India pays tribute to Nepali stars in Mumbai

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS
Sunday, January 16, 2011

KATHMANDU - India will celebrate its Republic Day here in a unique way this year, toasting maestros with Nepali roots who became legends in India such as artist Laxman Shrestha, Bollywood diva Manisha Koirala and singer Udit Narayan.

The Indian embassy in Kathmandu has commissioned a documentary, “Rainbow over Mumbai”, which pays tribute to seven Nepali legends in Mumbai. They also include low-profile stars like art director Anjan Gajurel and camera artist Basanta Karmacharya.

“Relations between India and Nepal are so old and close that at times, we take each other for granted,” says Apoorva Srivastava, spokesperson at the embassy. “There are almost 6-7 million Nepalis in India and many of them have made substantial contributions to India’s economy and culture. This is our small effort to express our appreciation.”

Journalist and documentary-maker Shekhar Kharel spent almost a year researching his subjects and then trying to meet them in Mumbai.

“While Manisha and Udit Narayan are household names in both India and Nepal, there are hundreds of other Nepalis whose accomplishments are known but not the people themselves,” says Kharel, who is also the Nepali translator of a biography of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the chief of Nepal’s Maoist party who led a 10-year guerrilla war.

“Because of their long stay and accomplishments in India, many people do not know of their Nepali roots, like danseuse Sitara Devi and jazz maestro Louis Banks. My documentary depicts seven journeys; unfortunately, not all the travellers are with us today.”

“Rainbow over Mumbai” commemorates Manohari Singh, who died last June at the age of 83 soon after he was interviewed. Singh, born in Hubli in West Bengal, was an acclaimed saxophone player whose fame in Bollywood however grew as the chief arranger of legendary music director R.D. Burman.

“Manohariji had worked with other legends like S.D. Burman, Salil Chowdhury and Shankar-Jaikishen,” says Kharel. “But his main work was with R.D. Burman. Last year, when Indian Idol paid a special tribute to the music director, Manohariji was on the show, introduced by Asha Bhonsle herself.”

It was a long journey from Siraha, a small district in Nepal’s Terai plains, to Mumbai but artist Laxman Shrestha made the odyssey to become one of the best-known artists of the post-M.F. Hussain generation.

“The presidential suite in the Taj in Mumbai, where American President Barack Obama stayed during his visit to India last year, displays four of Shrestha’s paintings,” Kharel says. “His abstracts have been bought by Hollywood producers. One continuous motif in Shrestha’s work, that indicates his roots in Nepal, the land of Mt. Everest and seven other highest Himalayan peaks, is mountains.”

Two men who established their mastery over the camera and made a name in India are Rakesh Shrestha, one of the ace glamour photographers in Mumbai today, and Basanta Karmacharya, who works with the difficult and bulky steady-cam. Karmacharya created a record with a 12-minute single shot in the TV soap “Sanjeevani”, a feat that could be unrivalled in the world.

Very few people are perhaps aware that rising Bollywood art director Anjan Gajurel, whose work includes “The Kabul Express”, also came from Nepal’s Terai, as did Udit Narayan. Udit and Manisha had similar beginnings - both sought to become actors in Nepal and then went to Mumbai.

While Udit Narayan discovered singing was his forte, Manisha became Bollywood’s reigning diva in the 1970s.

“She told me she didn’t have to struggle at all,” Kharel says. “Manisha, whose family is already well-known in Nepal and India because of their political contribution, started her glamour career in Nepal by modelling for a TV ad for Megha wool, shot by an uncle of hers. She was a college student then and the entry made her get the leading lady’s role in a Nepali film, ‘Pheri Bhetaula’ (We will meet again).”

The success made the adventurous granddaughter of Nepal’s first elected prime minister decide to try her luck in Bollywood straightaway and as luck would have it, she caught Bollywood director Subhash Ghai’s eye when he was looking for a fresh face for his film “Saudagar”.

“Manisha had her profile done by Laxman Shrestha and he showed her photographs to Ghai, who immediately liked them and agreed to try her out,” says Kharel. The rest is history.

Srivastava says the documentary will be premiered in Kathmandu in February. After that, the embassy plans to show it in India as well as commission more films on Indo-Nepal cultural links.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at

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