Manisha Koirala - 'Look beyond my face, I'm tired of being called pretty!'

PRIYA PARIKH-TANNA caught up with MANISHA KOIRALA at her Yari Road residence the day her much publicised film 'Mann' was released. The film (taken in at an earlier press show) disappointed, but Manisha did not. She is a pretty storehouse of talent.

BEAUTY does have an advantage over the ordinary. Take Manisha Koirala, for instance. It's easy to forget her lisp and you almost forgive her not-so-flattering curves. And that's because her beauty is no simple matter. With or without warpaint, under-nourished or well-fed, when Manisha decides to dazzle you, she is absolutely ravishing.

Out of preference and interest, I have followed her career from her 'Saudagar' days to 'Dil Se', through the ups of 'Bombay' and '1942 - A Love Story' and the downs of 'Maharaja' and 'Milan.' And the truth is, the more Manisha is challenged, the better her roles get. She completely dematerialises in hopeless and ornamental roles. The morning that I caught up with Koirala in her brightly-painted living room (a flaming orange to match her leonine spirit), she was nursing a bad case of food poisoning, but yet, her voice was tinged with enthusiasm. Her much awaited film 'Mann' was releasing, and even though she was too proud to admit it, she had high expectations from the film.

Dressed down in grey tracks, and a blue tee, Manisha still possessed the eclat of a star. A star who is among the brightest lights of Bollywood. A star who has cornered the market on her melancholic beauty and fierce intensity. And a star who will never ever be ordinary. Excerpts from our conversation:

Q: 'Mann' has released today. Are you excited?
Manisha Koirala: To start with, I am unwell, because I am suffering from food poisoning. But otherwise, yeah, I am happy about it. I'm cool.

Q: Do you have high expectations from it?
M.K.: The movie should do well. The rushes have been highly appreciated, and hopefully everything will fall into place.

Q: Is 'Mann' going to be your `make or break movie'?
M.K.: Everytime my movie releases, the media treats it as 'the' crucial film for me. But it is never so, because no one movie can make or break your career. The movie will either fall into a good movie slot or a bad movie slot. What is portrayed by the media is not reality.

Q: You have to your credit some of the most interesting and challenging roles. But many of them haven't been commercially successful.
AD M.K.: We all want to do successful films and give big box office hits, but unfortunately, it is not in anybody's hands. Barring a David Dhawan, who has had a 100 per cent success rate, no one churns out hit after hit.

When you sign on a movie, you never know whether it is going to turn out good or bad. If explained to you by a good narrator, every film sounds very exciting. And once you start to realise that it's not going to be such a good movie, you are already shooting for it. So I just take it in my stride, consoling myself that I have other good movies in hand.

For me, the quality of my role and the film matters most to me. I'd rather do films like 'Bombay,' which is meaningful and is still commercially viable. And now, if 'Mann' is a hit, I'll be proud of it. Also, it is a good film.

Q: How do you evaluate your career?
M.K.: My career has been a big roller-coaster ride. I have been praised to the skies and condemned to death because of my choice of roles, and I take full responsibility for it.

I have always maintained that I need to do different movies, just to break from the monotony. Even if it's a trash movie, I don't care. And that has been my pattern. I have done some really good movies and some really bad movies.

Q: What are your forthcoming roles?
M.K.: Well, after 'Mann,' I have 'Hindustan Ki Kasam,' 'Grahan,' 'Khauff' and 'Champion.'

Q: Does the entry of new talents like Rani and Preeti bother you?
M.K.: This is a really weird concept. New talent has always been flowing into the industry and it is great to have new people and new talent. They all come with their individual styles and it is really nice. They are adding freshness to our films. Since we are the largest film-making industry in the world, there is enough room for everyone without having to feel insecure.

Q: How much has Indian cinema progressed in creating author-backed roles for women?
M.K.: Ninety per cent of the roles I have done have been of quality. Anybody who approaches me with a role knows that it has to be of substance. I won't do decorative roles, even if it is part of a hit film. And I have earned that respect.

Q: Having done a variety of roles, what are you really looking forward to?
M.K.: For starters, I want to do very few films, because I have my hands full with too many other things. I am really looking forward to Deepa Mehta's 'Water'. It is something totally different.

Q: From the naive girl in 'Saudagar', you have evolved into a very mature actress. Has this been a conscious effort?
M.K.: It's not been conscious, but I grew tired of being called 'pretty'. I want people to look beyond my face. It is a very shallow measure. I've realised that an actress can get stuck in that mould, and the artiste in her dies, because she is only trying to live up to the image of being a pretty face. So early in my career, I grew an aversion for the glamour doll roles, where I am required to splash on loads of make-up. In fact, people are now asking me to look a little glamourous.

Q: Have you ever experienced stagnation?
M.K.: Yes, because in our industry there is only so much you can do, irrespective of whether you are a hero or a heroine. How much can you experiment and in how many ways? That's the reason I choose to do different kinds of cinema with different people.

Q: How much of you is an actress and how much an entertainer?
M.K.: That depends on my role. Some demand that I be an actress, others demand that I entertain - though I am not half the entertainer that Govinda is. I am a complete fan of his and he is the best we have.

Q: In terms of co-stars, who have you enjoyed working with? Have any of them inspired you?
M.K.: I have really enjoyed working with Aamir, because he is a very well-mannered actor and a pleasant person. Dada (Jackie Shroff) is another, because he is a very close friend. I love Govinda and Sunju. Till things were right between us, I even enjoyed working with Salman.

Q: How much has your life changed after success?
M.K.: A lot, in terms of the exposure. I grew up very fast and lost my innocence. I'd never even imagined that I would get so much in life. I knew I'd do well, but never this well. So I feel kind of content. There is a lot of maturity in me now. Strangely, I am not very ambitious, I just want to do little things in life, do good work, and have lots of time to myself, so that I can travel. But otherwise, there is no other change. I run a house, and look after everything myself. And - though I'd rather have somebody else say this about me - I am a normal person.

Q: One day you will be settling down. How difficult will it be to let go of all this?
M.K.: I have thought about this many times. It is scary if you can't let go of your stardom. And the truth is, I am not attracted to my profession for the glamour of it, I am attracted to my work, to the art of acting and performing.

Q: Were you not an actress, what would you have been doing?
M.K.: I would have been a gypsy, travelling all around the world.