An effervescent Manisha Koirala and a curious Imtiaz Ali sat down to talk about the actor and her journey in films and beyond, ahead of the release of her upcoming film, Dear Maya. With takeaways like how Mani Ratnam caught her every time she tried putting make-up while shooting for Bombay and why Shah Rukh Khan (her co-star in Dil Se) felt the need to advise her, this free-wheeling chat hosted by Imtiaz was both amusing and insightful.
In Dear Maya, that marks the directorial debut of one of Imtiaz’s former assistant directors, Sunaina Bhatnagar, Manisha plays a middle-aged recluse, who refrains from stepping out from her home until she receives a love letter. Manisha has been getting praise for her authentic look as a lonely, desolated woman. When Imtiaz mentioned it, the actor said she opted for no-make up look because she felt that was the right way to do the character. “I loved the script and I just wanted to do it right. I thought that’s how Maya Devi would look like.” From here, the filmmaker took Manisha almost 20 years back when she, probably, the first actor, went without make-up on screen. It was Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995). In fact, Manisha came to be known for opting a natural look in films — Dil Se and Mann, were among the examples.
The actor, however, revealed that the first time she had to give up vanity wasn’t a pleasing experience. “I faced difficulty accepting it. When I was doing Bombay, I would slyly try to put the make-up but Mani used to catch me right there. I used to do that while the shot was getting ready. But I used to get caught. In Dil Se also, mostly I was without make-up.”
Dil Se was Manisha’s second collaboration with Mani, and the director was credited with extracting the best out of her. Talking about Mani, Manisha admitted that he was among the filmmakers who brought her out of the complacency that had creeped in her professional life. “Whenever I got work with Mani sir or a good director, I put my 100 per cent but I was doing films after films so, I developed a little complacent attitude.” Interestingly, it was this casualness that turned Shah Rukh extremely protective towards her.
As Imtiaz asked her how was the superstar two decades ago, Manisha recalled the times when Shah Rukh felt she needed his advice. “He has been the same, except the fact that with Mani sir, everybody gets quite (respectful), addressing him with ‘sir’. Shah Rukh is full of energy and enthusiasm. He is a great guy to work with. He has been an absolute pleasure. He used to be very protective and advise me a lot. He probably felt, ‘She is not getting it right.’ I was way too casual. I didn’t care much.”
After ruling the Hindi films in the ’90s, Manisha developed an on-and-off association with Bollywood in the 2000s. Of the work that she did in the last few years, only a films like Company and Lajja got a recall value. Her last big screen outing was Chehere: A Modern Day Classic (2015), which did no good to her. Now that she is returning with Dear Maya, Manisha is quite excited about being a part of Hindi cinema. In fact, she believes the current phase of Bollywood is more suitable for her than the one she reigned. “I love this phase… I love the films that are made today. I think I was meant for this (phase).” But as much as she would like to do more work now, she also feels that current scenario is a little harsh for the actors and there are huge expectations from them.
“Things have changed a lot and for better. There’s a lot of professionalism nowadays. But the demands (from) the actors and actresses are also a lot now. To perform right, to say the right thing, to be seen in the right place all these things have become like a responsibility. I feel during earlier times, people were forgiving. So, it was a little easier (for us). But having said that, may be it’s because of this only that the kind of films that are made now have better quality. In cinema, realism has taken more space than melodrama. Some great performers (today) are very natural, organic rather than having melodramatic expressions,” the actor said.
Dear Maya arrives in theatres on June 2. The actor will soon start working on the much-anticipated biopic of Sanjay Dutt, She will be seen playing the role Sanjay’s mother, late actor Nargis Dutt.