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Lokvani Talks To Manisha Koirala

Chitra Parayath
12/02/2002

Born in Nepal to an influential and political family, Manisha Koirala ,a trained classical dancer took to acting early on. Her first Hindi film was Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar and since then she has acted in over 35 films. Rumors about her various love affairs and substance abuse have surfaced in the press with regularity but she retains an innocence and freshness reminiscent of the legendary Indian actresses Madhubala and Nargis. In the recent months Manisha, 32, made headlines when the ‘Ek Choti si’ love story controversy broke. The actress had reservations about certain nude scenes( where a body double was used) and had a verbal spat with the director, Shashilal Nair regarding their inclusion in the film.

  Manisha Koirala visited the Boston area last month to promote and raise awareness about her latest release ‘ Escape from Taliban’.

Escape from Taliban” is based on Sushmita Bandhopadhyaya’s heart-rending accounts of life under Taliban in her autobiographical novels “Kabuliwalar Bengali Bau” and “Afghan O’ Ami.

It is the true story of a Bengali woman Sushmita Bandhopadhyaya, who, blinded by love weds her Afghani lover, leaves her hometown Kolkata and follows him to Sarana, a small town about 18 hours away from Kabul, Afghanistan. Finding hatred and disrespect towards women in the country and after being forced to convert to Islam, Sushmita rebels. The film deals with Sushmita`s struggle and tells vividly the story of her escape from Afghanistan and her journey back to India after six years in the country from the restrictive Taliban regime.

National award winner, Bengali filmmaker, Ujjal Chattopadhayaya directs this autobiographical account. Escape From Taliban consists of an international star cast, which includes actor Nawab Khan from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and actress Feroze from Iran.

  When we meet, Ms. Koirala is in a black turtleneck sweater and a black skirt, her face is radiant, her complexion flawless. Flashing her famous smile, she skirts uncomfortable questions directed at her and chooses to answer only safe ones.

Her warmth and friendliness charms us thoroughly as does her bright smile. Her mother sits in and provides some answers, sometimes cuing Manisha on tricky questions. It is quite obvious that the two are very close.

 

Chitra: Welcome to Boston! How do you like Boston so far?

Manisha: I love Boston, it is so pretty and I hear that is populated by intellectuals! I have great respect for this city because it is home to so many good learning institutions. I have not seen much of it yet, but what I have seen has charmed me.

  Chitra: After your early films the Nepali film Pheri Dhidora and Hindi Saudagar; you have worked with some of the best directors in India. Mani Rathnam, Ram Gopal Varma to name a few. Which director has challenged you the most, as an actress? Who has been the most demanding?

Manisha: I acted in the Nepali film when I was very young. I always loved acting and was thrilled to get into Hindi films. Hmmm, about directors, it is hard to say! Each one has his own style. Mani Rathnam is gentle and intuitive. He brings out the best in his actors by trusting their instincts as well as his own. Ram Gopal Varma is a very talented director; very demanding too, he will surely be a big name soon. Vinod, I would say is the most demanding director I have had, he would push me and push me, I am thankful to him though for bringing out the best in me.

  Chitra. You have undertaken a wide and diverse set of roles, from Khamoshi, to Bombay, Dil se, 1942, Love story to Company, Lajja, Moksha and now Escape fromTaliban. Do you feel that you have been lucky as ac tor to have accomplished so much?

Manisha: I have to achieve so much more! Yes I consider myself very lucky to have had an opportunity to play such a diverse set of characters. I am open to only the best reel offers; my interest now is to play meaningful roles in good cinema.

Chitra: What about Shashilal Nair’s controversial ‘ Ek Choti si love story’?

Manisha (laughs out loud): Please don’t ask me to talk about that! No comments.

Chitra Would you call that meaningful cinema?

Manisha: No comments.

Chitra: What have been roles closest to your heart?

Manisha: Again there have been many…I loved my role in Lajja, Dil Se, Company, Escape etc. I try to give every role a lot of importance, so almost all of them are dear to me.

Chitra: What do you think about the present crop of actors?

Manisha: I am very impressed with this crop, they are hard working, dedicated and determined to make it big in the industry.

Chitra: A personal question. In Hollywood, an actor’s reputation or notoriety is not as important as it is in Bollywood. Knowing that you have been dogged by controversies and rumors, how do you feel about it?

Manisha: (Laughs for a while) Bollywood, Hollywood, I think its all the same. I lived life the way I wanted to, there are rumors everywhere. The eighties in Bollywood( shudders) were terrible, thank god for the nineties! Being public figures, we have to have our share of flak from the press and public. I do not mean irresponsible journalism, though. I am not opposed to exclusives about me, but the press should write what is true, write correct breaking news.

Chitra: Could you tell us about the social causes you support.

Manisha: Right now I am involved in social causes like population control. I am an ambassador for the United Nations. I am also working to rehabilitate child prostitutes from Nepal and India. I am working with many social workers in Nepal and will continue to champion the cause of these unfortunate women. I always wanted to do some social work, some charity work, with the right channels. The UN is a committed organization that works for the well being of people on the whole.  Besides that, I also want to get into some serious theatre and film production.

Chitra: Thanks for talking to Lokvani, we wish you good luck!

We meet Manisha again in the evening where she addresses the audience who have gathered to watch snippets from her film ‘Escape to Taliban’.

The pre screening was at Harvard and Manisha addressed questions from the public about the film and about her career in Bollywood. The event was organized by Net OHM (Network of Hindu Minds)

  It is quite apparent from her passion that this is a film very close to her heart. After the screening she was asked how she felt about accepting a role as challenging as this one. She replied that she had read the story and met with the author and when the script was offered to her, she welcomed the opportunity. She also answered various questions about Bollywood, the workings of the Hindi film industry and vowed to look into a suggestion that more Indian films be screened in the US.

As this goes to press we hear that Nittin Keni, famous for the blockbuster 'Gadar - Ek Prem Katha', will produce the film titled 'Indira Gandhi - A tryst with destiny' on behalf of Maharani Padmini Devi Prathisthan headed by former Member of Parliament Uttamsingh Pawar. N Chandra will direct ‘Indira Gandhi’. Kamleshwar the writer of "Aandhi" has conceptualized the new project for which Hridyanath Mangeshkar will compose the music.

 

(Lokvani would like to thank Ms. Sarju Shah and Mr. Chandan Bandhopadhay for arranging our meeting with Ms. Koirala.)

 



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