OPEN CHEST Interview with Actress Manisha Koirala
The Return Of
Her impressive filmography is second to none with notable films like Saudagar (1991), 1942: A Love Story (1994), Bombay (1995), Khamoshi (1996), Dil Se (1998) and Company (2001). With looks as infectious as Madhuri Dixit’s, emotion as intense as Meena Kumari’s and acting prowess as diverse as Shabana Azmi, there’s no doubt that this multi-award winner will leave an indelible mark on the Indian film industry for generations to come. She’s ANOKHI!
But she shocked the world when out of the blue, she decided to call it quits and disappeared into oblivion. She recently re-emerged with the release of Ek Second Jo Zindagi Badal De and the upcoming release of Electra. Amidst the current media frenzy surrounding her marriage to businessman Samrat Dahal — her first at almost forty years of age — I was beside myself when I received a call with the opportunity to interview her.
In a very revealing interview, Manisha opened up about why she needed to walk away when she did, what happened to her during her hiatus and what prompted her return. She also talked about how she managed to get in the best shape of her life and what provoked her to get married at this particular juncture. Hers is a provocative tale of discovery!
From a historical perspective, we all know that you come from a really prominent political family in Nepal. But you chose a career in acting. Why did you not get into the political scene in a really big way?
Actually, the thing is, since childhood I’ve been bent towards theatre and towards classical dancing. Though I do have political opinions just as any individual, I never aspired to be a politician. I’ve always been artistic in mind and that’s the reason why I chose film and I’m happy I decided to do that.
Clearly you have a great love affair for the arts.
Your 20 years in the film industry and your phenomenal portfolio in films shows that to the world.
Thank you you’re so kind.
From my perspective when I’ve looked back at all the movies of yours that I have watched over the years, there is no denying that a lot of the roles that you have chosen have had a strong social undercurrent to them. Women that have faced diversity and are struggling with it and are challenged to overcome it. Was this deliberate on your part to pick these roles, or was it something that you were unconsciously attracted to?
Basically as an artist, I would want to do various and different kinds of roles no matter what my personal opinions are because an actor has to do a role mainly because it challenges you. So on that basis, I would say that it was not my conscious effort to choose those roles, but yes I guess because I do have feelings towards women characters and strong characters, maybe unconsciously I have been attracted to them.
I’m happy I did those roles though. Because yes there are certain feelings I have but otherwise there are certain movies you just take on because the roles are challenging and the director is good.
Which of all the roles you have played has been your single most favourite and why?
There is one that really stands out: Bombay because of the kind of message it sends out. Also, I was present in Mumbai when the Hindu-Muslim riots were going on and I was hearing so many stories which were heart breaking. So when I took this movie after I heard the script from (director) Mani Ratnam, it really and truly touched my heart because it was a movie that actually tells the story that life is beyond these priorities we are tied to in regards to religion. Just because you come from a different religion, doesn’t mean that we have to be mean and cruel to each other.
Throughout the movie this is shown, as my character is Muslim and Anil’s (Kapoor) character is Hindu. How the families reacted and how strongly they felt wronged was portrayed but at the end, everyone comes together. I really liked that.
And your most challenging role and why it was so?
Honestly speaking, when I’ve been offered good roles with a good director, those roles have not at all been difficult. That’s not to say that I didn’t work hard on them as with each one of them, I had to put in extra effort but when one is passionate about something, putting in long hours and extra effort doesn’t make it so difficult. Yes. When someone has passion towards something, it becomes worthwhile not matter what it takes to finally get it right.
You decided all of a sudden to take a bit of a break from acting a while ago. What was the deciding factor for you to make the break when you did considering you had a very strong portfolio of films under your belt? What made you decide ‘You know what? I need to take a break from acting’.
Basically, I was overworked and I needed to see a world outside films, so I decided to stop, chill down and focus on travelling and doing a course. Basically I just wanted to lead a different kind of life and not only just that of an actor’s life.
So what did you do during that time away that you feel was really valuable to your life?
It was necessary for me to search within. I needed to figure out who I was — am I just an actor or do I go beyond that as a person? Can I actually survive on my own without being privileged due to who I was, where I was constantly recognized and hounded as well as appreciated? So I went and lived in Paris for a couple of months by myself and found out that that yes, I can live happily alone anywhere if I so chose to do so. (Pause) So basically, it was self discovery, curiosity and wanting to know the world and to know myself. And in that quest, I also stepped into my spiritual life ã because I found Oneness University which is based in Chennai, and ever since I went there it’s been three, three and half years, I have never looked back. It was a great, great journey for me.
What did you learn about life during that time?
That we have to be grateful for what we have now, which is to be born and to have such loving people around us everything. And whatever you believe in, let it manifest itself through being positive and hard working. The most important thing is that we are all connected. We’re taught to believe that we are all separate as beings and that what happens to others doesn’t happen to me. This in turn makes us feel disconnected. But we are all connected at a much higher level. So what happens to micro happens to macro and vice versa.
How has this reflection factored in to the kind of films you now do and the roles you now pick?
I look out for a good director and a role that is really prominent in terms of what kind of impact it has on the film as a whole. That’s my priority right now.
That’s really, really interesting. In my opinion, you’ve always done really great roles with insightful analysis of characterization which as an actress, has really put you in a class of your own, so it’s great to hear the psyche behind why you pick certain roles. And of course the director has a lot to do with how your role is to be established in a movie, so I totally understand your rationale.
Thank you for the compliment. You’re sweet and kind to me!
What made you come back to film making?
The love for cinema. I like being an actor. I really missed being in cinema. I realized that I LOVE acting and I’m not going to give it up. I want to live a balanced life-a bit of work and family. I’m going to have time for everything now. I will do one or two films in a year if a good role comes along. I just need to lead a balanced life now.
So let’s talk about the most recent film you did-Ek Second Jo Zindagi Badal De which is a take on the Hollywood movie, Sliding Doors. This was hailed as your comeback movie. What was it about this particular movie that made it the one you chose to re-launch your career with?
Basically this director, Partho Gosh and I have done two movies with him, earlier on, one was Agni Sakshi (1996) and the other was Yugpurush (1998). They were good films. So when he narrated the subject to me, it looked like a good film. I completely fell for it. I just hope that it turns out the way he had narrated to me.
You play the main character, Rashi, a name which is very fitting for this movie since the entire theme of the movie is centred around your character’s rashi or destiny. What is your take on destiny-do you believe that it is preordained or we as humans direct the course of our lives and related outcome of decisions we make?
Both are important. There is a self effort that determines that we create our own destiny but then there are things like time and place which are beyond human control. Consequently, both have to work simultaneously. I don’t believe it’s one or the other.
It’s no secret that you are a long term advocate for women’s rights. What are you doing right now from that perspective, as you’ve done a lot for women who are underprivileged and who do not have a lot of people helping them?
Honestly speaking, I haven’t done much recently but after my marriage, once I get settled, I’ll have time to focus on this again because women’s issues are close to my heart as well as their children who are our future. Mothers definitely reflect a lot on to their children and if their condition is right-if their minds are functioning and they are happy, then obviously it reflects on their children well. These are the issues that I want to work on in the future.
You’ve been quoted as being one of the most eligible women in India but that’s over now that marriage is here. Historically our culture teaches us that the primary purpose of marriage is to rear a family. What to you, is the primary purpose for marriage, being that you decided to take the plunge later on in life and on your own terms?
When I was younger, I really questioned all of my friends who were getting married at that time: “Why are you getting married?” And they would say, “we love our husband, we love our future” or whatever. I’m like “okay fine you love them but why do you have marry them?” (laughs). I couldn’t understand the whole aspect of marriage. But now after years of maturity, this life long commitment shows your family values and after all, family is really important in my life. It represents who we are. In our Eastern culture, we really do value our family. I come from that culture and I like it.
What made you decide to get married right now?
I met the right person and I was also ready for a commitment. Samrat (Dahal) is extremely kind, supportive and broad-minded. He comes from a non-filmi background as he has a business background and he is a bit younger than me by a few years but at the same time he is very mature. I just feel that he is right.
What is the single most valuable component for you in order for a relationship to work?
There’s two actually: trust and respect. That is the basis of any good relationship.
In three words, who is Manisha Koirala today?
I’m happy, content, peaceful.
And who are you NOT today that you where in the past?
I was too honest and too bold. Whatever I felt I would say-I was too brutally honest. Today I prefer to be kind then to be honest.
I have to say that you look hotter and in better shape now than you ever have – what’s your secret formula?
Proper diet and focusing on yourself. Also the right amount of exercise. One thing that I highly recommend is hot yoga. I did it for a few months and it’s really tough but it’s great. I used to do it regularly last year for a few months and I was in the best of shape. I really recommend it.
What other films do you have planned for the rest of 2010 that our readers should know about?
The movie that I just finished, I really loved doing it. I really liked the director’s previous work. The director’s name is Shyamaprasad. He’s gotten a couple of national awards as well. His films are slightly darker. He tells stories which aren’t supposed to be told about society. He deals with those kinds of subjects. I like his style and his views on certain subjects so I chose to do the film.
What’s the film called?
The movie is called Electra. It’s quite a strong character that I play. At this point in time, I’m looking for performance based roles with a director who could be making out and out commercial films or ones that are artistic in nature.
If there was only one thing in your life that could go down in history for people to remember you by, what would you want that to be?
“She lived happily and she spread happiness”
You have been a pleasure to interview Manisha. I wish you much success, happiness and peace as your life’s journey continues. God Bless!
Thanks a ton. It was a pleasure speaking with you too Raj. Much love.
First published in The Entertainment Issue, July 2010, www.AnokhiMagazine.com
Portrait Photography by Sachin Gokale
Coordinator: Neha Sarin
Film Stills (Photos ii to iv) from Ek Second Jo Zindagi Badal De
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