Living it to the fullest

Manisha Koirala

Manisha Koirala was second in the famous trilogy of heroines whose names began with ‘M’, who were proteges of Subhash Ghai — Madhuri Dixit and Mahima Chaudhry being the other two. But more importantly, she remains the first foreign actor to make India her home and become a top star.

A royal from Nepal, Manisha started out with Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar in 1991. Meaty roles and standout performances in films like 1942: A Love Story, Bombay, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Khamoshi, Agni Sakshi, Gupt, Dil Se…, Kachche Dhaage, Lajja and Company, among others, followed. She even produced the disastrous Paisa Vasool in 2004.

Return to silver screen

After fighting cancer and with hardly a break, she returned with Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot Returns (2012) and a few regional films, and finally a pivotal role in Sanju. She’s now doing Sanjay Dutt’s home production Prasthanam.

The actor remains as down-to-earth and beautiful as she was at her peak. We ask her about playing the legendary Nargis in Sanju.

Manisha pragmatically replies, “After Bombay, I got a call from Mr Sunil Dutt, he said he’d called up especially to tell me that I had reminded him of his wife. It felt so good to get that feedback. And look at the coincidence: I am now playing her onscreen.”

For the prep, Manisha watched documentaries and had discussions with Rajkumar Hirani. A copy of Mr and Mrs Dutt helped her get little glimpses of Nargis’s personal life. ‘‘I came to know what Nargis-ji was as a person, and the kind of inner world I was navigating in this role.”

A negative aspect of this was that Manisha would have to revisit the unpleasant part of her life — cancer. “I was very hesitant because both Nargis-ji and I’ve had a health history,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if I had the courage to revive that memory and relive it. I shared this with Raju-sir. He assured me that the film did not revolve around the illness and that I should read the script first before deciding. I am glad I did it.”

And, how has cinema changed for her over 27 years? “This era is totally different,” she answers. “The new generation is exploring different kinds of narratives. Back then, it was a smaller framework and we were working in confines. But now we even have web series, like Lust Stories, much more television, and a fantastic exposure to world cinema. Therefore, the standards of performances have gone high. When I see today’s generation of actors, I am amazed at their focus. Hats off to their professionalism. It’s a great time for Indian cinema.”

On the craft

Manisha believes that roles should always be according to age, but then, “The pressure to look young and beautiful is a lot here, and if you succumb, it becomes unhealthy. Age happens to everybody, we must be graceful about it. I’ll now do roles my age. But not if it is a typical mother’s role. Life does not end when you are 25 or 30. Why can’t we have diverse stories? Yes, you have to be fit and healthy. Your internal health should shine through your external persona.”

And how does Manisha look at life today? “Like I have got another chance. I am healthy and doing something I love,” she smiles. “I don’t want to lecture, but we tend to overlook the positives and focus on the negatives. I enjoy life to the fullest, and when I am not working, I spend time with my family, write my book, or take off to Rishikesh, Badrinath, or to the jungles and the mountains. I welcome life with open arms, and ups and downs will always be there. I know the value of life.”

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Living it to the fullest

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