I’m Lakshmi Rebecca, Filmmaker and Anchor, and this is how I Lead from Within
Lakshmi Rebecca is a talk show host, director and producer.
Lakshmi founded Red Bangle, a film production house, in 2011. In the same year, she also launched an online talk show called Chai with Lakshmi. The show, which has received over 3 million views, features change makers in India.
Lakshmi recently launched a YouTube series titled India Ahead, a short film series featuring stories of progress from India. She has a background in film making, social research, marketing and anchoring as well as modeling.
I left home at 18 and got into social work for four years doing everything from building low cost English teaching materials, to building and running free libraries, to running a free meals program for 300 people. It was tough but it was very fulfilling.
That led me into social research for documentary films, for BBC and Discovery. I did freelance work for a production house in London. That was my first exposure to film making and I was really drawn to that work. It was good because I was able to put my social work background and my creative abilities to use, which I was beginning to discover again in adulthood after having given up on them as a teenager.
I dabbled in modeling here and there. But, especially following my divorce, the advice was to take an education break and so I chose to do an M.Sc in International marketing. I got into research and teaching at the business school and discovered the more academic side of myself.
And then I came back to India, and a year and a half later after working and consulting for a bit, I started my production company, Red Bangle and web-series Chai with Lakshmi. So, basically I’ve acquired a few different skill sets and what I’m able to do now is to put all those skill sets to use.
I think if there are two things that have got me where I am it’s courage and perseverance.
I’ve realized I’m more brave than I think I am. And what brave means is that you don’t have all the answers but you still put yourself out there because it feels okay to do so and you go with that gut level feeling. Sometimes it turns out to be something stupid, other times it turns out alright. That’s the chance you just have to take and that ability to take those chances comes down to courage.
I also think I have a lot of nervous energy about me and I can be very persevering. The nervous energy keeps me going. I constantly have to do something. I have to have big goals, I have to do this and do that, there have to be ideas floating, I have to have a plan. And all that nervous energy got channeled into what I am doing now.
It’s a combination of gratefulness and consciousness.
I’ve always believed in inclusion and giving and sharing. Through my social work, I’ve had a lot of exposure to some of the bigger problems that India faces across the spectrum of our society whether it’s psychological, physical or environmental. I’m very conscious of these things. In the last couple of years, Chai with Lakshmi has really aligned with what I think we all need to be more mindful about.
I think it’s also a matter of gratitude. A lot of us might be blessed with a lot of things, but can we be grateful enough to acknowledge what else needs to be done and facilitate some giving, constructive giving, and constructive sharing? Can we be conscious of the people and the surroundings that we belong to?
Lessons from My Entrepreneurial Journey
One, that I don’t have to let anxiety run me. When I’m calmer and actually listening to my intuition and following my gut, I do things I’m truly and seriously excited about.
Two, including other people in that journey like my team, and my family, because that enriches your own pursuit and journey and it also adds value and a variety of dimensions, which makes it more holistic for the people to which you’re delivering a message.
Three, being open to learning. I think Chai with Lakshmi ensures my team and I are constantly learning. I have a huge network of people, good people that I can turn to for ideas, for discussions to participate in learning and I’m very grateful for that.
Personal Challenges and Triumphs
It’s a big question, also a very important one, I suppose. I think my parents having a dysfunctional marriage has played a huge role in how I turned out and how I reacted to life and the decisions I made earlier on about leaving home, trying another religion, doing social work and all that. My mother’s anger management problem also played a huge role. To me, recovering from all of that and being able to make choices purely for myself without worrying about their reaction was a huge transition.
Having made that transition, I’m able to engage with my family in a different way. It’s not so interconnected and interdependent anymore. While there’s still the affection and sense of belonging, the lack of that interdependency that was there earlier which suffocated me because of the problems that existed has really helped me be myself and build a beautiful life for myself.
First I have a lot to share, secondly, I saw that people might relate to it because so many of us go through similar stuff. It took close to a year of thinking about it before I started writing my blog where I shared such personal stuff and possibly will continue to. I think I had to overcome my own fears of how people might perceive it and then I had to be honest with myself and say that I want to talk, I want to share, I want to be honest about what I want. Whatever happens as a result of that, I have to live with. That’s kind of where it comes from. It’s just driven by the need to express. And hopefully one day I may even get to write a book about my life, I don’t know.
I can talk about a few experiences. One was a man, who decided it was great to have me in his life because I had brains and I was doing my own thing, which he admired. But, at the same time, when we went to social gatherings, for him it was about having this beautiful woman there who had brains but he didn’t really want her to voice her opinion. He never really took an interest in what I did.
More recently, I’ve met men who perhaps admire me but they’re also very scared because they suddenly see this girl who’s maybe wiser than her years doing her own thing. She doesn’t really need a man in the traditional sense for financial support. I think most men don’t know how to deal with that and they run away.
I think we definitely need more men out there who don’t care about playing that traditional role, who are happy to let the woman be and will genuinely take an interest in what she does. I think if I was to be in a relationship or marriage then I would want to take an interest in what the other person does. I would want to be supportive, and vice versa, I would really like that from a man.
As to whether or not a woman can have it all depends on the different phases of your life. Some people are able to plan it well, some people are not, and when you’re not, you’ve got to say okay, well, what are the things I really want and just go after that. So, you want your career, you want the family and the marriage and the kids, then you’ve got to do some planning and not just walk into it or give in to pressure from the family.
I think there are two lessons that I learned somewhere along the line. One is that you don’t know until you try. You will never know what you’re capable of until you try.
Number two, always ask why. Never be afraid to ask questions because the moment you ask questions you’ll empower yourself with information that’s either going to encourage you or discourage you for the right reasons. A lot of us, in the Indian context, and especially women, are taught not to ask questions. It’s just in our psyche, we’re raised that way, we’re raised to abide by the rules, at least the average middle class girl is raised to fit in without necessarily questioning what she’s fitting into or fitting in for. Somewhere along the line you learn why it’s so important to ask questions and how eye opening, empowering and liberating that can be.
On Work-Life Balance
I think this year’s been really good that way. I realized I don’t want to work 14 hours a day unless I absolutely have to. When things are calm and balanced, it brings me a sense of security and helps me listen to my own intuition better.
Film-making and discovery of people’s pursuits and passions are two things that absolutely make me come alive. I also love travel, especially traveling on my own. I love having a house full of people, and inviting friends and family over with good food and great conversations flowing. I don’t have to be at the center of it, but I love to facilitate it. I’ve got a big home makers’ streak in me. And fitness of course gives me time to be fit and that’s important so I can sustain my energy.
A Typical Day
Between 6:30 and 7:30 am, I catch up with the news, along with a cup of tea or hot lemon water. I shower and get dressed, and I really do take my time with that. I don’t believe in wearing makeup every day, but I put in some time to try and figure out what I want to wear today. I believe in a good hot breakfast.
I come into work and meet my team. If it’s a Monday morning, we usually have what you would call a standup where we do our work planning for the whole week. Around 1:30-2pm, we all get together for lunch, share our lunches and eat and talk about things. We work until 6-6:30 pm, maybe 7-7:30 pm sometimes.
Then, I hit the gym on Brigade Road, work out for about an hour and half and come back. I try to hit the gym at least three times; on a good week, I work out four times. If I still have work to do in the evening, I do that or I go watch a movie with a friend or catch up with friends. So it depends, different weekdays are different.
My Female Heroes
I think in some ways initially it was Oprah. In my early 20s, I drew a lot of inspiration from Oprah and the topics on her talk show. But now today, in India, I admire Mary Kom because look at her, she’s the girl who comes from the Northeast, got married, has kids, and yet is a world champion. Plus, she is so feisty; she speaks her mind and she goes after what she wants and I wonder what if every Indian woman was to be like that.
Recommendations for the Shenomics Community
I would recommend 3 inspirational stories of women I’ve covered on Chai with Lakshmi. One, a national level para swimmer called Rajini Jha from Gwalior. She has an amazing story of growth and success and overcoming personal struggles. Then there’s a conversation with Sinu Joseph who talks about problems associated with menstrual hygiene and health in India and she’s doing some amazing work that is very inspiring. Three, Anu Vaidyanathan, one of India’s first Iron women, who also happens to be an engineer.