Manisha Koirala treated cinematographer Ashok Mehta as her mentor, guide and philosopher from the time she came to Mumbai to be an actress.
In fact, the actress Manisha attributes all the right moves in her career to Ashok Mehta. That's why she cancelled the sit-in dinner at her home for her 42nd birthday on August 16, unable to party at a time when she had lost someone so dear.
She pays tribute to Ashok Mehta here.
"Never in my entire life have I had a party on my birthday, and now I never will. Every birthday I'd be reminded of Ashokji's going away. It was supposed to be my first full-fledged birthday party. I had invited around 40 of my dearest friends. Litte did we know that my mentor would be gone just hours before my birthday.When I heard of his death, there was no question of a party," Manisha says.
"I am what I am because of Ashok Mehta," she continues. "He did the cinematography of my first film Saudagar. From then on, Ashokji was my guide mentor and philosopher. He contributed a lot to my career. I was clueless about the film industry. When Mani Ratnam had asked me to come to Chennai to do a screen-test for Bombay, I refused. I didn't know much about Mani Ratnam except that he had made a film called Roja. If it wasn't for Ashokji, I wouldn't have done Bombay. I was like, 'Why should I do a look-test? Why should I play a mother to twin boys? Why should I work for so little money?'
"Ashokji fired me. He told me about Mani's greatness and literally packed me off to Chennai. From then on, we had a pact. If I didn't know what to do, I only had to ask Ashokji. I did good films because he guided me. I was young, impulsive. Ashokji held my hand and guided me."
When Ashok Mehta directed his first feature film Moksha, Manisha was the natural choice for the lead.
"He narrated Moksha during Saudagar," she says. "It took him 10 years to make it."
Manisha and Ashok Mehta were collaborating on a film on the life of Gautam Buddha.
Reveals Manisha, "When I got the offer to direct a film on Gautam Buddha from Sri Lanka, the first thing I did was contact Ashokji. I didn't know that he was already diagnosed with cancer. He was so full of life. We got Samir Chanda as art director and Bhanu Athaiya for costumes.The entire day we'd be doing sketches for the project, deciding on locations, etc. Not once did I get any inkling he was unwell. Four months ago, I got to know he was in hospital. I rushed to see him. I felt terrible. I had spent so much time with him and I didn't know. He was a very brave man. He didn't want anyone to know of his condition."