"I live my life openly, and I donít have double standards. Bollywood is very male dominated and hypocritical. It makes its women dance semi-nude on screen, but when it comes to life beyond the screen, it expects them to be virgin white. But I refuse to lead a double life. I am what I am on the surface. Yes I party a lot, I have my friends, but that doesnít make me a coke addict.
"
(Tatanova, Sep. 4, 2001)

The daughter of a powerful Nepalese political family with ties of kinship to the ill-fated royal family, it's been a hard year for Manisha Koirala. But things have never been easy for this talented actress.

Manisha Koirala    From the beginning, the niece of Nepal's former prime minister was an unlikely candidate for entry into Hindi cinema. But with her classical dance training and natural acting talent, she was determined to make an entrance -- though as she readily admits, "I was not serious initially. I thought I would do a couple of films and go back to studies..." (cinemaa.indyaa.com) Nevertheless, with Subhash Ghai, famed director, volunteering to launch her in a lead role in Saudagar opposite screen legends Dilip and Raaj Kumar, success seemed assured.

    Alas, things did not work out as smoothly as intended. Halfway through the shooting of Saudagar, Manisha and her mother informed the press that Ghai had assaulted her on the sets (with sexual intent). As the press frothed over the scandal, some were surprised that Manisha did not withdraw from the film. But Saudagar was, indeed, a dream launch, an opportunity difficult, if not impossible, for any aspiring actress to abandon. However, she has not worked again with Ghai, who himself never publicly responded to the allegations. (cinemaa.indyaa.com)

    This was only the first scandal linked with Manisha. A heated feud with Aishwarya Rai won her much negative attention. (For more, see Aishwarya's bio.) While on a concert tour in the U.S., she also had problems with screen legend Rekha. "What happened was that Rekhaji is a senior actress and she was with us in the show. What was disappointing was the fact that the show was titled The Star Of The Millennium -- Rekha. I have done shows before, but I have never been treated like this. I basically blame the organisers for their irresponsible behaviour. I donít blame the senior actress at all. But they turned around and said that they were being pressurised by her. Now, we didnít have the kind of direct contact with Rekhaji that they did. So it was their responsibility to treat us properly. I donít know who to blame, but it was very disappointing and has taught me a lesson that I must not take things for granted." (Rediff, Mar. 2000)

   Charges of unprofessional behavior -- missing shooting dates, demanding script changes, etc. -- have also haunted her. Manisha strives for equanimity in the face of these allegations: "Such reports amuse me. Every single newspaper in town writes about how I've been shooting non-stop for the last four years. If I'm undisciplined, then how come I work so hard? I haven't had a decent vacation in two years. In nine years I've completed around 35 films." (cinemaa.indya.com) She also reasons, "If I was unprofessional, why would someone like Mani Ratnam work with me not in one, but three films? And would Raj Kumar Santoshi cast me in Lajja?" (Tatanova.com, Sep. 4, 2001)

    Last year, Manisha's phone number was found programmed in the speed dial of a drug dealer's mobile phone at the time of his arrest. She denied any involvement with illegal activities, protesting that her phone number was public information, all too easy to obtain. While she has been exonerated of any involvement, the press continues to rehash the story, which infuriates her. "Itís all bullshit. Itís so damaging. I have been angry since the day I heard it. And how do you justify it? By saying that my name is on the list of this guy Ali, who used to supply drugs? Whatís hurt me the most is that people have taken what the police have said on face value, without even hearing my end of it? How can the police be so irresponsible as to release my name to the public like that?" (tatanova.com, Sep. 4, 2001)

    Adding fuel to an already blazing fire, her love life has now come under intense scrutiny. In 2001, Manisa broke off her engagement to Crispin Conroy, the Australian Ambassador to Nepal. "Just yesterday I wanted to marry Crispin and have his babies. Today we've drifted apart. The truth is, Crispin wanted to marry this May. When the date came close I developed cold feet. I realised I wasn't ready for marriage. Like they say, sometimes the man is right but the time isn't." (Filmfare, Dec 2001) Now she has been connected to an Italian businessman living in London, causing several gossip columns to snipe at her apparent preference for 'firangi' or 'foreign' blood.

    By turns, Manisha ignores the press and reviles it for its harsh treatment of her. She feels cheated by the response to her recent film Lajja: "Madhuri got fabulous reviews [for Lajja]. The character of Janki is her career best...she was brilliant. Yet I think it's unfair that the critics praised only her and panned the rest of us. My character Vaidehi didn't have clap trap situations... nevertheless it was effective. Yet the press went gaga over Madhuri and left the other performers out in the cold." (Filmfare, Dec. 2001) And she dryly notes journalists' eagerness to discount her. "I've been written off so many times that I have lost count. Like Maheshji (Bhatt) once told me, people are quick to write premature obituaries..." (cinemaa.indyaa.com)

   Yet she also acknowledges a reason for the media's negative interest. "I guess it is easier for people to portray me negatively. I have been an honest and an open person which makes it easier for people to believe anything they hear about me. It's amazing but so often people have, with such conviction, blamed me for things I haven't done. Not that I regret being open and honest. I won't say that being honest hasn't paid off, because it has. Had I been a liar, I would never have had a strong character, which I do. I guess being honest and open has exposed me as a target for all kinds of controversies." (Cineblitz, Mar. 2002) Certainly, in BollyWHAT?'s opinion, Manisha has not gotten her proper due -- her performance in Dil Se alone marks her as one of the best actresses working today.

 

Manisha Koirala
born: August 16, 1970
height: 5' 5"

FILMS

1991 First Love Letter
1991 Saudagar
1992 Yalgaar
1993 Anmol
1994
1942: A Love Story*
1994 Bombay*
1994 Criminal
1995 Akele Hum Akele Tum*
1995 Anokha Andaz
1995 Dhanwaan
1995 Guddu
1995 Majdhaar
1995 Milan
1995 Ram Shastra
1996 Agnisakshi
1996 Dushmani
1996 Indiyan
1996 Khamoshi*
1997 Dil Ke Jharoke Mein
1997 Gupt*
1997 Loha
1997 Sanam
1998 Achanak
1998 Das Numbri
1998 Dil Se..*
1998 Maharajah
1998 Salaakhen

1998 Yugpurush
1999 Hindustan Ki Kasam
1999 Jai Hind
1999 Kachche Dhaage
1999 Kartoos
1999 Laawaris
1999 Lal Badshah
1999 Mann*
2000 Baaghi
2000 Champion
2000 Khauff
2000 Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Ho Gaya
2001 Abhay
2001 Grahan
2001 Lajja*
2001 Moksha*
2002 Company*
2002 Ek Choti Si Love Story
2002 Jaani Dushman
2003 Paisa Vasool
2004 Tum

* acclaimed performance


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