Lakshmi Manchu: My naysayers advised me to stay home

Currently expanding her vistas on multiple digital platforms, actor and talk show host Lakshmi Manchu takes stock of her multi-faceted journey and going against patriarchal conventions

Actor, producer and talk show host Lakshmi Manchu launched her YouTube channel on Sunday, through which she intends to explore topics she hasn’t covered on other mediums, television or cinema. She is also hosting the culinary show Aha Bhojanambu for the Telugu streaming platform Aha: “I am comfortable wearing specific hats for each platform,” she says, talking about her multifaceted journey.

In the introduction video to her YouTube channel, she invites viewers to share ideas for content. Responding to comments requesting home tour videos, she shrugs, “I don’t know why so many people want house tours.” She plans to keep the first few episodes personal, offering insights into her space and her career, before she dives into other topics.Pandemic conversations

  • Lakshmi has hosted sessions such as ‘Coming back to life with Lakshmi Manchu’ for South Bay and the ‘Unlocking Positive Childhood Experiences’ series on Instagram during the pandemic. The first interactive session was on Janata Curfew in March 2020, when she initiated a day-long live Instagram sessions, roping in her colleagues from the film industry: “I came up with the idea the previous evening and called Rana [Daggubati] and Navdeep. Since Navdeep is good with technology, he set things up. A lot of people don’t know that we did a lot of work as a trio, even during Hyderabad floods.”
  • She says the pandemic made her re-assess her lifestyle: “I felt guilty to have three meals. We were doing our bit to help those in need. Added to that I followed intermittent fasting.” The urge to shop also took a backseat. Recently when she travelled to the United States, she noticed a change in her buying pattern: “Earlier I used to shop like I was possessed. This time I was okay not going on a buying spree.”

Food is personal

Meanwhile, season one of Aha Bhojanambu is underway, with a new episode streaming every Friday. The first two episodes featured actor-director Vishwak Sen and actor Rakul Preet Singh. The easy, fun banter is the highlight of the show that tries to unravel the lesser known side of a celebrity: “The show isn’t about just sharing recipes, but finding the guest’s connection with food. Food is always personal.” At home, she loves to treat friends to good food: “I can make dosas simultaneously on two pans at home.”

The first time she was a host was in 2008, for the Lakshmi Talk Show on television. Prematho Mee Lakshmi and Memusaitham are among the other shows she has hosted since then.

She has tweaked her approach for OTT and reckons that she can be herself in the digital space: “On television if I said something [politically incorrect], I would be requested to re-word it. Here people can see that I have a potty mouth and I don’t bother to be correct all the time.”

Lakshmi Manchu in ‘Aha Bhojanambu’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The confidence to be herself also stems from having proved herself over the years: “People used to ask why I bother to act or produce when I have a legendary father [actor-producer Mohan Babu]. My naysayers advised me to stay home. A decade later they tell me that I inspire women to be strong and that I have made my father proud.”

Not bound by patriarchal norms

Has success changed the way she is perceived? “It has, but I don’t measure success in terms of money. That will come. I don’t earn ₹20 crore for a film, but I live my life to the fullest. For me, success is about waking up each day with excitement about what I am doing as an artiste. We live in a patriarchal society where women are judged by when they get married, how many children they have and when they have. I am married and have a daughter, yes, but I live life on my terms.”

Where are the scripts?

Lakshmi Manchu | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In February 2021, Lakshmi was one of the talking points when she essayed Swarnakka, a shrewd Telangana politician, in director Tharun Bhascker’s Ramula story for the Netflix Telugu anthology Pitta Kathalu: “I still get asked why I portrayed what is perceived to be a negative character. I didn’t look at it that way. Swarna was upfront about her intentions from the beginning.”

She remembers when Tharun narrated the story to her: “He was nervous. When he finished narrating, I asked when do we begin work; he asked ‘madam, nachinda (did you like the character?). If I cannot put myself into a story and character that a brilliant director has for me, then what’s the point?”

Post Pitta Kathalu, Lakshmi was confident of getting interesting characters that she could take up for cinema and the digital space. However, she admits that well written characters for women are hard to come by: “I hate to sound elitist, but I am desperate for good scripts. I need to feel motivated to take up a project.”

On the work front, unpredictability has become the norm. There are “good days” when she gets work done on set, there are “bad days” when shoots get cancelled if someone on set tests positive for COVID-19: “We all adapt. The sooner we understand that we may not have the pre-pandemic freedom to do things the way we wanted to, life will get easier.”

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