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Kshama Rao

Showman Subhash Ghai launched her in Saudagar. She got an opportunity to share the frame with stalwarts Dilip Kumar and the late Raj Kumar.

A few inane roles later, Manisha Koirala established herself in Mani Ratnam's celluloid depiction of the 1992 Mumbai riots, Bombay. Manisha, then in her late teens, had taken on the deglamourised role of Shaila Bano, a shy Hyderabadi Muslim girl who marries a Hindu man.

Ratnam repeated her in the third and last film of his trilogy (after Roja and Bombay) of patriotism-flavoured films, Dil Se, in which she played a suicide bomber.

Manisha Koirala and Nana Patekar in Khamoshi A look at her track record shows you that despite a few forgettable films, Manisha has still given some good performances: Vidhu Vinod Chopra's 1942 - A Love Story, Mansoor Khan's Akele Hum Akele Tum or Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Khamoshi.

Khamoshi saw her as the daughter of a deaf-mute couple (Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas), with sensitivity. Note the scene in which she argues with Nana Patekar with just a few words and gestures. She shone as the tormented wife in the Sleeping With The Enemy remake Agnisakshi.

The same films that should have catapulted her to box office glory betrayed her. She missed out on a successful journey. Despite good looks and talent, Manisha hasn't yet achieved the kind of success her colleagues have.

Says veteran film journalist Rauf Ahmed, "Manisha is an extremely talented actress. If she hasn't got her due, it's because of her inconsistency. Her attitude and approach to a film has depended on the attitude of her director. As you can see from her work with directors like Mani Ratnam (Bombay) Vidhu Vinod Chopra (1942 - A Love Story) Mansoor Khan (Akele Hum Akele Tum) and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (Khamoshi: The Musical."

Indu Mirani, editor of film magazine Box Office agrees. "Manisha is spontaneous and willing to experiment. She has done films without makeup and played deglamourised roles. Unfortunately for her, they have not always benefited her."

In her latest film, Ram Gopal Varma's Company, which releases Friday, April 12, Manisha plays the girlfriend of an underworld don (Ajay Devgan), Manisha has gone for a new look. Manisha Koirala in Company

"Yes, I cut my hair and concentrated on my look, since my role in Company has been done before. So Ramu and I tried to make it look different. We worked on the look, hair, makeup and body language," admits Manisha.

However, Mirani doubts whether that will have any impact on Manisha's career. "I don't really think Company will turn fortunes for her as it is a film on the underworld. With a subject like that, how much scope do you think a heroine has?"

Manisha, for her part, is looking forward to Company. But she is unsure whether the audience will accept her. "I really enjoyed doing [Kamal Haasan's] Abhay. I think the role of a wacko actress was fun. But people had mixed reactions. In this profession, a person's success is measured by other people's expectations."

Luck has also not favoured Manisha much. She played the central role in Jackie Shroff's home production Grahan (eclipse). The film proved true to its title, as the delay in its release punctured Manisha's hopes from the film.

Rajkumar Santoshi's Lajja also failed to salvage her career, despite her presence in every frame of the film. While her costars Rekha and Madhuri Dixit won applause and awards, Manisha was left in the cold.

Ahmed doesn't blame Manisha for the no-show of Lajja. He says, "Lajja was a mediocre film, in which Manisha's role was ill-defined. Rekha and Madhuri were lucky to get well-etched cameos."

Manisha Koirala and Rekha in Lajja Clearly, Manisha needs a hit desperately and a couple of films that will re-establish her credentials as a thinking actress. Besides Company, Manisha is working on Akbar Khan's magnum opus Taj Mahal (in which she plays Jahan Ara) and Ujjal Chattopadhyay's Escape From Taliban, her first English film.

Also an actress' personal life is always judged and scrutinized closely. Says Mirani, "Manisha has always been open about her personal life - be it drugs, drinks or men. The audience doesn't take too kindly to this. In the Hindi film industry, an actor's personal life doesn't affect his professional life. But it's different for a heroine. Only those heroines who have been discreet about their personal lives are accepted. It's unfair but true."

Ahmed adds, "Manisha had once told me that she didn't want to pretend to be a sati savitri for a false image and lose out on her youth. And later get desperate and break another woman's marriage. Unfortunately, there are few takers for her kind of lifestyle and honesty in an industry which swears by double-standards."

Says Mirani, "Manisha chooses her films with her heart. She does films on a very personal level - some for friends and others because she thinks they are good. But it doesn't always work that way. She has never sought a film that would help her rise to stardom."

With each passing day, new faces are introduced in the industry. The competition is getting tougher. Good roles are hard to come by and takers are many. "Age is definitely not on Manisha's side. So even if she says she is ready to re-look at her career, it's too late. The younger actresses have already proved themselves, and it's going to be difficult for not only Manisha, but other actresses of her generation, too. For someone who has been very unprofessional and done things her way, things may not exactly look up for her," feels Mirani.

Says Ahmed, "Well, Manisha can't be in the rat race for stardom anymore. Like her contemporaries Karisma Kapoor and Raveena Tandon, Manisha has to move into a more serious mode and look for challenging roles. She is a better blend of talent and looks than most of her contemporaries. She should pitch for substantial roles, like Tabu."

India News Feature Service