Manisha Koirala Actress Biography
Manisha Koirala (pronounced [mʌˈnisa ˈkoirala]) is a Nepali actress who is known for her work in Indian films. She is the recipient of several accolades, including four Filmfare Awards. In 2001, the Government of Nepal awarded her with the Order of Gorkha Dakshina Bahu, the second highest honour of the country.
In May 2013, after her cancer treatment, Koirala said she intends to use her celebrity status and personal story to inspire others who are battling the dreaded disease. “All I want to do from now onwards is to be useful to people who could need little advice,” she said in her first interview since undergoing cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. She has become a motivational speaker after her battle with cancer, and gives talks on various topics at schools, hospitals and organisations.
In 2004, she moved to New York City and earned a diploma in filmmaking from New York University. While living in New York, she became a member of an independent documentary filmmakers’ society.
After receiving a diploma in filmmaking, she produced the small-budget caper-comedy Paisa Vasool (2004), in which she starred along with Sushmita Sen; this was probably the first ever chick-flick in Indian cinema in that it did not have a male lead nor a love story. Since then, she has played supporting and leading roles in various unsuccessful films, some of which have been well received by critics, such as the historical epic drama Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story (2005), the thriller Tum – A Dangerous Obsession (2005), and the horror film Anjaane – The Unknown (2005).
She followed this with her Bollywood debut in Subhash Ghai’s directorial Saudagar two years later, which emerged as a commercial success. According to Sukanya Verma of Rediff.com, ” ritics saw sparks in Manisha, even as she was constantly referred to as Madhuri Dixit’s lookalike”. Yalgaar (1992), did well at the box-office and was classified as a hit. However, this was trailed by a series of films that performed poorly at the box office, including First Love Letter (1991), Anmol and Dhanwan (both 1993), which led to Koirala being labeled “a jinx” by producers.
In 1995, Koirala made her debut in Tamil cinema with the Mani Ratnam-directed political romance Bombay, starring alongside Arvind Swami. She took up the role on the insistence of her friend Ashok Mehta, at a time when other contemporaries urged her to not act in non-Bollywood film industries. It received critical acclaim, with American critic James Berardinelli writing, “Bombay recalls how forceful a motion picture can be. It also reminds us of the maxim that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. For playing a Muslim who marries a Hindu journalist against the backdrop of the Bombay riots in the eponymous film, Koirala won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Performance, the only time it was awarded to a recipient for a performance in a non-Hindi film. At the 43rd Filmfare Awards South, she received her first Award in the Best Actress – Tamil category. Koirala’s performances in 1942: A Love Story and Bombay proved to be milestones in her career, and established her in the film industry. The same year, she featured in the musical romance Akele Hum Akele Tum opposite Aamir Khan, for which she received her second nomination in the Best Actress category at the Filmfare Awards.
In 2002, she starred opposite Ajay Devgan in Ram Gopal Verma’s Company. The film was a critical success and she won her third Filmfare Critics’ Best Actress Award. In that same year, she appeared in Ek Chotisi Love Story. The film, when released, generated tremendous response at the box office, becoming one of the few successes of the year. The movie’s release was stayed as she accused the director of the film, Shashilal Nair, of using her body double to shoot some love scenes in the film, and portraying her in bad light by shooting positions using another actress in her place, without her approval. A court finally decided to stay the release of the film.
Born to the politically prominent Koirala family, she is the daughter of Prakash Koirala and granddaughter of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, former Prime Minister of Nepal. Initially aspiring to become a doctor, she had a brief stint in modeling, and subsequently made her acting debut with the Nepali film Pheri Bhetaula (1989) while still in school. She later went on to feature in the Hindi drama film Saudagar (1991). Following a series of commercial failures, Koirala established herself as a leading actress with acclaimed patriotic romance 1942: A Love Story (1994) and the Tamil-language romantic drama Bombay (1995), subsequently starring in a series of commercial successes, including the thriller Agni Sakshi (1996), the vigilante action Indian (1996), the suspense thriller Gupt: The Hidden Truth (1997), the action thriller Kachche Dhaage, the Tamil-language political thriller Mudhalvan (both 1999), the gangster drama Company (2002) and the romance Ek Chhotisi Love Story (2002). She received critical recognition for her portrayal of an ambitious wife in the drama Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), the daughter of deaf-mute parents in the musical romance Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), a terrorist in the romantic thriller Dil Se.. (1998), a mistreated woman in the drama Lajja (2001) and Sushmita Banerjee in the biopic Escape From Taliban (2003).
In 2020, she appeared in Netflix original film titled Maska, directed by Neeraj Udhwani.
In 2000, she hosted the TV show Sawaal Dus Crore Ka on Zee TV alongside Anupam Kher. In 2001, she starred in the drama Grahan opposite Jackie Shroff. Her portrayal of a rape victim in the film who seeks justice was appreciated, but the film, which was a much-delayed project, was a major commercial failure. She next played the protagonist in Rajkumar Santoshi’s drama Lajja, along with an ensemble cast that included Rekha, Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. The film received a positive reception from critics, and so did Koirala’s performance. Her last release of the year was Moksha, opposite Arjun Rampal, which was a failure at the box office.
In 1999, she starred in the successful Kuchhe Dhaage, which was followed by six more releases, the most notable of them being Indra Kumar’s drama Mann. She played a traffic accident victim in the film, which entered into the top five highest-grossing films of the year. Her performance in the film won her favourable reviews. Film critic M. Ali Ikram wrote about her performance: “If there is a respite for Manisha’s innumerable fans of late, this flick is it. We may not care about hits and flops, but it is painful to watch this acting virtuoso in the innumerable side roles she has been seen in of late. Indra Kumar’s decision to cast Manisha here is a case of perfect casting, and she never lets him or the audience down. This lady is truly the Meena Kumari of her generation. It is great fun watching Manisha and Aamir Khan’s perfect chemistry opposite one another. The film’s climax has both stars permanently molding a spot for themselves in Bollywood history, and it will have you shedding tears by the bucketful.” It was a successful feature at the box office. While filming Laawaris (1999), Koirala began to get tired of her busy schedule and felt “the pressure getting to “; she turned to alcohol for solace and developed anger issues.
She was next seen in director Onir’s critically acclaimed anthology film I Am, sharing the screen with Juhi Chawla. Noted film critic Taran Adarsh commented: “It’s a delight to watch Juhi and Manisha, after a hiatus. Both deliver striking performances – even getting the language right.” In 2011 Koirala appeared in Mappillai, her first Tamil movie in five years. A remake of the 1989 film of the same name, the film saw her reprising the role originally played by Srividya. Her performance earned her a nomination at the Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress – Tamil. The film was declared a hit. In 2012, she collaborated with director Ram Gopal Verma for his 3D horror film Bhoot Returns, a sequel to the 2003 hit Bhoot.
In Anwar, she played a supporting role along with her brother Siddharth, her only release in 2007. In 2008, she made her comeback to films, with her first leading role since Mumbai Express (2005), in Tulsi, opposite Irrfan Khan. Although before its release, her comeback was described by the media as “shocking”, and the film suffered from poor marketing, her performance as Tulsi, a young homemaker diagnosed with leukemia, was well received. Taran Adarsh from IndiaFM wrote: “Manisha Koirala sinks her teeth in this role and delivers a fine performance.” She next starred in Sirf (2008). The film was released without any notice or publicity and was a critical and box office failure. Her first Bengali film Khela, directed by Rituparno Ghosh, released the same year, along with the long delayed Hindi film Mehbooba; both films released on the same day.
On 19 June 2010, Koirala married Samrat Dahal, a Nepali businessman, in a traditional ceremony held in Kathmandu. The couple spent their honeymoon in Finland. They met through the online social networking website Facebook. The couple divorced in 2012.
In 2010, she made her foray into Malayalam cinema with Shyamaprasad’s Elektra, a psycho-sensual drama based on Sophocles’s ancient Greek tragic play Electra. She plays the antagonist in the film, which revolves around the concept of the Electra complex, which is a daughter’s psychosexual competition with her mother for her father’s affection. The film premiered at the International Film Festival of India, where it was well received. She also acted in her native Nepali-language film, Dharmaa, after a gap of 22 years since her first film.
By mid-2014, the actress was cancer-free. In 2015, her much delayed psychological thriller Chehere: A Modern Day Classic (2015) released.
She has contributed as a co-writer to a book: Healed, the story of her battle against ovarian cancer.
Koirala silently returned with a Kannada- Tamil, mystery film Game (2016 film) where she portrayed the main female lead. Her official Bollywood comeback was with the drama Dear Maya (2017). Directed by Sunaina Bhatnagar and co-starring Madiha Imam, her role was of a middle-aged lonely woman who embarks on a journey to find love when she receives love letters. The film received mixed reviews from critics with praise directed to Koirala’s performance. Sweta Kaushal of Hindustan Times said: “Manisha Koirala shines like a diamond in a coal mine.” Suhani Singh from India Today noted that she is the “star in this mawkish coming-of-age story”, while Stutee Ghosh of The Quint wrote that “Manisha Koirala’s grace makes it worth a watch.”
In her last release of the year, she acted in the musical drama Khamoshi: The Musical, which marked Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s directorial debut. Koirala played Annie, a caring daughter to her deaf-mute parents Joseph and Flavy, portrayed by Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas respectively; Salman Khan played Raj, her love interest. In preparation for her role, Koirala learned the Indian Sign Language. A critic from Channel 4 wrote, “Koirala in particular is in her element and demonstrates the full range of her acting ability, rather than playing against it as she has had to do in more traditional films”. Despite receiving critical acclaim, Khamoshi: The Musical was a flop. Filmfare included her performance among a list of “80 Iconic Performances” of Indian cinema in 2011. In a box office roundup of the year, The Indian Express felt Koirala put up an “impressive show” with her successes. Her performance in Khamoshi earned her a second Filmfare Award for Best Performance and a nomination for Best Actress. She also received her only win for Best Actress at the Screen Awards.
In 1997, she played the leading role alongside Kajol and Bobby Deol in the thriller Gupt: The Hidden Truth, which was one of the biggest hits that year.
Koirala’s career prospects improved after starring in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s romance film 1942: A Love Story (1994), set during the Indian independence movement. She played Rajjo, the daughter of a freedom fighter who falls in love with Naren (Anil Kapoor), the apolitical son of a British colonial employee. Chopra dismissed Koirala as a “terrible actress” after her first screen test, but was impressed with her performance for a second audition and decided to cast her in place of Madhuri Dixit. The film featured the protagonists sharing a deep kiss; it was certified U/A (Parental guidance required) by the Central Board of Film Certification, becoming the first Indian film to receive the rating. Koirala’s performance received positive reviews, with critics hailing her as “a sensitive performer”. The film proved to be a box office flop. However, it fetched Koirala her first nomination for Best Actress at the annual Filmfare Awards ceremony.
The following year, she played a battered wife on the run from her mentally-ill husband in the drama Agni Sakshi, a remake of the Julia Roberts-starrer Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), which begot her positive reviews for her performance. The film was released in close succession with two other remakes of the same film–Yaraana (1995) and Daraar (1996). A reviewer for the University of California deemed the film to be superior to the original. In her book Bioscope: A Frivolous History of Bollywood in Ten Chapters, Diptakirti Chaudhuri wrote, “Even in a derivative film like Agni Sakshi, her performance as a tortured wife pitch perfect against the formidable Nana Patekar”. The film was a commercial success, emerging as the second highest-grossing film of the year in India. During the film’s production, Koirala began dating her co-star Nana Patekar; Patekar confirmed their relationship and eventual breakup in 2003. Physical abuse on his part may have been a factor for their separation.
In 2021, she is appearing in AR Rahman’s romantic musical 99 Songs, which is releasing on 16 April. She is also cast in an American comedy film India Sweets and Spices, directed by Geeta Malik. The film is based on Geeta Malik’s own script “Dinner With Friends” that won the 2016 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in screen-writing.
Post-2003, Koirala began to work with independent film makers in art-house projects and in regional films. Her performance in the drama Tulsi (2008), the Malayalam psychological drama Elektra (2010), the anthology I Am (2010) and the romantic comedy Mappillai (2011) was praised. She took a break from acting after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and returned five years later with the coming-of-age drama Dear Maya (2017). The following year, she featured in the Netflix production Lust Stories and the biography Sanju; the latter ranks among the highest-grossing Indian releases. In addition to acting in films, Koirala is a stage performer and has contributed as an author to the novel Healed, an account of her struggle with ovarian cancer. Koirala was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund in 1999 and 2015, and was involved in the relief works after the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. She promotes causes such as women’s rights, prevention of violence against women, prevention of human trafficking and cancer awareness.
After years of success, in 2003, she was seen in several low budget films, yet not less challenging roles. She ventured into strong woman-oriented films in 2003, such as Escape From Taliban, which won her the BFJA Award for Best Actress. She then played the protagonist in Market (2003), a film portraying the whole life story of a young prostitute. The film did decently at the box office and was considered ‘average.’
She gave speeches in 2016 on “Transformation” at Mercedes-Benz India in Pune, and on “Importance of Being Mindful Living” at Cipla in Goa. She was scheduled to speakon “Health is Our Responsibility” at Sneh Foundation in February 2017; on “Cancer is Conquerable” at Apollo Hospitals in Hyderabad; and on “My Life’s Lesson” at Shiv Nadar Foundation in Chennai; on “Why Celebrities Need Coaching” in Delhi; on “Woman Empowerment” at National Women’s Parliament in Vijayawada; and on “Gifts of Cancer” at TEDx Jaipur.
While staying at her grandmother’s home in Varanasi, she attended the Vasant Kanya Mahavidyalaya until Class X. During a break after her board exams, Koirala made her acting debut in 1989 with the Nepali film Pheri Bhetaula as an experiment. Aspiring to become a doctor, she moved to Delhi and studied at the Army Public School (APS) of the Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi campus. In an interview, she said that living on her own in Delhi helped her become “strong and independent.” In Delhi, Koirala took on a few modeling assignments, but later shifted her focus toward acting. One of these was for a wool company. Determined to pursue a career in acting, Koirala moved to Mumbai for film roles.
She went on to collaborate once again with the acclaimed director Mani Ratnam, and starred in his film Dil Se.. (1998) opposite Shah Rukh Khan. Her role received similarly good reviews and earned her several award nominations including the Filmfare Best Actress Award nomination. Despite performing poorly at the box office in India, the film proved to be a hit overseas. Also she played the leading role opposite to Govinda in the movie Maharaja.
In December 2009, she served as a jury member in the fifth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival. Her next film was Deepti Naval’s directorial debut Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Char Aane Ki Barish which premiered at the market section of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival to a positive response. Later that year, she acted in Partho Ghosh’s Ek Second… Jo Zindagi Badal De?.
On 29 November 2012, media news reported that Koirala had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had no clue about the disease until she felt very weak, and went to a hospital in Kathmandu with her brother. She flew to India and was admitted to Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. She then flew to the US for treatment, however the exact ailment was not disclosed. On 10 December, she underwent surgery. The following day it was reported that the surgery had been successful. She had to undergo chemotherapy and spent months at the hospital in New York. As of 2 May 2017, she had been cancer-free for four years. After fighting cancer and winning the battle, she is actively involved in spreading awareness about the disease.
Koirala is actively involved in social work, specifically working with organisations to promote women’s rights, prevention of violence against women, and also to prevent the human trafficking of Nepali girls for prostitution. In September 1999, she was appointed as a UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador. Koirala has advocated the need for an official Earth Anthem for the planet supporting the efforts of Indian poet-diplomat Abhay K in this direction. She was appointed as a UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador in 2015 and was involved in the relief works after the Nepal earthquake 2015.
Manisha Koirala was born into the politically prominent Brahmin Koirala family, in Kathmandu, Nepal. Her father, Prakash Koirala, is a politician and a former minister of environment, while her mother, Sushma Koirala, is a homemaker. She has one brother, Siddharth Koirala, who is an actor. Several members of her family went on to become politicians; her grandfather, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, was the Prime Minister of Nepal during the late 1950s to the early 1960s, as were two of her great-uncles, Girija Prasad Koirala and Matrika Prasad Koirala. Koirala spent her early life in India, and she stayed in Varanasi at her maternal grandmother’s home for some years and later in Delhi and Mumbai. According to Koirala, her grandmother never let her feel that she is “away from home”.
The next year, Koirala starred in the Netflix anthology Lust Stories. The film, a sequel to the 2013 film Bombay Talkies, featured her in one of the segments directed by Dibakar Banerji. She played a middle-aged housewife, having an extra-marital affair with her husband’s best friend. The film was nominated for International Emmy Award for Best TV Movie or Miniseries. Koirala’s performance was also, appreciated. This was followed by an appearance in Rajkumar Hirani’s biography Sanju, based on the life of actor Sanjay Dutt; Koirala portrayed the role of actress Nargis, Dutt’s mother. The film emerged as the highest-grossing film of the year. She later featured in Prasthanam (2019 film) Hindi remake of the political thriller with same title, in which she played as Sanjay Dutt’s wife and much delayed film Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish released on Netflix this year.
Koirala next featured opposite Salman Khan in the comedy Majhdhaar the same year, which was both a critical and commercial failure. She then played a starring role in S. Shankar’s Indian (1996), which marked her second Tamil film. It was also dubbed and released in Hindi under the title Hindustani. Featuring Kamal Haasan in dual roles alongside Koirala and Urmila Matondkar, it was the most expensive Indian film at that time, with a budget of ₹150 million. Nirupama Subramanian of India Today felt the film was a commercial potboiler and wrote, “Indian has dances, foot-tapping melodies by A. R. Rahman and two pretty women, Manisha Koirala and Urmila Matondkar”. Both Indian and Hindustani were commercial successes. The film was India’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards in 1996, but was not nominated.
She is credited for such roles as 1942 A Love Story, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Bombay, Agnisakshi, Khamoshi, Gupt, Dil Se and Company. Her social activism and achievements in movies has made her one of the most famous Nepalis in the world.
Born: 1970/1971 (age 50–51)Kathmandu, Kingdom of Nepal (now Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal)
Years active: 1989–present
Works: Full list
Spouse(s): Samrat Dahal
(m. 2010; div. 2012)
Relatives: See Koirala family
Awards: Full list
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