Indian actor Manisha Koirala has been in the industry for more than three decades now – she started her Hindi film journey with Subhash Ghai’s 1991 film Saudagar and had featured in the Nepali film Pheri Bhetaula prior to that in 1989. She granddaughter of former Prime Minister of Nepal Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala. Decades later, with several hit films to her credit and having battled cancer, Koirala is a woman of strength and champions multi-tasking in women. Insisting that empowerment of the gender is all about the freedom to choose, the actor says that women are masters at multi-tasking, adding that women who choose to not pursue any profession are equally empowered if they do so by choice.
Almost a year after the US release, Koirala’s film India Sweets and Spices saw a UK release this weekend. The film features Koirala as a housewife who was a dynamic feminist during her college days but wants to hide that identity from her kids. It also stars Sophia Ali, Rish Shah and Adil Hussain. In this interview, she discusses her idea of feminism, how it all began for her not as a fight but as a household norm, thanks to her great grandmother and how the idea of housewives not being empowered enough is a biased one.
How do you see this perceived vision of a feminist as opposed to a s0-called ‘homely woman’? Can’t they be one and the same?
Definitely. I really don’t believe in bracketing feminism. I feel any woman who has a self respect and dignity and is empowered can absolutely have (it all). The whole concept of homely women not being empowered doesn’t gel with me. My great grandmother has taught my grandmother, her daughters-in-law, her daughters-in-law – she taught them how to do horse riding, classical singing and dancing. She also educated them and they formed a group of women who would go to neighboring homes and start telling other ladies to step out of the kitchen.
Women can do what they want to do. Today, women are fully capable of multitasking. I also want to say one thing it should be entirely a woman’s choice. There are women who are only who just want to be at home and want to be a wife and mother. I don’t think just because I have a career and she doesn’t have one – means she’s inferior. I feel it’s entirely her choice. This division for me is a bit of old school. Now I think the society more so is traveling towards even the men are contributing in raising kids and equally participating in being a homemaker. It’s not only a woman’s job but it’s also the husband or the man’s job as well.
Tell us about the film India Sweets and Spice and your role.
My character is hiding her past – she has given to the present scenario, and she is like ‘okay, fine, if this is what life is meant to be, I will give my best shot’. She’s turned into a different woman altogether. It’s the daughter who comes and she discovers her true self and her past.
How has your background of a political family shaped your personality, and affected your career?
I think it has helped me to have a larger worldview. My home was filled with conversation on world politics, on marathon and classical dance and music and my mom was a cultural dancer, so lot of music, dance, politics as well as we had a mixture of so it gave me a different perspective on life altogether. I don’t see life from one dimension, so my worldview is slightly different, the way I look at life is slightly different.
The profession of acting also widens the horizon because you get to meet so many people from different parts of the world, it has only helped me to have a wider horizon, wider way of looking at life.
You have experimented with quite a few fields – from an aspiring doctor, to model, actor and author. What have been the rough patches in the journey?
I started 30 years back and probably acting to me is the easiest because I’ve been doing it for so long now. Of course, I believe in growing and taking up difficult characters. I don’t mind the challenges as long as the product is good. I don’t mind putting in extra hours. I’m a hard working person, I’ve always been. And I don’t shy away from challenges. It’s kind of easier in comparison to writing.
I started piling up notes when I fought cancer. The main thing is that I wanted to be the person to tell about healing aspect because I tried looking for that and could not find much. I’m not a professional writer and I needed help. I took professional help and I also had my friends. Writing has been more challenging than acting for sure, because it was new and I don’t know if I’ll take it as a career, but I have enjoyed the process. (Once,) I wanted to be a doctor, but I don’t think I could ever go through the grind.
Who are the women in Hindi films you admire?
There have been many women at different times. Most of the actresses, because I know how tough this competition is, how this profession is, and how hardworking, clever and intelligent one has to be to overcome all the hurdles in this men’s world. Instead of just naming one or two, I would like to say that in this profession, all the women who stayed around have the brains to survive here – they couldn’t have done that with beauty and talent alone.
What is that one piece of advice you’d give to 20-year-old Manisha Koirala?
Of the many things on my list, the top one would be that if somebody (who loves you) is asking you not walk down a certain path, do not. When I was younger, I was just basically a rebel without a cause – I just believed ‘okay, fine, I’ll fall and I’ll learn from my mistakes and I’ll move on’. Today, I feel that’s a waste of time.