Kathmandu, Dec 10 (IANS) Manisha Koirala, Bollywood's reigning diva in the 1990s, returns to her roots in Nepal after more than two decades Friday with the release of her much-awaited new Nepali film 'Dharmaa', but it has failed to do justice to her formidable acting skills.
Ironically, Kumari, one of Kathmandu's best cinemas where action flick 'Dharmaa' released along with over 60 other theatres nationwide, is also showing Hindi film 'Guzaarish', starring former Miss World Aishwarya Rai and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Bhansali's maiden film was the poignant 'Khamoshi', in which Manisha played a daughter to deaf parents and won the Filmfare and Star awards for best actress for her performance.
'Dharmaa' has to be the worst career choice ever made by Manisha, who has acted in such acclaimed Hindi films as 'Bombay', 'Mann' and 'Company'. She plays third fiddle to Nepal's reigning superstar Rajesh Hamal and action hero Nikhil Upreti and her role as the wife of an honest forest officer who is killed by a corrupt police officer in cahoots with the poaching mafia, has no substance.
The plot is juvenile, the characters ridiculous and the sets tacky. The poaching don's den, for instance, can easily be identified as the corridor of Kathmandu's World Trade Centre, a shopping mall.
Manisha, who comes from one of the best-known political families of Nepal - her grandfather Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala was the first elected prime minister of Nepal, has actually been used as a stepping stone by former minister and politician, Durga Pokhrel, who is also the producer of the movie, to launch her own son Sanjog.
In the film, directed by Dipendra K. Khanal, Sanjog plays the pampered younger brother of the slain officer who is transformed into an avenging angel.
The debutant, however, held no attraction for the crowds and the cameras who milled around Manisha, proving she was the real star and crowd puller despite the shabby treatment meted out to her in the film.
'I am very excited,' Manisha told IANS gallantly. 'I hope it is well received.'
She also said it was wonderful to return to the Nepali film industry, which she had left after her first film 'Pheri Bhetaula', to act in Subhash Ghai's 'Saudagar' and become the fresh face of Bollywood in 1991.
Though she still wants to continue working in Bollywood, Manisha says she will now be spending longer periods of time in Kathmandu to be with her family.
She married Nepali entrepreneur Samrat Dahal in June and is still struggling to come to terms with Kathmandu's temperatures, substantially colder than sunny Mumbai's, where she had been based. In most of the scenes in 'Dharmaa' she is seen wearing socks, even to bed.
Manisha is trying to make her stay in Nepal more fruitful professionally by planning her own film.
'I want to write my own script and direct it,' she said. 'It is a human interest story with a political subtext.'
Though to be shot in Nepal, she intends her film to be for the international market.
After two decades in the film industry, Manisha is weary of the routine song-and-dance sequences and wants to focus on realistic cinema.
'I want to engage more in realistic cinema,' she says. 'Nepali cinema should not keep copying Bollywood. Only when it is realistic can it uplift society.'
Yet her new Nepali film contains one totally superfluous sequence where she sings and dances with her onscreen husband Rajesh Hamal.
'Oh that!' she laughs. 'I did it because I was so glad to return to Nepal.'
(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)