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    Feb 2010


    Default Shocked, inconsolable Manisha Koirala cancels birthday party for "mentor" Ashok Mehta

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    He was more than family to her. Manisha Koirala treated cinematographer Ashok Mehta as her mentor, guide and philosopher from the time she came to Mumbai to be an actress.

    In fact, Manisha emotionally attributes all the right moves in her career to Ashok Mehta and all the blunders to herself.

    No wonder she cancelled the sit-in dinner at her home for her 42nd birthday on Wednesday night, personally calling up all the guests to say a party at a time when she had lost someone so precious, was impossible.

    “And they understood. Never in my entire life have I had a party on my birthday, and now I never will. Every birthday I’d be reminded of Ashokji’s going away. It was supposed to be my first full-fledged birthday party. I had personally invited around 40 of my dearest friends. Little did we know that my mentor would be gone just hours before my birthday. When I heard of his death there was no question of a party. I rushed to Ashokji’s,” says Manisha on her birthday on Thursday, barely able to contain her grief.

    Her voice down to a whisper Manisha continues, “I can’t explain what Ashokji meant to me. I am what I am because of him. He did the cinematography of my first film Saudagar. From then on Ashokji was my guide, mentor and philosopher. I have to say he contributed a lot to my career. I was clueless about the film industry. So when Mani Ratnam had asked me to come to Chennai to do a screen-test for Bombay I refused. Yes, I didn’t know much about Mani Ratnam except that he had made a film called Roja. If it wasn’t for Ashokji I wouldn’t have done Bombay. I was like, ‘Why should I do a look-test….Why should I play a mother to twin boys? …And why should I work for so little money? So many people advised me not to do it. Ashokji fired the hell out of me. He told me about Mani’s greatness and literally packed me off to Chennai. He taught me, ‘Beta, zindagi main paise hi sab kuch nahin hote hain.’ From then on we had a pact. If I didn’t know what to do I only had to ask Ashokji. I did good films because he guided me. I was young, kaan ka kachcha, impulsive. Ashokji held my hand and guided me. No wonder I feel bereft.”

    When Ashok Mehta directed his first feature film Moksha Manisha was the only natural choice for the lead.

    Reminisces the actress tearfully, “He narrated Moksha to me during Saudagar. It took him ten years to make it. I was close not just to Ashokji but also to his wife and family.”

    Manisha and Ashok Mehta were collaborating on a film on the life of Gautam Buddha.

    Reveals Manisha, “When I got the offer to direct a film on Gautam Buddha from Sri Lanka, the first thing I did was contact Ashokji. I didn’t even know that he was already diagnosed with cancer. He was so full of life. We got Samir Chanda as art director and Bhanu Athaiya for costumes. The entire day we’d be together doing sketches for the Buddha project, deciding on locations, etc. Not once did I get any inkling he was unwell. Four months back I got to know he was in hospital. I rushed to see him. I felt terrible. I had spent so much time with him and I didn’t know. He was a very brave man. He didn’t want anyone to know of his condition.”

    Manisha met Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra at Ashok Mehta’s house. “One month back Rakeysh had gone and given Ashokji a narration. Work was the only way to get Ashokji back. For a work-oriented man not being able to work was like death. I’ll always remember him as man of great spirit.”



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