Mahesh Manjrekar, who is in the news for his performance in Sanjay Gupta's Kaante, is suddenly hot property in the industry. So, as it turns out, are his films now.

Apparently, the industry is actually writing scripts and characters to accommodate him in their films. Manjrekar has already signed about 13 new projects.

Actresses who have worked with the director swear by what a great actor he is. Says Shweta Menon, who acted in Pran Jaaye Par Shaan Na Jaye, "I think he is a terrific actor, which is why working under him as an actress makes it so much fun. As a director, he gives people a lot of space; he will explain the shot and let you temper it as you like it. He usually also cans most shots in the first or the second take!"

For those planning to see Pran Jaaye, here is fair warning though: the film has a lot of crude language, like Kaante.


Pooja's happy
After Madhuri Dixit, another actress will shuttle between Mumbai and Manhattan after marriage. Model turned actress Pooja Batra is all set to tie the knot with Dr Sonu Ahluwalia, a New York surgeon, on February 9, in Delhi.

Pooja plans to continue with her acting assignments. "Why should I stop acting? I have just started to get a lot of meaty offers! I also intend to do a lot of plays and shows too in the States."

Currently, she has on hand only Taj Mahal, where she plays Noor Jehan.


Testing waters
Madhur Bhandarkar may have hit the big league, but he still experiments with previews before his film releases. Before Chandni Bar released in theatres, he held special screenings for different segments of society to get feedback on his film.

From the feedback at a recent screening of Satta for the Indian Merchants Chamber Ladies Wing, it seems he scored a hit. Attended by over a hundred women, the audience raved about the performances. The director was seen grinning ear to ear. "I am thrilled at the extraordinary response!"


Freaking out
Deepti Naval is busy promoting V K Prakash's Freaky Chakra, where she plays an unpopular middle-aged woman who suddenly discovers a new meaning to life when a young boy enters her life.

"It was an interesting film to work on. I was very comfortable doing the steamy scenes for a change!" For now, she is busy promoting the film across the country as she zips around for press shows. "The film will release on February 7 only at multiplexes. Then we plan to release it all over the country depending on the response."

The actress admits to basking in the critical acclaim and fan mail that has been coming in ever since she played Chaitali in Somnath Sen's Leela. "The acclaim feels very good and so does the fan mail," she says.


New kid on the block
Her claim to fame may be that she is tycoon Ashok Hinduja's daughter. But assistant director Ambeika Hinduja is already adding a lot of heavy weights to her CV.

She first assisted Subhash Ghai on Yaadein and is now assistant director on Farhan Akhtar's Lakshya. She cannot stop raving about the film. "It is not a war film nor is it a commercial film. It is truly something which has never been seen on screen before."

Ambeika has been working on pre-production for the last few months and can't wait for the film to go on the floors in April.

Ask her to compare Ghai and Farhan and she says, "They are in two different leagues. Subhashji is completely commercial and Bollywood. Farhan is really Hollywood -- everything done in a professional way with a bound script, everything on time."

According to her, being an assistant director is great fun: except the time she had to transform a real dusty set to spick, span and new.

This 20-something also has plans to do a Bollywood film, an out and out commercial one. She says, "I hope I can sign Akshaye Khanna for it. I think he is such a great performer."


Monika Baldwa

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