There is a warm, fuzzy embrace of anticipation around Manisha Koirala’s upcoming film Dear Maya, directed by debutante Sunaina Bhatnagar. And it has little to do with the fact that it is the actress’s first release after six years. The 1990s movie star has emerged from a long battle with cancer and other personal crises. In the June 2 release, Koirala plays a recluse who is the subject of a thoughtless prank and then goes missing.

Considered one of the most beautiful actors of her generation, Koirala starred in decade-defining films by the likes of Subhash Ghai, Shekhar Kapur, Mani Ratnam, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Mansoor Khan. Despite a slew of unremarkable films and befuddling career decisions, Koirala is still remembered for her headline-generating personal life, the ability to dominate the screen even when paired with Shah Rukh Khan or Aamir Khan, and for convincingly portraying both a Bhansali heroine and a suicide bomber. Sounding ebullient and positive, Koirala spoke to about the art of flirting with the camera and why she is happy to choose parenthood over being married.

You have had a tumultuous few years away from the spotlight. What did it feel like to be back on the sets for ‘Dear Maya’?
I just wanted to do it right. I was unsure of myself and was very excited at the same time. I had rehearsed earlier, so it was okay, I guess. I think it was a scene with dogs. Maya Devi, my character has a few dogs. It was pretty scary actually.

Dear Maya (2017).

Even in some of your earliest films, you did not seem to care much for good or bad angles. What kind of a relationship have you had with the camera?
Early on, when I had just started my career, Shekhar Kapur was directing me for Dushmani. He told me, ‘Manisha, flirt with the camera.’ I had absolutely no clue what he was asking me to do. I was totally lost and unsure if I was doing it right or wrong. Over the years I began to understand what he really meant by that.

The relationship with the camera has evolved over the years. When I see myself on the screen now, I know how far I have come since then. Luckily, whatever confusion I have in my head does not show on my face. I love being in front of the camera, I love performing. I also get anxious and nervous while doing so.

So how have you evolved as an actress?
Earlier, I used to be a lot more spontaneous. My first takes were always my best takes. Over the years, I have become slightly more methodical. I come to a shoot more prepared. I guess it has also to do with the fact that the way the industry functions has also changed. I shot a short film with Dibakar Banerjee and he said, ‘Manisha, you are meant for the camera.’ It was extremely reassuring and encouraging to hear someone like him say that.

The song Uyire from Bombay (1995).

What is it about ‘Dear Maya’ that appealed to you?
Basically the whole concept of finding love and hope when everything is taken away from you. The idea that no matter how much hatred comes your way or heartbreak you suffer, you should not lose hope because you never know what happens next in life – that struck a chord with me. It is a beautiful film.

‘Dear Maya’ is an indie film. You are also doing Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanjay Dutt biopic, playing Nargis Dutt. Two films on two very different scales.
At the end of the day, the film matters. And no matter what the scale is, the intention has to be to make a good film, give it priority over everything else. In Dear Maya, for instance, it is a young, new team. Almost everyone’s first project. And everyone has been working hard on it.

These days, even if you are doing a big budget film with a lot of support available to you, you cannot afford to give it your 30 or 70%. You have to give it 100% or more. These are competitive times and everyone has upped their ante.

How much of Maya’s body language and styling is your idea?
It is difficult to demarcate between the director’s vision and my interpretation. Sunaina is the creator of the character. She knew the character thoroughly. I had to understand her perspective and fit into the mould. I rehearsed with her. There was some give and take of ideas. We sat down with the stylist and the director and writer to discuss the look. We knew Maya would be this blob of cloth. You cannot see an inch of her figure line. She has been wearing the same clothes for 20 years.

You have been hailed as a survivor in more many ways than one. You have been giving motivational speeches too. Hasn’t anyone approached you to write a book?
Well, they have. And I did try to get started. But I realised I am not ready yet. Not now.

You are about to adopt a daughter. More and more celebrities are opting for parenthood over marriage or committed relationships.
Each unto their own. But I can say this for myself, I love being with a family. I love bonding with family. Being married or being in a committed relationship may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But having a family is always reassuring. And it is great to have a child as a part of your family, even if you are not in a relationship. I have always loved the idea of being surrounded by parents, siblings. These are the bonds I have cherished.

Manisha Koirala in Mann (1999).