By Neha Kirpal
Actor Manisha Koirala is back in a new Netflix film, Maska in which she plays Diana Irani, a middle-aged Parsi. Maska is a heartwarming story about a boy who inherits his family’s Irani café, but instead wants to follow his dream of becoming a Bollywood actor. Besides Manisha, the film stars Jaaved Jaaferi, Prit Kamani, Nikita Dutta and Shirley Setia in lead roles.
In order to prepare for her role as the boy’s single mother, Manisha, whose oeuvre of work includes both mainstream cinema and web series, says she had to learn the diction and accent of a Parsi woman who talked a lot and sometimes uses words that Manisha has never used in her life.
A lot of appearance tests also took place to get her look for the film right – one with a pair of dungarees, glasses and a wig donning grey hair. She says a lot of research also went into how she looked, spoke, as well as her body language, before the team went on the floor.
But there’s more to the 49-year-old than her acting career. In 2012, Manisha was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, from which she recovered completely in about two years. Needless to say, there have been many hard lessons of life that she has learnt through the experience.
The most important, she says, is that life is a gift, and one must be responsible towards it – in terms of our quality of life, what our day looks like, our dreams and aspirations. “Rather than making it mundane and incidental, if we take the opportunity of life as a precious gift, we can fully make use of it, value it more, and its quality also improves,” she believes.
The second lesson the award-winning actor has learnt is that difficulties will keep coming in one’s life, but God has also given us equal strength to deal with the problem that we face. “If you live an exemplary life that you value and cherish – looking after your health, wellbeing, mental health as well as those of your loved ones – people may get influenced by you,” she adds.
In the past, the Nepalese actor has also promoted causes such as women’s rights that are close to her heart. “Not just me, but the entire Koirala clan is known to be fiercely feminist,” she says. Born to a politically prominent family, she is the daughter of Nepalese politician Prakash Koirala and granddaughter of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, former Prime Minister of Nepal.
Manisha, who grew up in Varanasi and Delhi, also works with cancer patients, especially poor children who have cancer, and raises funds for them.
In her 2018 book Healed: How Cancer Gave Me a New Life, Manisha revealed the fears and struggles that she went through while battling cancer. She says that if she had to write a book, she knew she had to be honest about it, or she’d rather not write it.
“There’s no point in telling a story that is half-hearted. As human beings, all of us, at some point in our lives, go through a certain crisis – whether emotional, financial or health-related. I felt that if I am honest about my situation, anybody who is going through a similar crisis will be able to relate to it and empathize,” she says.
In August, Manisha will complete her golden jubilee year. Looking back at her interesting journey so far, she says her 20s were very exciting, as it was the time when her Bollywood journey had started. Her career had taken off after the 1994 Vidhu Vinod Chopra romance film 1942: A Love Story co-starring Anil Kapoor.
She hasn’t a planned a lot for what comes next, she says. By the year-end, her next Netflix film Freedom as well as an American project will be ready for release, both of which she has thoroughly enjoyed and loved working on.
Talking about how she is spending her time at home during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, Manisha confesses that she is quite busy throughout the day. “I have a small terrace, and I love plants. So, I look after my plants and indulge in some gardening,” she says.
She is also very involved in daily chores like getting the house cleaned and the food cooked. Living with her parents, she makes sure they all get a good amount of greens, vitamins and other foods in their diet.
“I spend a lot of time with my parents – bonding with them, drinking kaadaa, turmeric tea and green tea,” she says.
In between, she also squeezes some time for exercise and walks. “I learned during my cancer treatment that one can walk even in a small room. So, physical activity, no matter how small the space is, is really important,” she explains. She says she is also trying to learn a new skill –writing a screenplay – in order to keep her mind active.
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