I want to do less but meaningful work: Manisha Koirala

Debarati Palit Singh
Thursday, 14 June 2018

Manisha Koirala on playing Nargis Dutt on screen, how she admires Ranbir Kapoor and is in awe of Raju Hirani’s simplicity and humbleness

Time and again, Sanjay Dutt has maintained that his mother Nargis Dutt was quite an important figure in his life. Last month, on her death anniversary (May 3), the actor took to Instagram to share a picture of him with his late mother along with a short heartfelt message which read, “All that I am is because of you. I miss you!”

So when a biopic on his life was announced last year, there was a lot of curiosity about who will play the role of Nargis Dutt. Then came the news of Manisha Koirala playing the role and people can’t stop praising the actress ever since the trailer released, pointing to her similarity with the Shree 420 actress. When we caught up with her, we couldn’t help but compliment her on her looks and she thanked us with a smile.
Excerpts from the interview: 

When you started working on the character, did you plan to bring Nargis Dutt exactly as she was on screen or you wanted to give your own nuances to the character?
I don’t know about other actors but as far as I am concerned, whatever I do on screen, I bring my own persona into it. My whole exercise is to completely forget myself and immerse into the new character which is in front of me. Not just in terms of physical appearance, make-up and hair which requires a lot of efforts but also in understanding her mind and attitude so it brings out a lot of authenticity and is not just a caricature. There is a lot of difference between doing a caricature and living the character and I do the latter.

I don’t know if today’s generation of actors study the older actors. When I entered the industry, I was made to watch some legendary films from India and abroad. I have always idiolised Balraj Sahani and he’s been my inspiration. If you have watched some of his earlier films, you will notice that while portraying a character, you will not remember him as an actor but the character he is playing. That’s the school I come from even though I don’t know how much I succeed in it.

Did you face any challenges while portraying Nargisji on screen?
While Raju was showing me documentaries and her pictures, I was looking for her spirit. I was searching for her inner world, so whatever scenes I had, I was only focused on bringing her thoughts on screen. It’s not just the dialogues but what she is thinking beyond those dialogues, her inner world and emotional state. That for any actor is very crucial to get right.

Rarely do we come across a film where one iconic actor is portraying another iconic actor, like Ranbir Kapoor playing Sanjay Dutt or you playing Nargis ji. It must have been a huge responsibility for you and the team.
Absolutely, because the person we are playing on screen is already very well-known and it’s very scary too. I have to say this, I have become a huge fan of Ranbir while working with him in the film because he is such a wonderful actor. Come to think of it, it’s three-four generations of cinema from Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor to him. I think he is a gem among all. I was taken aback watching him play Baba (Sanjay Dutt). I have worked with Baba and he is somebody I am extremely fond of. When I watched Ranbir portray him, I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

As far as I am concerned, it was a big challenge to play a known person. I was very nervous. I worked very hard and troubled my director asking him, ‘Should I do this way or not’. To find the balance to be able to perform a legend is a huge task and therefore it was many many hours of make-up, studying the character, hoping and praying people like it. It was quite unnerving.

How was your experience of working with Raju Hirani?
Fantastic! His movies speak a certain language — that of goodness, kindness and positivity. Even in tough times, there is something good and at the same time, his films are not preachy. Sanju is a light-hearted, fun movie but with a message of positivity. We need more people like Raju in the industry who are creative and positive. I am totally in awe of his kindness, humbleness and simplicity.

After your comeback film — Dear Maya — last year, you have three interesting films this year — Sanju, Lust Stories and Prasthanam. This is like a true comeback...
I have to accept that this indeed is a great time for me because I am getting such good offers in my mid 40s, getting offers from prominent filmmakers and production houses and so I am being able to play different roles. I am on a different high. I am grateful for these opportunities. I want to do less but meaningful work because I have done it all as an artist. I will be completing my 88th film and I have worked with some of best directors and top actors. But as an actor, till your last breath, you are hungry to perform. I want to stretch my limits and boundaries and surprise myself, fans and people who love my work. I want to continue growing as an actor and pray that I do not disappoint my fans. I hope people continue to love and bless me.

You are playing the role of a mother in two of your films which goes on to show that you are not bothered about the ‘mother-tag’...
Absolutely! As long as the artist in me gets to perform, I have no issues. All my life, I have been been tagged as, ‘Oh she is not a commercial actor’ even though it was much simpler back with commercial and art cinema. I did both; I did song and dance and a serious Mani Ratnam movie. At this age, I do not want to get tagged either. I want to play my age but at the same time, I want directors and writers to create roles for women who are in their 40s and make films centred around them. Actresses cannot get stuck in their 30s or keep looking like they are in their 20s. Life does not end when you are in your in late 20s or 30s, life continues till 70s, so stories need to be written beyond that.

You are working with several young actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Shreya Chaudhary and others. How different is their attitude?
I am full of admiration for the young generation. They have really evolved, are focused about their work, conscious about their health. I have to do what they are doing (laughs). Actually, I am doing it and enjoying it too. I admire their focus and their quality of work.

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