With Sarileru Neekevvaru and Bheeshma turning out to be huge hits, Rashmika is on a roll in Telugu cinema, and she’s only getting started. In an interview to Silverscreen India, the actress opens up about her career.
Over the past three years, since she made her acting debut in the blockbuster Kannada film Kirik Party, Rashmika Mandanna’s career has been a fairytale, so to speak. Post the success of her debut film in Telugu, Chalo, the actress went on to score a blockbuster with Geetha Govindam and followed it up with Nagarjuna, Nani starrer Devadas. Bharat Kamma’s Dear Comrade changed people’s perception about her acting chops, and the success of her recent films like Sarileru Neekeevvaru and Bheeshma proved that she has found her space in mainstream commercial cinema as well.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
From Chalo to Dear Comrade, you’ve mostly played characters that are subtle and serious to an extent. And then, Sarileru Neekevvaru and Bheeshma were more commercial. What drove you to make these choices?
I don’t know what I’m capable of and what suits me best. I’ve never been to an acting school. Even though I’ve done a few films, acting itself is extremely new to me. I didn’t know a word of Telugu when I signed Chalo, but director Venky Kudumula was extremely supportive. The Telugu film industry seemed too big for me and I kept wondering if I’ll find a place there. I owe a lot to Venky, because he trusted me. Even while shooting Chalo, I knew that I wanted to work with Venky again, and when Bheeshma happened, I was more than happy to collaborate with him again. He says that I’ve improved a lot compared to Chalo, and I take his feedback quite seriously. I tried doing comedy for the first time in Sarileru Neekevvaru, but if you ask me if I relate more to roles I’ve done in Dear Comrade or Sarileru Neekevvaru, I wouldn’t have an answer. I’m experimenting with my roles to figure out what I’m good at, and it’s a question that I keep asking myself all the time, because every film feels like a stepping stone for the next one. And when you take up something, you might as well try to be the best at it.
In an earlier interview, you said that you had to depend a lot on Anil Ravipudi to guide you throughout the shoot of Sarileru Neekevvaru. Was there ever a moment where you got a complete hang of the character you are playing given how dramatic she is?
I don’t know what it’s like to do comedy on screen, especially when it’s so dramatic. Moreover, I’m working with some really big names like Mahesh Babu, Vijayashanti, Prakash Raj, and Sangeetha. Your comic timing has to be perfect and in sync with what the director has envisioned. It’s Anil’s script and he knows better what he wants. The only time where I didn’t have to be dependent on his guidance to play the part was when we shot the climax. It was hard because last year, I was doing four films at the same time. Sometimes, I wish I could do just one film at a stretch and feel the pulse of the character easily. It happened with Dear Comrade, but this time, I didn’t know how to pull it off without relying on the director at every step.
Given how dramatic your role was in Sarileru Neekevvaru, there was also quite a bit of criticism. Did that affect you?
It’s extremely hard to perform comedy. The character is meant to be so goofy and dramatic, and my job is to perform to the best of my abilities to match the director’s vision. It was such a big contrast from what I played in Dear Comrade, and I’m glad that this has happened because, in the process, I’ve amazed myself that I’m capable of doing it. I know after my recent set of films, people might have had different expectations from me. People said what they wanted to and I understand that they want to see me in more serious roles, but doing a comic or an overdramatic role counts as performance too. I’m glad I did Sarileru Neekevvaru because I got to work with Mahesh Babu, Anil Ravipudi, and it’s an experience I’ll always cherish.
Did your life change after playing Lily in Dear Comrade? Quite frankly, that’s still your best performance till date…
I had invested so much of myself into being Lily. It changed me as a person in the sense that before playing Lily, a part of me suffered from low self-esteem. I used to wonder if I’m good enough and if I deserve all this name or fame. After playing Lily, I’m more confident as a person. I convinced myself that I’m here for a reason and people have supported me. It’s not just the character alone, but I think the people around me have changed me too. Earlier, I used to just keep quiet no matter what people said thinking that this is how things are, but later, I started speaking out. As much as it affected people, it has affected me too. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they were so inspired by the character that they started speaking out after watching the film, and I’m doing it too in some ways. I don’t keep quiet when someone says something wrong about me, especially on social media, and there have been occasional outbursts (smiles). “It’s not fair, treat me as a human being as well. Why are you being so rude?” I’m just happy that I’m getting there. Lily has helped me change in a positive way.
You have now done films in Telugu, Kannada, and you’ll soon make your debut in Tamil too. Has this journey as an actor changed you as a person?
I would like to believe that I’m an open book. Luckily, I feel very grounded and that’s how I have been raised. We have had our ups and downs in life, and now that I’m acting in films and thankfully doing well here, nothing has changed for us as a family. Not much has changed amongst us, but there are times, when I walk alone on a street, people do recognise me, especially when they see my tattoo (Irreplaceable) on my forehand. That feels nice, but I know that there’s a long way to go. I still don’t know what success is and ‘having arrived in life’ means. There’s no end to this pursuit. I don’t see the result. I’m just focusing on my work.
What’s the story behind the tattoo?
I was 15 and still in college, when someone challenged me that girls can’t take too much pain because getting a tattoo done hurts. And I wanted to prove him wrong. When someone dares me or says that I can’t do something, it ticks me off. My roommate suggested that I should choose this word “Irreplaceable”. I don’t know if she was scolding me or praising me, but I stuck to it. I wouldn’t do that when it comes to my work (laughs). I’ve become more practical in a way.
What goes through your mind while choosing your films? With Sukumar-Allu Arjun’s next, and Sultan with Karthi, and Pogaru with Dhruva Sarja, 2020 looks like quite a busy year ahead for you…
I want to do characters which I haven’t done before and I’m allowed to make mistakes at this point of my career. It’s all about the script. I want the directors to get the talent out of me, and push me to do more challenging roles, both physically and emotionally. I have a bunch of films lined up this year, and I know that this year, I’m going to live for myself and remember each day and make memories. No matter how hectic work is, as a person, I’m quite positive and keep wishing the best for everyone. I’m like water. You put me in anything, I’ll adapt to it. If you have me in your life, it’s good for you, I guess (laughs). 20 years later, when I look at myself, I want to be proud of what I’ve done.
Hemanth Kumar C R is a Hyderabad-based film journalist and he has been writing about Telugu cinema for over a decade. An avid reader, Chai-addict, and a philomath, he spends most of his time hoping that every Friday turns out to be a pleasant one at the movies.