Manisha Koirala is happy with how her career has shaped up but she’s now seeking opportunities to work with a new generation of filmmakers

Manisha Koirala believes that roles for women have become meatier and more substantial in recent years both for younger actresses as well as for those like her who are in their 40s. Naturally, this makes the actor very happy and she’s looking forward to the release of Dibakar Banerjee’s Freedom as well as an American project scheduled this year. Before that, though, she will star in director Neeraj Udhwani’s debut film, Maska. The actor plays Diana Rustom Irani, a proud Parsi owner of a café in Mumbai who is steeped in her culture and heritage. She’s keen for her son to accept and continue the legacy of the café he is about to inherit. But the conflict arises when his dreams clash with her own. “The essence of the story is [the need] to preserve one’s culture,” states Koirala who was holidaying in Nepal when she was first approached for Maska. The film was narrated to her soon after and she was immediately inclined to take it up.

Then and now

Koirala describes how the film holds on to the belief that while imbibing the modern is important, it should not come at the cost of one’s traditional values. “There is space for everything if we respect each other,” she states. To prepare for the role, Koirala visited Irani cafés, Parsi colonies, baugs and agiaries. “We couldn’t enter the agiary but we saw, sat and prayed from a distance,” she shares. The actress admits that this was not a character one could play without adequate preparation and hence watching documentaries and working with a Parsi diction coach were part of the research and training. “By the time I went on the floor, I was well-groomed,” she smiles adding that out that the role was incredibly well crafted which allowed her to slip into it with ease.

The actor, who was last seen in the anthology film Lust Stories, is enjoying a sort of second spring in films. While stating that the craft is what remains important, Koirala admits that she finds the digital space more professional and structured in its approach, especially with regard to its specified work hours and stringent contracts. She does emphasise that times have changed with storytelling becoming more nuanced allowing for experimentation. “I’m a little greedy in that… I wish I could do any of Meryl Streep’s movies, that would be a dream come true for me,” she reveals. While Koirala is happy devoting time to gardening, golfing and writing, she’s now dedicating time to also seek challenging work with a new generation of filmmakers.

Highs and lows

Her’s is a career studded with massive critical and commercial hits, full of memorable moments that she continues to cherish. “My beginning itself was a blessing,” she remarks. Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar not only proved to be a good start but also gave the actor the opportunity to work with legends like Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar. While Feroz Khan’s Yalgaar did not do well, her performance garnered appreciation and was among the films that helped her draw the early attention of directors like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Mani Ratnam, Mansoor Khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali who made widely acclaimed films with her in the 90s. Koirala also mentions the late cinematographer Ashok Mehta as being among the people who mentored her and guided her towards many of the prominent projects she ended up becoming a part of. While noting that there have been undeniably dark phases in her life, she asserts that overall, “it’s been a great ride”.

Maska will premiere on March 27 on Netflix

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