. Her father, Mohan Babu, as well as brothers Vishnu and Manoj Manchu, are established names in the Telugu industry. In conversation with Padma Iyer, she talks about her journey as an actor, her future plans and more
You come from a film family. Was it an easy to enter the industry yourself?
It has not been easy at all. I am still fighting to be heard and to be seen. As beautiful as my last name is, I feel like it’s either a wall being a woman or a doorway. For me it has been a wall. People would say, ‘Oh my God, you’re a Manchu!’ It’s not just my dad, two of my brothers were in the movies too. And I didn’t even intend to start a career here. I went to America to do so. I was a daughter of the industry but not someone who was expected to want to work. They were eager to get me married to the next available man.
You’ve come a long way. How do you view your journey?
Once you know who you are and what you are doing, it becomes a journey. And you take your pick of where you want to be seen and the stories you want to tell. For me that came via television. I was interviewing the top guys, and I didn’t know anything about them. I had lived 13 years in America, so I would ask, say, Rana (Daggubati) or Bunny (Allu Arjun) how they were doing all this.
Having known them for so many years, I was able to connect with them with complete honesty. I didn’t care about the box office and their roles. I wanted to see who these people really were behind the screen. And that was why the first season was blown out of proportion, so much so that they started talking about Telugu television as before Lakshmi Manchu and after Lakshmi Manchu.
You did television and then films. Was that a planned move?
Not at all. I was living in America, I was working there. I came to India for my brother’s wedding. It was during his engagement that I just spoke about what I wanted to do, and when I came back for the wedding, one of the TV channel guys came to me. They said ‘Do you remember that talk show you were talking about? Let’s do it.’ I said, ‘Are you mad? I don’t even speak the language any more!’ He said ‘That’s even better! If you make a fool of yourself and it doesn’t work, you can go back in two months!’
I wanted to be Oprah (Winfrey), who is God to me. Everything I have ever learnt in my life in terms of overcoming things, accepting things and receiving things, is from her. Being a woman from this country, everything you do is suppressed. They want you to do things but in a box that they have created. It doesn’t matter how big a box, it is still a box. I knew that if I stepped into a box, it would soon become too small for me. And I went into every box that they told me to go into.
After the TV chat show the movie offer came from Disney, to be an evil queen in Anaganaga O Dheerudu. It was their first production in India. We don’t remember the heroes of Disney, we remember the evil queens! I was sure that I wasn’t going to let go of this chance.
But everyone around me was shocked that I had decided to play a villain. My father said, ‘First of all, why are you doing movies?’ But it was not some random movie that I was doing. And that movie got me every award possible. I was the first actress to get the Nandi Award for best villain. My father doesn’t have even one Nandi Award and I have two!
What are your expectations from your career going forward? What are your plans?
I don’t know what to expect of my life. Every minute there is a yes, there is a no. I am not your 20-year-old competing with anybody. Whatever comes to me comes to me because no one else can do it. I don’t want to be doing things that I am not proud of.
As a woman, I will do any good work that comes my way. I will do any substantial work that I can. I am an artiste, not a TV actor or a film actor. So it is about being able to tell stories continuously in every medium possible. How lucky I am to make a name in every platform! I think people lose out on work when they say I will do only this or I won’t do that. Women like Radhika Apte and Swara Bhaskar saw the potential in different platforms. And that translates into different and more work.
What are your future plans?
I haven’t even started. I feel that my potential hasn’t even begun to be tapped. I am talking to a lot of people. I am looking at producing a movie. I have put a beautiful story together and am in the process of getting a team together. I have always wanted to travel too. So this year, for one week every month, I am travelling.