The ethereal Manisha Koirala, whose life was under a cloud after she fell seriously ill, is all set to bounce back with a pivotal role in Raj Kumar Hirani’s bio-pic on Sanjay Dutt. In the film Ranbir Kapoor plays Sanjay Dutt, Dia Mirza plays Maanyata Dutt, Sonam Kapoor will star as Sanjay Dutt’s wife and most spectacular Manisha Koirala will play Dutt’s legendary mother Nargis Dutt.
One legend playing another, I tell Manisha and she laughs away the compliment the way only she can. “Please, don’t even compare us. Nargisji is an iconic legendary figure. Her work, personality and reputation are very hard to enact. I am going to try my best.”
She says she was kicked by the offer. “I’ve always been a fan of Nargisji. Who isn’t? And I’ve worked with Sanjay Dutt in a number of films, most of them forgettable,” she laughs.
Remember Feroz Khan’s Yalgaar? Manisha laughs, “Hopefully this time I will create some magic with Ranbir Kapoor who plays Sanjay Dutt. I am a big admirer of Ranbir’s work. I’ve seen his rushes as Sanjay Dutt. Ranbir is fantastic. No actor of his generation has the same passion to excel, to make every character real and memorable. I think Ranbir has inherited this passion from his distinguished family. I’ve been waiting to get to work with Ranbir. Now I finally have that opportunity. I’ve also been hoping that someday I’d get to work with Raj Kumar Hirani.”
She reveals herself to be a big fan of Raj Kumar Hirani. “His work is so exemplary. Every actor wants to work with him. When I met him I was bowled over by his simplicity and humility. He is one of this country’s most influential directors. But he has no airs.”
Manisha also reveals herself to be a huge Nargis Dutt fan. “Like everyone else I’ve seen her films like Mother India, Andaz and Raat Aur Din. She was stunning. And a woman way ahead of her times.”
Is there a sense of identification because Nargis, like Manisha, suffered from cancer? Manisha shrugs off the ‘C’ connection. “I don’t think Raju (Hirani) offered me the role just because I went through the same illness. That is no qualification. The fact that Raju saw me worthy of playing Nargisji means a lot to me. I have worked with the two other geniuses of our times Sanjay Bhansali and Mani Ratnam, now I am working with the third.”
As for trepidations about playing a mother to a 30-plus hero Manisha, who has always been open to challenges retorts, “Don’t forget, I played Nana Patekar’s wife and daughter during the same year in Agni Sakshi and Khamoshi. I am now at a very awkward juncture of my career where I can’t play the 18-year old wild child romancing my boyfriend all over Bareilly or Boston. I am over 40. And still too young to play the conventional mother, the kind who says, ‘Beta mere liye ek Bahu laa de’ or the vampish mother-in-law in serials. Luckily roles for women my age are now being written. I am comfortable with my age and the work that I’m getting. Really, it can’t get any better than playing Nargis Dutt in a film directed by the one-and-only Raj Kumar Hirani. I am honoured.”