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March 6, 2000

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'When I see some of my films, I am ashamed'

Manisha Koirala Few actresses in our industry are fortunate enough to work with the best of directors. Manisha Koirala is one of them. Be it Mani Ratnam, Sanjay Leela Bansali or Subhash Ghai, she has worked with them all. Besides, Manisha has always had very strong roles in most of her films.

The only person who has not favoured her is Lady Luck. Each of her hit films have been followed by a multiple flops. Yet, Manisha's prowess as an actress has never been unchallenged.

Controversy inevitably follows Manisha, both in the professional and personal spheres. As a result, she has continued to remain in the news, despite her temporary ban on the media. One reason could be the fact that she is one of rare few who speaks her mind and is candid about her life.

Sharmila Taliculam caught up with the beautiful and forthright actress on the sets of Mehbooba, where she was shooting with Sanjay Dutt. What ensued was a forthright conversation about, among other things, the future of Manisha Koirala.

Of late, you have been keeping a pretty low profile.

I realised I was being written about too much. And it was the same thing over and over again. It was nothing new. So one tends to get a bit fed up and not want to do any more interviews.

But controversies still hound you. Take Water for instance. Donít you think you lost out on a good role just because you had some misgivings about shaving your head?

I definitely lost out on a good project. Water has a great script and I think it's Deepa's strongest script so far. It is a very good role and I was very keen on it. But I had to consider other aspects as well.

I come from mainstream commercial cinema. I donít think my directors or producers would have reacted favourably had I shaved my head. If I was doing just this one movie, I would have shaved my head without a second thought. But since I am committed to many other films, I couldnít do it. I couldnít back out on those commitments.

I did try and convince Deepa to hire a make-up artiste from New York to do my head. But I think he must have proved too costly for a short film like hers. The production didnít want to spend too much money. This is the only conceivable reason. That or, maybe, she wanted the real thing. But then, those make-up artistes are professionals and they do a very realistic job.

I donít know what the real problems were, but the choice was hers. She knew it because, when she came with the script, I immediately told her about this. Personally, I would have loved to do the movie, but I couldnít, since I am a commercial actress and I have certain responsibilities to fulfill.

Manisha Koirala How many commercial films are you working on right now?

At the moment I am working on seven to eight movies. They wonít be releasing together. They will take time. Time is something that cannot be definitely quantified in this industry.

Is it true that you were reluctant to do a Rekha show in US recently?

Let's not get too negative here. What happened was that Rekhaji is a senior actress and she was with us in the show. What was disappointing was the fact that the show was titled The Star Of The Millennium -- Rekha.

I have done shows before, but I have never been treated like this. I basically blame the organisers for their irresponsible behaviour. I donít blame the senior actress at all. But they turned around and said that they were being pressurised by her.

Now, we didnít have the kind of direct contact with Rekhaji that they did. So it was their responsibility to treat us properly. I donít know who to blame, but it was very disappointing and has taught me a lesson that I must not take things for granted.

Arenít these things mentioned and clarified in a contract?

We do enter in to a contract. But it is very basic. We are not very strict about everything being on paper. In the film industry, we work more on the basis of good faith and verbal commitments rather than legalities. I have done shows before and I never faced such problems. We never imagined that something like this would happen. Anyway, it was an experience. I donít believe in harbouring ill feelings about anyone. It's no big deal.

You seem to have taken the incident in your stride. Yet you have a reputation of being a difficult actress. Why?

Well, I am difficult when something goes against my basic fundamentals. When people start questioning and pointing fingers when I haven't even asked for it. That's when I become difficult. I am not easygoing either. I stand firm on my values. I am nobody's 'yes' person. I only agree with is what I feel is correct.

What kind of people do you like working with?

I like working with creative people who are receptive to new ideas, who want to do things that are different, who want to create films of a different mould.

You were one of the few actresses who managed to strike a balance between commercial and parallel cinema. But the latter seems to be in a limbo these days. Why is that?

Manisha Koirala I was being offered too many roles in parallel cinema so I decided to let that take the backseat for a while. I said yes to Deepa because I liked her script. I donít really want to be typecast in just one kind of role or medium. But that was what was happening, I was being offered the same kind of roles.

But now that Deepa has decided not do the film with me, I am open to other offers and I am considering other roles. I am also being offered interesting roles in main-stream commercial cinema. But I do make sure they are accustomed to my temperament!

It's not that I am a difficult person, it's just that I have certain strong likes and dislikes. I donít like lewd jokes on the sets, neither do I do I believe in simpering and giggling away. So people are a bit wary of me.

Whoever comes to me knows the person I am. This image that I have, of being difficult, has helped significantly by keeping certain people at bay. I donít think inconsequential people will approach me anymore.

There are good scripts coming my way. But I will take my time in deciding what films I want to do. Also, I have worked with the best in the industry. I intend to do something different because this is such a vast field. I don't see myself repeating roles and reinforcing stereotypes like my other colleagues. We aren't growing after achieving a certain standing as actresses. We are stuck in a rut. I am trying to get out of that. Let's see how much I succeed in this endeavour!

Is it difficult to come across good roles in the industry?

Yes, it is definitely itís difficult to get roles. And even more so when you donít have a hit to back you up. But then, by the grace of God, I am still being offered decent scripts. So maybe itís not all that bad.

You won accolades for your role in Sanjay Leela Bansali's Khamoshi. Then why did you refuse Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam?

I didn't do it due to a misunderstanding. Not that there was any on my part, but I presume there was some on his. I guess that's the reason he didnít offer me the movie. Moreover, I think he needed a different kind of a character. A film is entirely a director's vision and he knows how he wants to place his characters and in what light he sees them.

What is the character you are searching for?

Any character that makes me do something different.

Your ideal role?

Manisha Koirala and Anil Kapoor in 1942: A Love Story There is this Chinese film called Raise A Red Lantern. The character in it is beautiful. Then there is a German film called Run Lola Run in which the role has tremendous scope. These are all international films. In fact, they are sub-titled, they are not even English. These are kind of films I would love to do.

Is there any chance of them being remade in Hindi?

That is one of the options. You know we are doing different kind of roles in parallel cinema. In that way at least, we can explore and push ourselves through our characters. That's the reason why I do them.

Have you ever lost interest in a film and still had to go through with it?

I have felt that way many a time. And that's a killer because you are wasting your time, your energy and what you could do with yourself in that time. You just donít connect with the film and pay the price because of the wrong choice you have made. I have made many mistakes while choosing my films. When I see some of my films, I am ashamed of myself. I am aghast. But I take full responsibility for those choices.

How does a person choose a 'wrong'?

I would attritbute it to reason. The reason would be that, basically, you donít understand the film. I used to feel that, if somebody narrates a story well, that person would make a good film. But, with experience, I have learnt that people who are good narrators are not necessarily good film-makers.

I am quite an emotional person. If I like somebody, I will work with that person even though he may not be a good film-maker. There are so many reasons that one does films. Then you ask yourself why you did it. Now, I have learnt to keep my personal and professional lives separate. It's taken me a long time to realise the importance of this. I donít think I have been taken advantage of because of this, but I do take responsibility for my actions.

How has the industry treated you so far?

The industry has been wonderful to me. It has welcomed me despite the controversies that surround me. These controversies happened because I was bold, because I was outspoken and because I didnít originally belong to the industry. Despite these odds, the industry welcomed me. I sincerely feel this industry is a wonderful place to be in!

How have you grown as an actress?

I have become aware of what is good and what is bad. I donít think I have a vast knowledge of acting, but I can make the distinction between it's good and bad points. And the reasons for the same. There is lot of hard work and study involved in this profession.

Certain people are naturally talented. They have it in their blood and they can handle any situation. I need lots of hard work and concentration to do justice to a role. I have a lot to learn. What suits me, what doesn't, what works, what won't, whether I can carry off a scene or not, etc...

Manisha Koirala and Salman Khan in Khamoshi Are you a director's actress?

In a way, you could say that. But I consider myself more of a script actress. If I like a script and the role, and if I connect, then I'll do the role.

How would you rate yourself as an actress?

I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. Itís a vast field. At the moment, I would consider myself to be an above average actresses. I'd say I belong to that category. But if I compare myself to world cinema or theatre performances, then I am still on the peripery of good acting.

I love the Broadway and off-Broadway shows. They are truly amazing. I see the enormity of their talent and I feel ashamed of myself as an actress. They operate at an extremely superior level. I want to achieve that. Our industry doesnít require actors, especially heroines to be great. I am still coming to terms with that fact.

You must be watching a lot of films...

Yes, definitely! I am a complete film buff and I do watch a lot of films!

Do you have friends in the industry?

I do have friends in the industry, but I regard them more as colleagues than friends. One gets really busy doing films and you meet only when you are doing a film together with someone. Or may be in some filmi party or something like that. I mostly have non-filmi friends and they are people I have known for the last 10 years.

You must feel lonely away from home

I have not been home for a real holiday in the last 10 years. Only, this time, I went for one month. Every time I go home, it is for two-three days and then, I'd have to run back to this city again. This time I really needed a break and I decided to go home for a longer time.

This city keeps me going because of my work. I miss my friends at home. I miss cuddling up to my mom and sleeping with her. I miss being pampered by my cousins, uncles and aunts. I miss all this and more, and all because of work. But you inevitably have to give up something in order to achieve something.

Has this isolated existence and self-imposed exile been worth it?

To an extent it has been worth it. Although I wish I had my family here or I could visit them more often. I look at other colleagues and realise they donít miss out on the things I have lost out on. But, at the end of the day, I think my work has been worth it.

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