Back after a hiatus, Manisha Koirala is ready for the challenger
“Skin mera waise bhi acchha hai isko cover nahin karna.” As Manisha Koirala instructs her young make up artist, my mind goes back to time when Javed Akhtar told us “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga, Jaise Khilta Gulab, Jaise Shayar Ka Khwab” and a nation believed him because the face was of Manisha.
Today she has to let it know. What happened, where she could have been…reams have been written about her professional and personal life and one common factor that comes out is that she was not serious. “What I would have been doing if I were really serious?” she counters “Like who, can you take a name whom you think really reached that place,” Manisha sounds a little agitated. Madhuri Dixit, may be, one proposes. “She is doing television. Is it a great challenge? If you compare the films done by Madhuri, in terms of good performance, I think I match that. Even if an actor or actress does a hundred films, only about ten of those stand out. So if you count Madhuri’s best films there will be around 10 films which she would be really proud of. I don’t think I am any less or any more. It is just a general perception that if she would have been more serious she would have been somewhere else. What is that somewhere and who has reached that somewhere and is that somewhere better than what I have today?”
Manisha is not done yet. She reminds that Madhuri was not her contemporary and that she competed against Raveena Tandon, Kajol and Pooja Bhatt. One reminds her that the point was if 80s belonged to Sridevi and 90s to Madhuri, the next decade could have been hers. “Decades don’t belong to one actor anymore. Time changes. I started with commercial films but soon ventured into realistic cinema with films like Bombay. Not many had done it before me. Smita Patil did it the other way round by accepting Namak Halal. I come from a very liberal background. Quite early, I made up my mind that I am not going to be a good looking bimbette all through my career and some people didn’t like it because it is a hero-dominated industry.”
She says her favourite directors, Mani Ratnam, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Mansoor Khan, preferred her in performance oriented roles where her look was realistic. “See, commercial and realistic cinema have different kinds of set ups. One can’t mix the two. There have been times when people tried to mix them up and it has backfired.” Like director Indra Kumar complained about her attitude in Mann. “Induji wanted me to look like 1942-A Love Story, not realising that I had put make up in the film. It was like no make up, make up look! Once it is done, it is done. I don’t delve into the past. And I am not taking names of my contemporaries in condescending way,” Manisha clarifies. “I never took the media generated image seriously and I still don’t. If there are people who don’t like my ways then there are people who admire me. I am not saying all my moves are right moves. I fully accept that that I have made mistakes. And I could pick good films because people around me advised me. People like Ashok Mehta and my mother.”
Let’s talk of present. Will she count Bhoot Returns as a sort of return? “I won’t call it a return. I have been active. I was just not seen in the media and film events out of personal choice. Ram Gopal Varma and I have been in touch since Company and when he offered the role I couldn’t say no.” But in horror films, it is the ghost or the scary factor which is the hero. “It doesn’t really matter. As an actor it was satisfying. It is a challenge to play a mother whose own flesh and blood is turning into something else. As an educated lady she doesn’t believe in spirits but she couldn’t deny what is happening in front of her.”
She is awaiting the release of Deepti Naval’s Do Paise Ki Dhoop Chaar Aane Ki Baarish, where she is playing “a streetwalker who comes in contact with a gay poet”. “I am dying to work with Mani sir and Vinod Chopra again. But I can’t say whether we would be able to generate the same magic the way we did in Bombay or Dil Se.” That’s the whole point. Once upon a time they were dying to work with Manisha? “I am just trying to be polite. Nobody dies anymore. I am super happy with the roles I have. And I am putting my production house back in place.” The make up artist is still at it, but I leave with a promise of a big announcement from Manisha very soon.