Joyful Warror - Lakshmi Manchu1

From her breakthrough performance in Anaganaga O Dheerudu to her Filmfare Award-winning role as Chitra in Gundello Godari, Lakshmi Manchu has captivated audiences with her warmth, talent, and natural beauty. At a time when actors are screaming for attention in today’s hyper-competitive movie industry, the actress is only interested in delving deeper into her characters. Lakshmi got on the phone with You & I to discuss a bit of everything: her beautiful four-year-old daughter, Vidya Nirvana; show business; her inexhaustible zest; and her latest web series, Mrs Subbalakshmi. Could you identify with your role in

Mrs Subbalakshmi?
Absolutely! Every married woman will identify with Mrs Subbalakshmi. The web series revolves around a woman struggling to free herself from the daily doldrums of marriage, and I guess most women can relate to some extent. Every time I choose a character, I try to see how much better I can play her role and bring more to it. If you can’t identify with your character, I don’t think you can do justice to it.

Apart from the box-office success, what are the sweet things in life that make you happy?
I knew I would be a good mother, but having a child completely changed me. I am living life all over again. I’m taking more risks;
I’m pushing my boundaries even more because I know how protective and conservative my upbringing was, and I took a while to break out of my shell. But with my daughter, it’s like she gives me the freedom to be who I am. I’ve never really experienced that. Just a couple of days ago I asked my daughter, Nirvana, to take a leave from school, and her reply was, ‘Maa, I’ve half-day classes, I will be back by afternoon.’ She is only four years old and so articulate, patient, and sharp. I feel she is perfectly programmed.

How much have you evolved as a mother?
I think not as a mother, but as a human being, I have evolved tremendously. I am more sensitive and fearless; I want to do things I had previously stopped myself from doing. It’s the small things that matter. Six months from Nirvana being born I went to Mt. Kailash. I have done a web series, hosted the TV show Memusaitham, where we raised money for families in need. And now I have Teach for Change, an annual fundraiser to improve life skills and literacy among children studying in government schools; cancer awareness; and women empowerment. The work we do and the people we have reached through this organisation is humbling.

So how do you explain your inexhaustible zest?
(Laughs). You know, I always complain that I’m not doing enough. I feel like I have such a beautiful life that I need to use every minute of it. I’m grateful for my family, friends, and work. So when I feel positive and live my life fully and completely, everything around me goes correctly.

How different is it for actresses now, compared to when you entered the industry?
I think it’s gotten easier. It’s more open to different and diverse characters. Actresses today are choosing bold and brave scripts. The language of the films has changed. Television has opened up. You know when I started my show, I was the biggest celebrity on television, and nobody had done a talk show as I had. But now you see the top actors on various platforms. I am glad that these are the signs of changing times.

Having said that, it’s still a man’s world?
Absolutely. I remember when the biggest of the directors, producers, and actors came up to me and said, ‘You’re so talented, amma, if only you were a boy.’ And I would be like, ‘What does that even mean?’ It’s always been a male-centric industry, and so many times I was wronged because I am a woman not because I was short or tall. But I’ve also realised that one needs to learn to be a fighter in this and any field. I call myself a joyful warrior because there’s no other choice I have.

What kind of script would excite you now?
Every movie Taapsee Pannu, Kangana Ranaut, Nayantara, Anushka Shetty, or Samantha Akkineni do. Something that makes me grow, that’s strong and different. 

What’s your favourite summer activity to do with your daughter?
Beach. Beach. Beach. We love the beach! If it’s up to us, we’ll stay the entire day.

Any real-life personality you’d like to play in a biopic?
Three of my friends wrote this book, The Dot That Went For A Walk, and it’s unlike other children’s books. The inspiring initiative that has short stories from 51 women conveys real stories and real women. These women have achieved great heights in various fields and include Rani Laxmi Bai, Deepika Padukone, Tarla Dalal, and Ritu Kumar, amongst many others. I would love to play any one of them.                 – as told to Anisha