Manisha Koirala tasted stardom early on — the blinding flashlights, the fashion covers, the long lines of producers who wanted to sign her. And then one day, it all went away. The frenzied fans were replaced by a few stragglers, the offers of films were few and far between. But the reality check was when she battled against cancer and found none of her industry friends around her. Those five years when she was fighting for her very survival were the toughest of her life, and they taught her the most. Most important, they taught her how to forgive. As Manisha takes baby steps into the industry again — she is playing Nargis Dutt in Sanjay Dutt biopic — she is ready to talk, talk about the journey from being a star to being a nothing and then reinventing herself all over again.
Manisha kept herself away from the industry for a long time or was it the industry that left her alone? “Well actually, it was painful, the process of going through a low,” she talks about cancer, “But the thing is I was, let’s say, in some kind of denial, most of us are. But what’s gone is gone. It’s painful,” said the actor in an exclusive interview with indianexpress.com.
On how her friends, her industry left her alone at that crucial time, the actor is resigned, “You know what I have seen not only in Bollywood but the world over is, this is a fact of life. I don’t take these things personally anymore because I have realised that it is rule of life that whatever goes up has to come down. One has to stay dignified about whatever is happening in life. Back then, I was not that mature, I used to feel bad. But now, after battling death, I don’t think one has to take it personally. We all will be dying one day, that has to happen. The actors and actresses 10 years down the line, they will face failure. Fame will go away, people will not have interest in your work anymore. That has to happen. To overcome, all you can do is reinvent and work hard. We have seen Madonna who was at zenith of success, so it’s immature to expect that such fame would remain constant always. What one can do is to have dedication and be compassionate towards your work.”
What gave Manisha perspective was her fight against cancer. “There is nothing compared to the feeling of losing life. The moment when you are close to death is nothing but a profound experience.”
And it is that moment which made Manisha stronger. “Bad times are hard. Some of us who are fragile or ignorant, bad times can break us. That is what happened to me. But now, when I look back, I have a treasure of knowledge. So, I will say bad phase of life teaches you a lot. You will never get this kind of teaching everywhere. For a person to enjoy success and life, there has to be some level of pain and despair. To me, what became really really clear was who are my true friends — who are the people who will stand by me and who are those who won’t. Bad time teaches you to be humble in life. I learnt heavy lessons, which I would never forget as I called them as treasure.”
Ever since she has recovered, the actor is constantly doing some public speaking to ‘add value to people’s life by sharing my experience.’ She says she would not stop until unless she makes people aware about cancer. “I feel if I can help them in becoming aware and help them for not going through the pain I went through, one does not need to have cancer to realise worth of life, right? So that’s the reason I am trying to guide and motivate people. It’s like my duty.” Life has been moving at a fast pace for Manisha but amid all the rush, she has not been able to start her family. She says that she always dreamt about having a girl child, “I wanted to adopt since I was a kid myself. I wanted to have five children from different continents, I wasn’t mature but this is what I used to think that I would have a different family. Now, I am very practical. I will start my family and let’s see. So, I am hell bent on doing a good job of being a mother.”
She aims to grab life with both hands and do things that really make her happy, “I am not only an actor. I have done 80 films, my life is largely about films but now after facing death, I want to grab life with both hands, want to live really well. Don’t want to stop myself from doing anything. I will act, but that’s just a part of me. I will be a mother, a dedicated mother. I want to watch films, write, travel and meet different people. I want to hug everybody and share the love within me.”
When asked if someone has from the industry has been appreciative of her strength, she said, “Sushmita Sen said she was amazed about me talking to people, which made me really happy. She is someone who is an achiever, a woman of substance who is extremely strong. The fact that she noticed just touched me. People are calling me to delover inspirational speeches. I feel if there is a stage, respectable stage, my whole purpose is to share a little wisdom I hope that I have.”
But this doesn’t mean that Bollywood stood up with her through her lows. Though she says she doesn’t have any regrets about anyone in the industry, Manisha said she had expected a few to stand by her but when they didn’t, she was hurt. “Actually, people have compassion for me. I was treated with a lot of love. Yes, there were people who kept their distance from me. But you know what, it’s very natural. I don’t take anything personally. I know if somebody avoided me when I was dealing with cancer is not because he does not love me or care for me but probably he can’t see me in pain. Not many have the strength to stand by you in bad times. Those who do, they are angels. I felt bad initially, especially about a few people, but then I understood that it must be uncomfortable for them. I don’t have disappointment anymore.”
Not stressing much on it, we diverted the topic back to the zone in which she was once an unrequited queen. The actor who is working on Sanjay Dutt’s biopic and playing his mother, the legendary actor Nargis Dutt, said that the Indian film industry should appreciate and honour new filmmakers and should push the age boundaries of being a female lead, “Honestly, normally the actress’ career in every part of the industry is not more than 10 years but I managed to survive for more than two decades. Having said that, one good part is that today the Indian audience is accepting good stories. The films we would see as art films earlier are now being accepted as commercial. So, we need to welcome more of new filmmakers, who break stereotypes, which they are already doing already but maybe even more in future.”
She adds that the difference between the actors of her time and now is the professionalism. “I am so proud of Alia Bhatt she is so confident, Kangana Ranaut is so talented who can carry a film on her shoulder. Deepika, she is so flawless and graceful. We weren’t that professional as much as today’s generation is. They are ready to match international standards.”