'National Crush of India' Rashmika Mandanna is absolutely crushing it

Celebrating Bazaar India's 14th anniversary, the Telugu and Kannada film actor talks about her earliest memory of cinema, what she was as a little girl, how she accepts criticism, what makes her happy and upset and much more.

Harper's Bazaar India

Rashmika Mandanna has the world of movies at her feet...but her gentle manner won't give that away. The 26-year-old actor is a traditionalist at heart and considers "being real" a virtue. In a special conversation with Bazaar India Editor Nandini Bhalla, Rashmika speaks about creating a space for herself in the industry, how she tackles criticism, and the things that spark joy in her.

Nandini Bhalla: What is your current state of mind? 

Rashmika Mandanna: “I am busy, but that's alright. I love working in films—in different languages and industries—which is why I am never home. I enjoy how packed my schedule is, and I am learning how to be more organised, more human, every day. It’s a continuous learning process and I feel like there’s so much more to come. But, at present, I am having a blast!”

image: Terry Skirt, ₹13,560, and Terry Blazer, ₹27,110, both URA; Claw Hoop Earrings, Viange, ₹15,500

NB: You seem incredibly calm... Is what we see on the outside similar to how you feel on the inside? 

RM: “I am transparent about who I am. What is on the inside, ultimately shows on the outside. The person you meet on set is the real me. I treat my profession and colleagues like my life and family. Therefore, I make it a point to be real, be myself, because I believe that the industry is going to be my home for a long time. I know that any sort of pretense won't help me in the long run, so I might as well be myself and have fun while working.”

NB: How do you deal with stressful moments? 

RM: “There are times when I work without a break...I am living different characters while also taking care of important matters such as finances, life, family, among others. It can get overwhelming at times. But when I do manage to take some time off, I like to be with my loved ones. Being around them grounds me and, at the same time, rejuvenates me.” 

NB: Can you take us through what is happening in your life these days?

RM: “At the moment, I am shooting for Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Animal. I am also shooting for another film which I can't disclose yet. Apart from shooting, I am currently juggling a tonne of meetings regarding a brand that we hope to launch soon. I also attend events and make appearances regularly, because that's where people get to see the real true personality. And amidst it all, I try to maintain a healthy work-life balance by meeting my family as often as I can.” 

NB: Tell us about your earliest memory of cinema, and what impact did that have on you? 

RM: “I never saw myself as an actor, I never believed I could be one. However, I was always fascinated with cinema. I also auditioned for a few roles but nothing came through, and because of that, I began making peace with the fact that acting was not my destiny. However, after winning the title of Times Fresh Face in 2014, I got a call from Paramvah Studios (a production house). They asked me to audition for a character called Sanvi Joseph for a film called Kirik Party, which was my debut film.” 

NB: What were you like as a little girl? 

RM: “I am constantly evolving and growing. But I was extremely quiet in school... I was afraid to voice my opinions. My mother calls me a ‘moni’ because I used to be so quiet that no-one would know that I was home. After tenth grade, though, when I moved to a hostel, I began opening up to people. I was no longer living in a protected environment. Later, I moved to Bengaluru to pursue my graduation degree, and living alone made me more confident. I began making friends and understanding how the world really works. Interestingly, the film industry is more or less like a hostel... You have your seniors, juniors, and teachers—that’s how I look at it and this has helped me in my journey.” 

image: Fillon Biker Sleeve Shirt, Rajesh Pratap Singh, ₹8,500; Trillion rose-cut diamond loops earrings, The Line, ₹95,000

NB: Talking about teachers, who has contributed the most to your learning in the film industry? 

RM: “It is definitely the people who I have worked with so far. I am like a sponge, who is inquisitive about other people's perspectives, problems, and situations. I don't think I can pick the best teacher, but it is fair to say that my colleagues have influenced me in countless ways.” 

NB: Would you say that you’re an old soul? 

RM: “Definitely! I am an old soul.” 

NB: Tell us about the first movie you watched as a child, one that had a profound impact on you.

RM:Taare Zameen Par (2007) was one of the first films I watched in school. Before this there was a Tamil film that my dad made me watch. He enjoys watching Tamil films and had taken me to the cinema to watch Ghilli (2004), starring Vijay Sir and Trisha (Krishnan). It was truly special.” 

NB: Tell us how you have changed over the years, personally and professionally. 

RM: “As I mentioned before, I was an introvert, growing up. I wasn't as free as I am today, say, five or six years ago. Over the years, I have evolved as a person and I am truly in love with who I have become. I always wanted to be someone who works hard, respects everyone, and makes memories because I know that life is so short... We do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, so I believe it is important to treat every day like it’s your last.” 

NB: Who is the real Rashmika and what is she like behind closed doors? 

RM: “Little things matter to me. I wake up and spend time with my pets and meet my friends—it makes me happy. Words are really powerful and they can make or break a person, which is why when someone says something, it matters to me. I jot down the tiniest details in my diary... Back home, I have a habit of touching everyone’s feet out of respect, I also touch our house help’s feet, because I don’t want to differentiate. I respect is who I am as a person.” 

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NB: Do your parents feel extremely proud of you? 

RM: “Not really, because my family is disconnected from the film industry, and they don’t realise what their daughter is doing. But when I win an award, they feel proud. Perhaps I need to accomplish a lot more to make them truly proud of me. My parents have raised me without any qualms, they provided me with everything a child could ask for, and I am grateful for that. And it is now my turn to take care of them...” 

NB: Are you someone who overthinks or do you tend to go with the flow? 

RM: “Honestly, I am a bit of both. Sometimes, I overthink a lot, and that's when I realise that it's uncontrollable. And then I switch to going with the flow, because when the world throws you a curveball that is beyond your control, you just let go...right?”

NB: Is there any film genre that you tend to lean towards? 

RM: “I am very traditional at heart, and I want to work in films that exhibit the rich culture of our country—I like wearing and seeing myself in traditional attire. Having said that, I am also open to everything that comes my way organically.”

NB: Do you feel that the film industry places a lot of emphasis on how a woman looks?

RM: “Unfortunately, we live in a man’s world. I think, earlier, women had a lot more options when it came to styling. Every culture has had a different way of wearing their traditional attire. But women’s fashion has changed tremendously. Now there’s a lot more emphasis on being stylish in general... it’s evolving constantly.” 

NB: How has your definition of beauty changed over the years? 

RM: “Growing up, I used to think applying make-up would make you beautiful. But now, I can vouch that it has nothing to do with the face. Just wear a big smile and try to be happy and peaceful...nothing makes one more attractive than that.” 

image: Pantsuit, Maison 9002, ₹35,000

NB: Have you learnt to accept criticism or are you still in the process of not feeling hurt by what people say? 

RM: “People are special to me, they are very close to me. Even if they hate me or love me, I am always going to keep them close to my heart. So, for me, no matter what they say, at the end of the day, I will still love them. Of course, their words affect me, but I have learnt how to deal with criticism—I don't let it affect me for a long period of time. I guess, I am still a work in progress.” 

NB: What makes you genuinely happy? 

RM: “The love I get from people.” 

NB: What makes you upset? 

RM: “The two things that upset me greatly are disappointing myself and being unable to deliver what is expected out of me. Also, what bothers me is when people around me do not work hard. I can't stand anyone slacking off.” 

NB: You are being called the 'National Crush of India'. Tell us how does that make you feel? 

RM: “Extremely special! I know I don’t I won't be able to hold on to this title for a very long time, but as long as I have it, I want to be able to share the same amount of love that I am showered with. I recently went to Milan Fashion Week and I met a couple of actors from Asia who know me from Instagram and knew about this title...and it made me really happy.” 

Photographs by Sahil Behal, Styled by Zunali Malik, Make-Up: Tanvi Chemburkar; Hair: Priyanka Borkar; Fashion Assistant: Jaishree Chhabra; Fashion Interns: Garima Taneja, Mittali Jain and  Vailancia Angel Ferrao; Production: Studio Little Dumpling