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Interview with Lakshmi Lahari
Date: September 21, 2008, Hyderabad
lakshmi lahari

For a male or female, life in the glitter world is like riding a tiger. You must continue whether you like it or not, says Lahari alias Lakshmi Lahari alias Lakshmi Sharma (in Malayalam) came to Hyderabad from Vijayawada to pursue her dream to become a heroine. But, she had to adjust making debut as “side-actress” in EVV Satyanrayana starrer “Ammo Okato Thareeku” (2000), for which she got a remuneration of Rs. 20,000. In the film College, again she played the second fiddle. Two years later, she realized her dream in a small film and that went into the oblivion soon. Later, she took the avatar as “Chiranjeevi gari Mena Kodalu” in Indra. Of course, that proved lethal dose to her advancement as heroine in Tollywood. She tried and tried like the proverbial spider but couldn’t build her web. Caught in the mire of anger, disappointment and vexation, she flew to Kerala, where she did 10 films as heroine, with 3 films ready for release and two more set for launch in the coming weeks. Her love for mother industry yet put her at the receiving end. She met almost all the directors and producers. Everybody was ready to offer her the roles of – heroine’s friend or sister, hero’s sister, or a character role. “I learnt Bharatanatyam for eight years and loved the big screen more than my life. But, misfortune continuously dogged me. It shouldn’t happen to our Telugu girls,” Lahari regrets with a curl on her lip (out of irritation towards Tollywood). In an exclusive interview to Idlebrain, this celebrity of God’s Own Country but shunned heroine of Andhra Pradesh, she reveals how Malayalam guys propose to her, about the dangers of Zero-size mania, and the necessity to have performance-oriented films for heroines instead of mere glam dolls. But, we don’t know why, she preferred not to make any mention to her performance as X class girl in Soundarya’s film Ammoru (1995).

When did you make your entry into Tollywood? And your background earlier?
I come from Vijayawada. My dad worked in the Postal department and mom, with APSRTC. Both were higher officials. They took voluntary retirement and we settled in Hyderabad six years ago. In Hyderabad, it was my avowed dream to become a heroine. I tried and tried and all my efforts were exhausted. The Telugu film industry was ruthless to me. I don’t have much to tell you from the glamour point of view. Just I started my career in Tollywood with EVV Satyanarayana’s Ammo Okato Thareeku (2000), not as heroine, but in some good role. I did films like College. Though I did lead female roles in the films Manamiddaram and Vacchina Vaadu Sureedu, they didn’t click. But, I had some solace. In Chiranjeevi gari film Indra (2002), I did the role as his Mena Kodalu (niece). Even today, most of the people, wherever I go, call me as Chiru’s niece. I am happy. Other than that, I don’t have any moment of luck or happiness. Fate was unfeeling to me. Of course, nothing deters me from realizing my dream. I am now happy with Kerala film industry. At least, I am one among the recognized heroines. Now, I am here in Tollywood to play a negative role. It’s just an experiment. The film is Oka Ammai Oka Abbai, launched a few days back. I believe that such characters are very much liked by the audience. But, storywriters and directors are not coming out with such roles.

What about your stint on the small screen?
What I couldn’t get on the big screen, I got it on the small screen. People still remember me as Durga as I did the title role in the TV serial Durga. Significantly, I come from Vijayawada, the abode of Goddess Kanaka Durga. ETV Suman garu liked my performance very much. At a time I was struggling to fight out the stalemate in my career bogged down disgrace due to offer of insignificant roles, the TV field came as a big rescue to me. It did resurrect my hopes as an artiste. My second life began with TV industry.

So, you left Tollywood due to lack of heroine roles?
Of course. Basically, I stepped into Tollywood to become a heroine. But, I was so flexible as an artiste that I got ready to do significant roles. What I mean by significant roles is that roles that can really help an artiste perform. But, most of the roles offered to me were the ones which actually contributed to my getting sidelined.

How did you enter Mollywood?
It so happened that I attended a screen test by a professional filmmaker in Chennai in 2005. Those photos and video footage impressed star Malayalam director Blessy. That way, I got the opportunity to set my foot in God’s Own Country. So far, ten of my films got released. Three are ready for release. Two are on the sets. Two are going to be launched soon. In 2006, I did the film Palungu, with Mammooty sir. I also did the film Ayuvu Rekha with Suresh Gopi. Kerala audience found a Srividya in me.

What is the main reason that you failed to achieve your heroine dream?
It’s in Telugu only. I can’t judge. But, I know this. Telugu audience like glam dolls as heroines. That time I was somehow reluctant to expose and I hardly exposed. You know the invasion of Tollywood by Mumbai models and Bollywood actresses. This influx is equally shared by Kerala Kutties. I frankly admit that these exports are doing absolute justice to their job. They are very glamorous compared to our Telugu girls. They are tall, sexy, wield sharp features. Above all, they are easily adaptable to ZERO Size.

Do you think you can make a comeback as heroine with Zero size?
Absolutely not possible. See my figure. Somehow, I don’t think I can succeed in the feat. Moreover, our (Tollywood) films are pucca commercial. For that purpose, I can’t go for Zero size. I don’t have permanency here. So, why should I risk. Moreover, maintaining Zero size has several ill effects on health. I think you know this. Doctors are warning against this development every day.

How different is Kerala film industry from Telugu?
It’s God’s Own Country. People are also very congenial and admirable. Basically, movies there are not commercial. They are more about family relationships. They hold concrete reality to real life. No need for inches of makeup. No need for artificial costumes. Everything, say more than 90% its natural there. The budget is not a big constraint there. Majority of the films are low-budget ventures. Almost all the films have their audience. In fact, the Malayalam Cinema has its universal impact, but rather silently.

How you enjoy life in Kerala?
I traveled allover the state. Full of forests, swamps, backwaters, unending coastline, tall coconut trees, goodhearted people – this is all about Kerala. I visited all the major, beautiful and historical temples, but for Lord Ayyappa temple of Sabarimala. You know ladies don’t go there.

How about Kerala film industry?
Just like life, tinsel world there is also natural. You don’t have studios. Everything is done in natural locations. The film units move deeper into the forests or backwater villages. When beauty is surrounding you, why do you go for artificial sets? This always helps a producer and naturally saves his budget. But, compared to Tollywood, the work style is somehow tedious. Here, the unit gets packed off with the dusk (6.00 PM). There we have to (most times) work till 9.00 PM. Forget to tell you, the day starts at 6.00 AM. That’s why films are made within limited budget and time limit. For those who go there or work there for money, they don’t get satisfaction. But, those who love to perform will love the industry very much.

Did you ever feel like working with young heroes like NTR, Prabhas or Allu Arjun?
Why not? But, I honestly feel that phase is over for me. I already said such heroes require commercial heroines, glam dolls, which otherwise it would become a big problem to their image. If they want to dance, they have to dance with glam dolls only. If performance-oriented girls (characters) come into their films, they must require a strong script. This is again a big problem.

What kind of characters you like to do?
I have a dream. I don’t know whether it will be fulfilled. The role of Sridevi in Chalbaaz. Several times, I bolted from inside and practiced her drunken role. The role of mad girl in Vasantha Kokila. It also mesmerized me like anything. As of now, I have my recognition in Kerala. I don’t have big regrets. Just small episodes of unhappiness.

What’s your approach to marriage and love?
They are just common. They are not a big matter. In Kerala, some good guys (Keralites) proposed to me. But, I said no. There were occasions. When I liked him, he didn’t like me. When he liked me, I rejected him. I want somebody who could love me all through his life.

What you think should be the characteristics of your prospective hubby?
I am very clear. I am born into a Brahmins family. My dad is a Telugu Brahmin and my mom, a Kannada Brahmin. They loved each other and married. Theirs’ was A Love Story 1976. The first qualification of my hubby is that he too should be a Brahmin. Anyways, I shall be getting married in a couple of years.

After marriage, will you continue acting or stop it?
One hundred percent, I will say a big goodbye to acting after marriage. Don’t ask me why. I will tell you. I am more concerned about family life. Both my parents were working when we were children. We missed them a lot or they missed us the same way. It should not repeat in my life. I can’t deny love to my children.

What did you do with your first salary?
Yes. I got Rs. 20,000 for the film Ammo Okato Thareeku, though I was promised Rs. 30,000. I made a gold ring to my mother. I applied for the passport. I got some small gift to my father. I took my parents to some restaurant. Recently, my mom asked me to wear the ring. (Showing her finger with ring of Lord Vinayaka image).

Any sour experience in your career so far?
Hmmm. Yes. I have just one which haunts me often. Please don’t mention the name of that film in Telugu. (She reveals it). I was very much insulted… all because of my stubbornness. Any producer or director who disrespects artistes will never shine in his business. He will be doomed. I tell you, those who misbehaved with me were simply failures and people had long back forgotten them.

Who’s your favorite actress?
Soundarya and Laya. See, there were films purely based on their performance. They demanded such scripts. I hope we will have such heroines again.

Is Lahari your real name?
Yes. I am called as Lahari or Lakshmi Lahari here in Telugu. In Kerala, my name is Lakshmi Sharma.

Why changed there?
Lahari means Matthu. Kick. That’s why the name was changed… based on the suggestion of our first director.

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