CHENNAI: Vishnu Manchu’s star status never got him any special treatment in college, although his family practically owned the institution. The 32-year-old Telugu actor, director and producer and son of veteran superstar M Mohan Babu completed his graduation nine years ago from Sree Vidyanikethan Engineering College, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, which is part of a trust that his father founded and he now heads. After engineering, he pursued a Diploma in Acting from the New York Film Academy’s Los Angeles campus, and then went on to get a Diploma in Screenwriting from University of California-Los Angeles, US. Some of his hit films include Vishnu and Dhee. Like him, Vishnu’s siblings, Lakshmi and Manoj, have also followed in the footsteps of their father into the film industry.
“Not wanting to bring a bad name to my family, I was a disciplined kid in college,” he says of his college days in Tirupati. Though he wasn’t a star student, he passed engineering with a distinction. Vishnu loved sports and played basketball at the national level. He was the captain of the under-21 basketball team and also played cricket at the university level. His love for cricket later translated into his sponsoring the Celebrity Cricket League (CCL) team, Telugu Warriors.
“College life is incomplete without bunking classes. Though I was no troublemaker, I had my gang and had a lot of fun,” he says. Asked if he was the gang leader, he laughs in confirmation. “We used to mostly hang out in the ground itself, and then there was the canteen too. When girls came over, we made fun of each other in our gang and made sure nobody had a chance with them. I am not sure about making relationships work, but we’ve spoilt many,” he says in jest, recalling the fun times with some of his friends, Kalyan, Vijay, Pavan, Raju and Bozo among others.
Vishnu talks fondly of Professor Narendranath of his college, who he counts as both his mentor and best friend. “He was 71 years old and was the most chilled out professor on campus. He travelled the world and was the most respected on campus. Whenever I felt sad, he had long conversations with me; I could talk just about anything to him. I asked him one day, ‘Have you heard the latest Bombay Vikings’ songs?’ And he right away hummed one of the tunes for me. He was amazing. He authored a book on Data Systems and dedicated it to my father,” says Vishnu, touched at the gesture. The book launch was held at the college.
Vishnu says his star status came with a price. “Initially, people avoided me. All those idiots are my friends now,” he says, affectionately. Asked if he had a crush on any girl in college, he laughs, saying, “My heart skipped a beat for every girl I came across, not one in particular.” Turning taciturn all of a sudden, he continues, “If there is one thing I learnt from campus life here, it is to be carefree and not worry about the future. My education abroad made me think out of the box. There was healthy competition on campus and the study culture was refreshing. There was a free flow of ideas there. They would allow you to make your own mistakes.”
The conversation inevitably slips into a discussion about how far behind Indian cinema is compared to the West. “We’re still stuck in the girl meets boy loop. How long will it take for us to make a Blue Jasmine or a Dallas Buyers Club? If you need to become a doctor, you study MBBS, you’re taught how to be one. Here, if someone wants to become an actor or director, we mostly bank on raw talent. Here the drive to become a superstar clouds the passion to become an actor. There, it’s not about being a superstar, you’re taught to be an actor first. That said, we need more film schools in India, we need universities to take the initiative to set apart three or four year courses in acting. Only then will students come forward. We also need more music colleges, visual communication courses and film schools.”
He says that in spite of having a repository of mythological characters, we are unable to bring them alive on screen and are eons behind Hollywood in terms of technology and ideas. “The kind of technology they use to bring a dinosaur alive on screen is unbelievable. We still can’t make an ET, Jurassic Park or Avengers in our country.” However, he does not write off the differences in tastes and audience of Indian cinema, as opposed to what the West caters to. “Tastes are changing and it will change; it’s just a matter of time” he says, signing off.