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Interview Hindi

Interview: When Manisha Koirala felt she had wasted her life

The prolific actress from the 1990s gets candid about her upcoming film, Dear Maya and how her perception towards life changed after she was diagnosed with cancer, which she beat successfully.

Keyur Seta

Over the last five years or so, quite a few Hindi film actresses, who were in their prime in the 1990s, are making comebacks as main leads. Sridevi (English Vinglish in 2012), Madhuri Dixit (Dedh Ishqiya in 2014), Raveena Tandon (Maatr – The Mother in 2017) and Karisma Kapoor (Dangerous Ishq in 2012) are few such names. 

Now, it is Manisha Koirala’s turn to play the lead as a female protagonist in Sunaina Bhatnagar’s Dear Maya. The Bombay (1995) actress plays an unusual character who locks herself up inside a house for years. In a candid chat with Cinestaan.com, Koirala not only speaks about the film but also how she won the tough battle against the deadly disease of cancer. 

What is your character in Dear Maya?

My character is Mayadevi. She is confined to a valley since 20-30 years. Two young girls — her neighbour and her classmate — are worried and curious to see her inside her house for so long. They wonder as to how can they change her situation. They decide to send her fake love letters. The two girls believe that she is suffering from some trauma and it might help her. The letters transform Mayadevi’s life as she feels someone has actually fallen in love with her. She sells her house, packs her bag and goes in search of her lover. But as it’s a fake story, the two girls start feeling guilty of destroying her life. The film is about their journey from being girls to women. 

Was it challenging to carry the film on your shoulders without the backing of a male actor?

No, everything is not on my shoulders. It’s the story of two young girls and little bit of Mayadevi. Although there is no male actor, the plot is divided between the young girls and Mayadevi’s character. 

How were you able to relate to a lonely character? Do you experience loneliness?

Of course. I think most of the celebrities lead a lonely life. They may project that their life is fabulous but somewhere deep inside they know they are as good or bad as their last film. So, that’s not a great space to be in. But we as celebrities have learnt to deal with it as a part and parcel of that lonely journey. Even as a human being I feel har ek insaan akela hai (everyone is lonely). Our lives are like that. So, it’s fine. But Mayadevi’s case is quite extreme because she locks herself for 20-30 years. She thinks that the outer world is a dangerous place. She feels threatened by it. So, in that aspect, personally I don’t have any resemblance with Mayadevi. 

Did you experience a change while making a comeback?

A lot has changed. Earlier I was nervous and I used to wonder if I still have the stamina to work and how will I look. Are there a lot of wrinkles? I was hesitant. I also didn’t know whether people would like it. But by the grace of god everybody has reacted well to the trailer. 

How was it working with Ranbir Kapoor in Sanjay Dutt’s biopic?

Ranbir is one of the finest actors we have. Mark my words. He has the potential to be one of the finest actors in the world. He is so good and flawless. I see him and I say, ‘Waah, kamaal ka acting karta hai’ (Wow, he acts so amazingly). 

You have been inspirational for people as you have successfully fought cancer. How do you define life?

Life is a great opportunity. Life is going to be full of surprises; some good, some bad. But it is a beautiful experience. If we don’t go too deep and just observe from a distance and live it. We don’t get too moved during happy moments and too depressed during a sad moment. If we detach ourselves and maintain a balance, it is a beautiful experience. It’s an amazing experience. It’s a great opportunity to have life. 

Your attitude towards life must have changed.

Yes, a lot. Now, I look at life as an opportunity. I wish to live life to the fullest and grab all opportunities with both hands. 

Did you ever ask, ‘why me’ when you faced tough times?

I didn’t ask that but I did get a jolt. I felt sad and was scared too. But that was a phase which is over now. I feel nothing is permanent in life. Everything is transitory. I have seen the greatest of highs and greatest of lows. Nothing is permanent. I think I excel when there is a challenge. That is my tendency. This is my inner make-up. I decided I won’t accept defeat. Ultimately what will happen depends on god. But I will try as much as possible. 

Who was your biggest strength during that phase?

There are many but my main strength were my mother and family. We human beings are such that unless we don’t face problems and challenges, we don’t realise our strength. We all have that strength. 

Who all from the Hindi film fraternity rallied behind you when you were going through a rough time?

Not many people did. Honestly, even I was not expecting anyone then because I was in a zone where I wanted to be alone. I was dealing with myself. Even when somebody called, my mom or dad used to answer. I wouldn't receive calls. During such times, it doesn’t matter who is supporting you or who isn’t. All that mattered to me was that I wanted to be fine. I used to read books about who managed to get cured and how, including Yuvraj Singh and Lisa Ray. I even messaged Lisa to ask how she dealt with it. Those who had suffered from cancer motivated me and gave suggestions via Facebook, Twitter and e-mails. 

You are a lot into spirituality. But there is a misconception that spirituality is only for old people.

That's wrong. With maturity and life’s experiences, one can get fuller experience into spirituality. You should start training a child from an early age on what life is all about. What is spirituality? It’s an understanding of human life and world. Spirituality is not about wearing sanyasi clothes and becoming a sanyasi (ascetic). You can be spiritual and be in the practical world and fully function in it. I come from that kind of a belief. And I feel if the child has an understanding of the life we lead and if healthy habits are inculcated since childhood, it can only benefit a child.

Did all this make you introspect?

I was into introspection because I thought that I was going to die. I thought if these are my last days, what did I do with the days I lived for so many years? When I did this introspection, I felt bad. I felt I have wasted my life. I didn’t live life to the fullest. I lived an unhealthy lifestyle while being sad. If you wish to live an unhealthy life, at least be happy while doing that (laughs). 

Why did you feel bad?

I thought I have not understood (life). When we don’t have knowledge of death, we take life for granted. We think life will go on forever. Nobody really thinks about their own death. We see other people dying. But we don’t think we will die. But once the fear of death lurks, then you feel, 'oh my god, my time is limited'. This means I must spend as much time as possible in doing something that gives me joy. For that, you have to discover what gives you joy. Most of the times we live life according to certain perceptions, according to what people tell us. We don’t follow our hearts. In the process, now I am discovering what Manisha loves to do. 

Which are the activities that give you joy?

I enjoy being in the company of my family. I enjoy working in good cinema. I enjoy being in the jungle and things like hiking and trekking. I simply love nature. I go towards sea, rivers, mountains. I would love to see the world. Simple things give us joy and bliss. 

Which are your five best films as an actress?

Well, I think Bombay (1995), 1942 A Love Story (1994), Dil Se.. (1998), Khamoshi – The Musical (1996). I think Yugpurush (1998) is also something that I like. Agni Sakshi (1996) too.