ONE look at her Instagram posts and it’s easy to figure what matters most to Rashmika Mandanna: her parents; videotaping younger sister Shiman’s antics; playing with her numerous dogs, a cat and a menagerie of birds; spending time in Coorg; and goofing around with her friends at the gym. “That’s true. But if you think I’ve had it all figured out, let me say that I still don’t know who I really am. When I share this thought with friends, they go: Oh! Come on, you’re still too young to be talking about life like this. This year though, I’m on the path to discovering who I truly am,” avers Rashmika, the girl who has hearts throbbing for her in three states: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. And just when you are wondering if those words sit heavy on a 22-year-old’s shoulders, she’ll give you one of her trademark looks and say, “Come on re…is there really an age that can be deemed fit to be talking about life?” Presenting Ms. Mandanna unplugged.

You’ve had an action-packed 2018. How has 2019 been treating you, so far?
2019 has been good…actually, let’s make that awesome. There’s been great work coming my way. It’s just been fun all the way. I’m getting to know a lot more people now and I love it.

You are considered one of the top actors in Sandalwood and Tollywood today. Enjoying this phase? Is this how you always envisioned your life to be?
Frankly, I don’t know what phase I am in. I just want to do good work and what’s good for me. The focus this year is going to be on me. I want to do things that are positive. Nothing tangled or messy; I dislike anything that goes on a negative tangent. Let’s just say, I will go wherever 2019 takes me…

Geetha Govindam has been huge for you, even fetching you an entry into the coveted 100crore club. How has life changed post the success of the film?
I don’t think my life has changed in any way. Even during my first film (Kirik Party), I wouldn’t look into the mirror before a shot and I still don’t. In fact, the best compliment I ever got — both before and after the success of Geetha Govindam — was when the people who came to meet me said that I didn’t make them feel like I was an actor at all. Some quoted the examples of other heroines who make their presence felt; but with me, they feel totally at home.

Both on the professional (Geetha Govindam controversy) and personal front (an unfortunate break-up), 2018 was rather eventful. You bore the brunt of all the trolling that followed after. How did you handle it?
I just stayed put. I told myself that I can’t run away from it, so I might as well be there and face it all. Yes, there were days when I would look at the comments and they would be so hurtful. But then, I slowly learnt to take it in my stride and today I’m proud to say: I feel nothing. I actually enjoy reading the comments section. Good time pass.

The year also saw a surge in women standing up for themselves the world over in the form of the #MeToo movement — your thoughts on this?
I feel proud that women have finally started coming out and talking about such incidents. The kind of ordeals they have all been through, and to share it with the world…it’s inspiring to say the least. Women have always got a raw deal, but when they come out and speak about it, their stories aren’t accepted easily. So I’m extremely proud to belong to a generation where women have finally found a voice and are making it known. And it’s high time, too! #MeToo is one of the best things that have happened on the social scenario in recent times.

Ironically, many girls in the industry often complain of being offered just arm-candy roles. Are you happy with the kind of portrayals that are coming your way?
Honestly, amongst the films I’ve done so far, there have been some that I did as a favour for someone or for the sake of my mother. I haven’t had that ‘gut’ feeling with some of them, but the films that I’ve done with utter conviction have done extremely well. Which is why I’ve taken an oath that in 2019, I’ll only do films that make me happy and not for the sake of making someone else happy, no matter which industry it may be. I have already rejected big films because I’ve been offered mere arm candy roles. These are filmmakers who I’d love to work with, but if they don’t take me seriously, then I can’t give the film 100%. Give me a role which excites me and one which makes me complain that I’m working so hard, then you can bet I’m giving it 110%! But if you don’t give me such roles but expect me to just come on the sets, smile and look good, then I think there are so many more beautiful women out there who can pull off such roles much better than me.

You’ve already been considered a young achiever. March is also a month of celebrating women and their achievements. Is there anybody you look up to or seek inspiration from?
I think every woman we come across on a daily basis has an inspiring story to share. Be it a friend, a colleague — every woman with a spark in her, inspires me. I think you become the person you are because of the people you’ve met in your life. Their personality rubs off on you and you become an individual made up of all these personalities collectively. It’s the same phenomenon that has occurred with the women I’ve met. Their varied experiences, which I’ve been privy to, have provided me with much inspiration. My mother and grandmother (whom I lost some time ago) are my biggest inspirations. They are extremely strong personalities and having seen them at such close quarters for a large part of my life — I can’t help but look up to them.

Lastly, what makes Rashmika Mandanna happy?
When people around me are smiling, or better still, when everyone around me is laughing… when they smile at me… when people are happy about my work… going to the set every morning… meeting people and pulling their leg — just the simple pleasures bring me most joy, actually.

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Watch the making of the photoshoot on ProvokeTV

PHOTOGRAPHER: Vasanth Paul | @vasanthpaulb
STYLING: Shravya Varma shravyavarma
WARDROBE: Pant—Behind The Seams | @behindtheseamsindia
HAIR: Akshay Sannayila | @mr.hairdresserr (Toni&Guy | @toniandguyindia)
MAKE-UP: Ronan Mili | @ronan_mili
LOCATION: The Park Hyatt, Hyderabad | @parkhyatthyderabad