Lakshmi Manchu: I pick my battles and when I do, I am ready with my armour

In conversation with Lakshmi Manchu, who remains unfazed over her upcoming Netflix original anthology film, Pitta Kathalu, courting controversy for its bold theme
Lakshmi Manchu on Pitta Kathalu
Lakshmi Manchu on Pitta Kathalu

The last time Lakshmi Manchu appeared in a lead role for a film was W/O Ram (2018) even as she worked in the Tamil film Kaatrin Mozhi and a web series Mrs Subbalakshmi. The producer-turned-actor insists the gap since wasn't intentional. She also had been shooting for her Netflix original anthology film, Pitta Kathalu, in the interim.

"Can we please delete 2020 from our lives because it has not been of any use to us?" quips Lakshmi Manchu in a telephonic interview with Cinema Express. She continues, "We started Pitta Kathalu in 2019 and wrapped it up on January 3, 2020. And, it's releasing finally on February 12."

The teaser of Pitta Kathalu has generated lots of excitement. However, Lakshmi says she was genuinely surprised as she wasn't expecting this reaction from the audience. "After the teaser went viral, people have been sharing my picture and are calling me the 'Boss Lady'. I was telling my stylist Latha, wife of director Tharun Bhascker Dhassyam that the look she gave me in Ramula (one of the four stories) has evoked incredible response and I hope her husband lives up to the expectations (smiles)."

Ramula was shot predominantly in rural Telangana and Lakshmi tells us that she speaks in a pure Telangana dialect in the film. "I speak the way people speak in villages in Telangana. All my dialogues were written in the same manner. I attended several workshops with Tharun and also took a few classes to speak in the accent."

Ask Lakshmi about how she looks at her character, she grins and says, "I think Tharun is a master at creating characters and their body language. My character was inspired by a news article and is also based on someone Tharun knew personally. There are many anecdotes for everything that I do in Ramula. He gave me a lot of beautiful examples and they helped me to get into the skin of my character seamlessly. I play an upcoming politician and it's a new version of me. I don't know how much can I reveal about it."

She goes on to add, "I have watched Ramula six-seven times during post-production and every time, it made a great impact on me. I also spoke to another director of the anthology, who said, 'Ramula the best of the lot'. I am excited for this to come out on Netflix."

So what's the best thing about Pitta Kathalu? The versatile actor asserts, "We were able to tell the stories the way we wanted to. We have collaborated with the finest of young directors in Telugu and they have created four unique worlds with Pitta Kathalu. It's always exciting to see what these people can do in a short format. I feel glad to be a part of this first-of-its-kind project."

Lakshmi rules out any similarities with Lust Stories and Paava Kadhaigal. "Our stories are classy with an edgy touch and they don't fall short on any count. Pitta Kathalu is neither a remake nor a sequel to either of them."

Films dealing with bold themes and explicit topics often invite controversies. Nevertheless, Lakshmi is not worried that Pitta Kathalu, which tells the stories of distinctly bold women from a different perspective, will trigger a controversy. "I feel bad that the shoulders of artists and filmmakers are being used to shoot down people. Shankarabharam (1980) chusinappudu meeru chappatlu kottara...leka, ammo ikkademavutindhi ani uncomfortable feel ayyara...In Sagara Sangamam (1983), when he (Kamal Haasan) holds his hand over her (Jayaprada) face to protect the vermilion on her forehead, have you cried or not? When Bhanupriya's character was picking up her anklet beads in Swarnakamalam (1998), you felt like slapping her or not?" asks Lakshmi.

Further, she adds, "Art is supposed to make you feel uncomfortable and that's why we are called artists. If I start compromising on my performances, how can I be called an artist? Let there be controversy. We want people to think out of the box. Do I relate myself to Ramula's character? No! But I want people to see the character and applaud my performance. An artist is someone who makes you believe what he/she is not! Being in that place and being that person is what matters for an artist. If we try and make films like the ones in 70s or 80s, people may put us behind bars. I hope my producers don't get affected by such controversies."

Distinguishing between digital and theatrical films, the Dongala Mutha actor says, "Theatrical films take a lot of time and resources. Whereas for digital films, we don't need a caravan, for instance. We have to shoot a lot in a short time and we work at a brisk pace on the sets. Once we wrap up a digital film, that's it. I think the digital medium is the present. However, cinema halls will never go out of style as we love to savour the movie-watching experience."

Lakshmi has been quite vocal on the media trial of actor Rhea Chakraborthy in the late Sushanth Singh Rajput's death case. It is this candour of hers on social media that invites trolls. Ask her how she deals with the hate campaign and negativity, and she explains, "These keyboard warriors won't have patience and time to come face-to-face and fight. They are just like that. I pick my battles and when I do, I am ready with my armour. I won't let that affect me."

The Nandi award-winning actor has been carefully choosing her scripts and genre and has upgraded herself as an actor over the years. "I always like doing films that are hatke and have never been in a hurry to sign films. Whatever I do, I need to inspire people of all backgrounds. Especially, after the success of my television talk show, Memu Saitham, which, in a way, has increased my responsibility as an actor," reveals the actor.

On being asked if her daughter, Vidya Nirvana, is ready for her film debut? The doting mother passes on the mobile phone to her and the response we get is, "Yes!" But Lakshmi insists, "If she is ready... let us see. The story has to find her.”

Lakshmi, who is now bankrolling a film, had been wanting to star alongside her father and actor Mohan Babu in a multi-starrer, but nothing worked. "Recently, I shared a few ideas with my team of writers and completed six scripts. Let's see what's in store for us," she signs off. 

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