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HomeEntertainment'Heeramandi' actor Manisha Koirala opens up about 'sexism' in Bollywood in 90s

‘Heeramandi’ actor Manisha Koirala opens up about ‘sexism’ in Bollywood in 90s


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Manisha Koirala, celebrated for her powerful performances and recent role in the Netflix series Heeramandi, has bravely shared her challenges in the film industry during the 90s. In a candid interview with Filmfare, Koirala discussed the pressures she experienced to conceal aspects of her personal life, such as her alcohol consumption and relationships, and the stark double standards that existed for male and female actors at the time.

Koirala highlighted the double standards prevalent in Bollywood during her heyday. Male actors were often celebrated for their ‘machismo’ and ‘romantic exploits,’ while actresses were expected to maintain a pristine, untouched image. “In those days,” Koirala recalled, “heroes could have many girlfriends and be ‘macho’, but actresses had to uphold this ‘untouched’ image. It was a warped value system that I couldn’t reconcile with.”

She expressed her dismay at the unfair expectations placed on actresses, emphasizing her commitment to professionalism despite her personal life choices. “Just because I have a boyfriend doesn’t mean I can’t excel in my career,” she asserted. “I lead my life on my own terms.”


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Reflecting on her experiences, Koirala revealed how she was pressured to hide her personal life, including her alcohol consumption and relationships. She recounted an incident from the time of her film Saudagar, where she was advised to disguise her vodka as coke. “I learned that new thing,” she chuckled, “but my mother set me straight. She told me, ‘If you’re drinking vodka, say you’re drinking vodka. Don’t lie for such small things.”

In her interview, Koirala also shared an encounter with a male photographer who pressured her to wear a bikini for a photoshoot. She recounted, “Very early on in my career I was asked to go and take photographs, and there was this very famous photographer. I went with my mom, and initially, that photographer said things like, ‘You are the next superstar and this and that.’ Cut to him bringing a two-piece bikini to me and asking me to wear it. I told him, ‘Sir, I wear this when I go to the beach or for a swim, but if this is the way I have to get into the movies, I don’t want it, and I am not wearing that.’”

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Koirala stood her ground and refused to conform to the photographer’s demands. She told him, “I told him either you shoot me fully clothed otherwise I am… ‘ I remember he gave me a big dialogue. He said, ‘Jo mitti pighalne se sharmati ho uske murti kaise banaye (The clay that refuses to melt, how do I make a statue from it).’ I have not forgotten that.

That’s how the mentality was of some of the people, not everybody. The same person did photograph me when I was a big celebrity and said, ‘Oh, I knew you were going to be a big star. Not to be mean to the person, but their conscience level was that. Their exposure was that, so they behaved like that.’”

Manisha Koirala’s acting career has been marked by numerous acclaimed performances. She started with a Nepali romantic-drama “Pheri Bhetaula” and made her Bollywood debut in Subhash Ghai’s “Saudagar” (1991). She went on to star in popular Indian films such as “1942: A Love Story” (1994), “Bombay” (1995), “Dil Se..” (1998), and “Company” (2002). After a brief hiatus, she returned with the anthology film “Lust Stories” (2018) and also played Nargis Dutt in “Sanju” (2018). Her recent role in “Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar” (2024) has garnered critical acclaim.

Koirala’s reflections resonate with broader conversations about gender inequality in Bollywood and beyond.


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