Raksha Bandhan day, siblings Manchu Manoj and Lakshmi tell us what it means to laugh, argue and share responsibilities. Sangeetha Devi Dundoo listens in

When you listen to Lakshmi and Manoj talk to each other, you know that their famed rapport is not something that’s been tailor made for the public eye. Manoj can read her thoughts and as if on cue, lead the conversation from thereon.

Over the last two years, they’ve worked together on their ambitious project Uu Kodathara Ulikki Padathara. They’ve brainstormed together for the project, pushing each other to go that extra mile. They have shared responsibilities, laughed over small things and had their share of fights. “We fight all the time,” says Lakshmi. But their animosity doesn’t last long. “We know the importance of communication. In India, I’ve noticed how people stop talking to each other when there’s a problem. Manoj, like me, has spent a few years abroad and from that experience, believes that any misunderstanding can be ironed out by communication. When we are mad at each other, we give each other some space and then talk it out,” she says.

Manoj chips in, “On the sets, we’ve had the typical hero-producer kind of arguments but those would get sorted out within 10 minutes. The fact that she is an actor-producer helps. She understands my concerns as an actor.”

Lakshmi and Manoj have spent a lot of time at the Gandharva Mahal set in the last few months with their team. Looking around, Manoj says, “I don’t think I could have made this film without her. The stress would have killed me.”

The project was mooted by director Sekhar Raja four years ago. “The producer who was on board at that time wanted changes in the script, which we didn’t want to make. Sekhar and I were in talks with two other producers. I didn’t want to yield to their requests of introducing more commercial elements into the film. One day I narrated the story to Lakshmi and told her that she should produce this film. She was shocked at first and then agreed. We set up Manchu Entertainment, started off with Lakshmi’s talk show and we’ve come this far. Lakshmi is the toughest woman I’ve ever met,” says Manoj.

As they worked on UKUP, they’ve alternated between being brother-sister to actor-producer. “This is our second film together. Manoj is a creative and exciting actor to work with. When I show him clippings of movies that I am inspired by, he challenges me with something different. When we work together, it’s like two brains coming together for a goal,” says Lakshmi. It helped that Manoj, too, pitched in to share the responsibility, she says. “I have pulled my strings as a sister to get him to do what I wanted as a producer.”

As actors, they were ready with cues for each other on the sets and also know to reign in each other when they get carried away in their roles. Off the sets, Lakshmi says she is the bullying older sister. “And he pretends to be scared,” she laughs. “But I scare the hell out of her too,” Manoj joins in.

Lakshmi had vouched not to buy herself anything until she finished UKUP but Manoj surprised her with gifts from Bangkok. “He spent a lot of money to buy me things and then came running to me for Rs. 1000,” she says. “I am quite bad at handling money,” he admits.

When in trouble, it’s Lakshmi that Manoj turns to. “But if I am in deep trouble, I run to my brother Vishnu,” he says.