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Bollywood's neglect saddened Manorama

Actress Manorama, who was known for her comic and negative roles, was bitter about Bollywood shunning her in her later years but would still say "god is great", says director Deepa Mehta.
By Subhash Jha | IANS, Mumbai
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2008 07:00 PM IST

Actress Manorama, who was known for her comic and negative roles, was bitter about Bollywood shunning her in her later years but would still say "god is great", says director Deepa Mehta.

Mehta was shocked when she got to know that Manorama had passed away on February 15.

"Is she really gone? I didn't even know. Nobody told me," Mehta told IANS.

"Manorama was so well-spoken, erudite and very intelligent. Sometimes she used to get bitter about how Bollywood shunned her in her later years. But most of the time she'd say, 'God is great. Deepa, never forget that'," she added.

The portly woman with exaggerated eyelashes and expressions was popularly known for roles like the wicked aunt in Seeta Aur Geeta, Ek Phool Do Maali and Do Kaliyan.

A casualty of Bollywood's heartlessness towards those who are seen as not useful to the entertainment business any more, Manorama's last celluloid work was for Mehta's Water, in which she played the leery and vulgar widow who heads a widows' ashram.

"What an amazing woman! She was so thrilled when she was recognised at the Kerala Film Festival in Thiruvananthapuram last year for her contribution to Indian cinema," Mehta said.

"She suffered a stroke about six months ago. My partner David Hamilton had gone to see her. I spoke to her last about four months ago. She was slurring a bit, but she said she felt much better. I took her word for it. And now, this...."

Interestingly, Manorama was the first and final choice to play Madhumati in Mehta's Water.

"We aborted Water in Varanasi. The entire cast changed. Only Manorama survived from the original cast. Five years later, she was on again... I'm so shocked... what a great trouper at that age! Such spirit. She shot at 40 degrees temperature in Sri Lanka. No joke for a woman her age," said Mehta who had originally cast Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das for the film.

However, she finally made it with Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, John Abraham and Sarala Kariyawasam.

Mehta said her daughter was very fond of the late actress.

"She was so lovely. My daughter Devyani really bonded well with her. Devyani was totally fascinated by Manorama's history, her half-Irish parentage and her beginnings in Bollywood as Baby Iris, then being a heroine in Lahore and then a vamp in Mumbai. It was fascinating!"

Mehta recalls a heart-warming incident with Manorama.

"After Water got truncated in Varanasi, I had gone to Mumbai. Manorama told me, 'You'd be happy to know I've got money to buy myself a second-hand Maruti car. And I've also got a driver. So rather than run around in three-wheelers I want you to have my car and driver whenever you're in Mumbai.' Can you believe this!

"During all this time no one in Mumbai has offered me a car and driver. She loved the chance of working in Water. That got her accolades. International audiences were shaken by her performance. They felt she was very organic. Very real."

Beginning as a child artiste in 1926, Manorama did nearly 150 films. She had slowed down considerably and was very much out of the groove, emerging once in a while as she did in Mahesh Bhatt's Junoon in 1992.

Bhatt told a poignant story of Manorama's impoverished state. "When Manorama was paid for her work, she sighed and said, 'Today I'll be able to take a bath'."

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