There Is No Comeback In Bollywood
Madhuri Dixit’s return bag and baggage has fuelled speculations about the second innings. She tried once but the on-field umpire declared her OUT. Using the referral system, the matter has been referred to the third umpire, and the final decision is awaited. Will she get a recall considering the big pay packet she is reportedly demanding? The soap-and-cream endorsements can be deceptive. However, it must be said to her credit that while in the field she played a perfect game. No indiscipline, no controversies, no spats, and no link-ups either, especially if one scoffs at her link-up with Sanjay Dutt. Now there are stories also of a possible comeback by the other M heroine as well: Manisha Koirala. It seems her marriage, which this writer chose not to attend in Kathmandu despite generous invite, to a Nepalese businessman, Samrat Dehal is on the rocks. Unlike Hollywood or the European cinema, Bollywood frowns upon aging beauties as dead wood. Besides, it is believed her erratic behaviour resulted in her being thrown out of two recent releases, the irrelevant Chargesheet, and the much-hyped Sanjay Leela Bansali production, My Friend Pinto. In both cases, it was the highly talented, much ignored Divya Datta.
Even during Koirala’s heydays there had been stories about an abundant misuse of a gorgeous body that started to show a damage getting out of control. And time, indeed, started to slip away before she realised it. Filmmakers began to get wary of her waywardness and irregularity. That was, perhaps, the time when the heart ruled, and the regal Koirala began to fade away from public memory. Directors recalled horrendous stories about her unprofessional behaviour, late night drinking soirees, one-night or even extended stands resulting in late arrival on the sets, or not even showing up at all. Once described by someone as ‘a poem in trance’ much after that sensational debut in Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar, she went a long way in more than a decade to touch glorious heights in films like 1942—A Love Story, Bombay, Khamoshi –The Musical, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Dil Se, amongst others before she began to fade in the shadows. She, however, does not entirely subscribe to the vastly held belief.
In a conversation not too long ago, she observed: “Not really. I had done it all, and seen it all, and had begun to get tired of the same routine, the same sort of roles, the same sort of appearance, and the way some of the filmmakers tried to lay more emphasis on my physicality rather than acting acumen. That’s when I decided to take things easy, and take stock of my body, my soul, my life.”
She further added: “I think it has been an exciting journey, with hardly any dull moments despite the routine ups and downs. I guess I am rather down-to-earth woman who knows how to take things—good or bad—in her stride. In all hues, colours, shades and dimensions. I have done some bad films, essayed some insignificant roles when everything was going right for me. But every role I essayed was done with some purpose, some reason, and personal, financial, emotional. But I don’t regret anything. Even when I was supposed to be on the top I never bothered about the industry’s numbers game. I know I could have touched the skies. I had the talent and the determination. But then there is the factor called destiny. Things don’t always go the way you want them to even though I played some of the most significant roles compared with actresses of my generation.”
But if filmmaker Nikhil Advani’s announcement of mounting a film (supposedly a “tribute to contemporary Indian women spanning four generations”) co-starring Shabana Azmi, Madhuri Dixit, Deepika Padukone with others like Dimple Kapadia, Karishma Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta, Genelia D’Souza adding glamour ultimately gets made, no matter what the story is, it could be the biggest ever multi-starrer in India (presuming some male faces will also make an appearance). At the same time keeping in mind the desire of some young enthusiasts to provide good entertaining, yet meaningful cinema to the discerning audience, it seems not all is lost for the aging Bollywood divas. It is a different matter that similar attempts in the past have failed to garner much enthusiasm from the paying public especially in small and mofussil towns.
At a time when even heroines in their thirties like Sushmita Sen, Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Kajol are languishing in the industry wilderness what chances did Manisha Koirala at 41 had of getting a second chance, with Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi waiting in the wings. There are no comebacks in Bollywood really. The only two honourable exceptions have been Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia (she was still in her twenties. Besides, Bollywood has an unspelt vengeful attitude towards those who misbehaved. In her heydays Manisha’s reportedly wayward attitude sent several small-time producers to the cleaners—a series of affairs with men both in and outside the industry which did not even last a season; late night drinking bouts which resulted in mood swings and; professional harakari by accepting roles far below her stature, especially the lustrous controversial Ek Chhoti Si Love Story which literally resulted in her getting the exit ticket and she decided to marry saying the alvida, goodbye.
But before marriage she had enrolled herself for a course in direction in New York. Post another break-up, she was back in tinsel town to test waters but found it too hot to take a chance with another dip into the crowded pool. There was also talk of, despite having burnt fingers once as a producer starring Sushmita Sen, Paisa Vasool she decided not to take risks anymore. Her decision to course in direction was thus motivated. She has altogether worked in 73 Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Nepali and Tamil films in a career spanning nearly two decades. She was last seen in Mappillai in Tamil, and Onir’s episodic I Am in Hindi at which time she also made a stellar performance in friend Dipti Naval’s rusting in the cans Do Paise ki Dhoop Char Aane ki Barish (unfortunately it is destined to see neither sunshine nor monsoon) and Rohit Kaushik’s Badalte Chehere. All this was before her marriage in June 2010 with pomp and circumstances.
Apart from vision, direction demands a rigid discipline. Will she get over her infamous mood swings, and pick up the reigns, not forgetting now she would be on the other side of the fence? After a recent encounter in Kathmandu one is convinced all stories of a return to tinsel town are mere speculation. “This is where I belong. I am too involved here. No more Mumbai for me,” she confessed to this writer.
By Suresh Kohli