Laya had auditioned for a role in Pardesi and finished runner-upIn the highly conservative Telugu film industry, it is difficult for Telugu girls to create a niche for themselves as actresses. Laya was one actress who managed to hold her own and eke out a permanent slot in the hearts of the audiences. Debuting as a child artiste with the 1992 film Bhadram Koduko, she went on to act in nearly 40 movies, the majority of them as the female lead. She won two Nandi Awards for Best Actress in consecutive years for Manoharam (2000) and Preminchu (2001). The only daughter of her parents, she was a chess prodigy as a child and also an accomplished classical dancer. When she was in her class IV, she went on an excursion with her school friends to Hyderabad. Akkineni Kutumba Rao was scouting for child artistes for his film Bhadram Koduko. Impressed by the bubbly, enthusiastic little girl, he selected her for his movie. Laya’s parents agreed as she was on holiday and they felt it would be an interesting experience for their daughter. The fact that the parents of another boy who was also selected for the movie were family friends was also instrumental in making them give their approval. Kutumba Rao conducted a workshop for the 20 shortlisted children and taught them the nuances of acting and reading a script. Eventually, he selected a few children after the rehearsals and Laya was given the primary role among the girls. Although ‘Bhadram Koduko’ won many awards, it was not a commercial success and people did not remember the film.In 1996, when Laya was in class X, she along with her friend saw a casting call in Gemini TV for the movie Paradesi being made by Raghavendra Rao. Although she and her friend thought of applying, they then changed her mind as they felt they wouldn’t be noticed among the thousands of likely applicants. Unknown to her, her mother sent Laya’s photographs and bio data to the makers. Later, when Laya was in school, she got a call from her mother asking her to come home immediately. Laya had been shortlisted for Paradesi and they were to leave for Hyderabad that very night. She cleared many rounds and eventually ended as a runner-up in the auditions out of one lakh applicants. Unfortunately, the makers would only take the winner as one of the heroines for the film. Laya then got a few offers as a TV anchor but none of them materialized. Observing her interest, Raghavendra Rao told her, “If you want to have a career as a heroine, wait for some more time. You are very thin and will have to put on weight. In the meantime, you will be offered ‘sister’ roles or other bit characters. Do not accept them or else you will be slotted in the same kinds of roles in future from which there will be no escape. If you need any kind of advice, you can always approach me.”Heeding his suggestion, Laya went back to Vijayawada and joined Intermediate. She was flooded with roles of the kind Raghavendra Rao had warned her of and rejected them. One day, she went to the house of her relative where there were some people from SP Entertainments who were planning the film Swayamvaram. They immediately offered her the heroine role in their movie and met with her parents. While her mother agreed immediately, her father was a bit skeptical. “My daughter is very talented but I don’t know whether she would be suitable for a heroine,” he said. However, they managed to convince him. He put down a condition that the movie should be completed in the 2-month vacation of Laya after her Junior Intermediate exams. After the muhurtam shot of the film and the subsequent ‘press meet’ was over, she boarded the Satavahana Express to Vijayawada and gave her Junior Inter Mathematics exam the following day. They had planned to complete the film in 2 months, yet it took a year before the movie finally released in 1999. It was a huge success and Laya was here to stay. In later interviews, Laya would recall how Raghavendra Rao’s advice had helped her to avoid supporting roles and thereby wait for the right opportunity that established her in the industry.