“There are two things that I absolutely detest; eyelash curlers and fake lashes,” Nisha Adhikari declares as a doll-faced makeup artist in front of her tries to glue on fake lashes to her already thick eyelashes. Unfortunately, for an actress, that is something that one cannot really avoid. Still, she bravely fingers the metallic device and carefully presses the curve onto her eyelashes for a few seconds before repeating the process on the other eye. When she is done, she looks up at me smiling through slightly red eyes. With her hair pinned in curls and alabaster skin, she reminds me of Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
We are gathered in a quaint hotel on the outskirts of town for a retro era inspired photo shoot. It has been roughly three hours since we began but the hair and lighting takes forever to finish. In the midst of the mayhem, with everyone bustling around on empty stomachs and preparing the set, Nisha chirps, “Buff momo kham na sabjana!” Music to everyone’s ears; we order the much-coveted dumplings and wait in warm anticipation.
“I don’t think Nepal is ready for a bikini round in Miss Nepal pageants,” she tells me, as I hound her with questions at every chance I get. “Though there is, in fact, a provision for a swimsuit round that happens with just a female instructor asking you to strut your stuff and pointing out your physical strengths and things you need to work on,” Adhikari explains, as she too first stepped into showbiz through beauty pageants.
The momos arrive. Everyone hurries to the carpeted floor to gorge on them. Somebody bought a lemon-scented cheesecake too, it seems. Nisha dips her spoon in and exclaims, “This is so good!” After a few more spoonfuls she is hit by a pang of guilt, “I really should not be eating this.” Everyone laughs.
“I do work out more now that I am back from Everest. People think mountaineering causes weight loss but in fact, having to eat up so much protein to get the required strength to climb actually results in a lot of weight gain,” she explains. She is clearly stressed by the pressure on big-screen personas to look good. “I didn’t work out much before, but now I do. I usually exercise at home.”
In between rounds of food, I ask her whether she ever thought that because she had started her career from Kanitpur TV’s sitcom Gharbeti Baa, people may not take her seriously as an actor. She replies thoughtfully, “Gharbeti Baa was created as a complete in-house production; the objective initially was to take people only from the network itself. So when I was approached for the project during my stint as a VJ, I took it as an opportunity and held on to it. It was a very comfortable home-away-from-home atmosphere with the crew and I never thought of it as something that may affect me later in a negative way. We would sit around, all of us, and come up with the script and dialogues and it was more fun than work. The serial has in no way discredited me professionally.”
Her hair comes out in ringlets as the pins are removed. Her lips are then painted blood red. It is a semi-nude shoot that has Adhikari cavorting in tasteful lingerie and fur coats. She makes a face as she fingers the negligee. “Isn’t this too flimsy?!” she admonishes the photographer. In the end, she settles for opaque black tights and a pair of gold spiked high heels and leans fur-clad near an open window. She poses suggestively while Lana Del Ray sings Born to Die in the background and I am taken to another era altogether. Everyone is silent and captivated and all that is heard is the timely sound of the camera shutter and the lights blinking in accordance when all of a sudden Nisha squeals, “Shit! Agadi ko bajai ta yehi herdai hunudo raicha!”
So, Nisha Adhikari is shy. How did she then agree to Soongava? Did she not worry about what her parents would think? “You would be surprised to know that the most non-judgmental of all my audiences were my parents,” she laughs. “They merely viewed it as a job that I did and nothing more. In fact, their lack of fury even surprised me because I did think I would get some amount of contradiction,” she says grinning. “But their outlook has inspired me to take on more challenging roles. Initially, the idea of falling in love with a woman was awkward. But if tomorrow a director asks me to fall in for a stray animal, I should be able to do that too, shouldn’t I?” she questions.
Nisha is being photographed amidst bed sheets and pillows now. There are all women here except the photographer himself. She is beautiful, with large liquid eyes squinting against the sunlight and cigarette smoke engulfing her features. I ask her if she gets approached by women too, particularly after her stint as a same-sex lover in Soongava.
“Soongava was one movie that took a lot of research on my part. I met someone who had openly come out about her sexuality and basically stuck to her for an entire month. I tried to copy her body language, her features, and the way she spoke and handled emotions. By the time I portrayed my character on-screen, people remarked that I had drastically changed and looked and behaved exactly like the character I was supposed to portray. It was flattering to know that I had transformed so well.” She continues, “Possibly because the transformation was believable, a lot of people from the LGBT community did start approaching me, but more as a confidante than anything else. Though it was just work for me, it had touched a few lives and that meant a lot so I tried my best to counsel them from my standpoint. I was grateful that they told me about their lives and hardships and a few even asked for guidance.”
Nisha has exchanged the black overcoat for a furry black and white one and is gazing impassioned at the lens now. Perhaps she is cold, after all it is the chilly start of winter and all the windows have been thrown open. A breeze rushes in and she falters for a moment. “Coffee?” she asks timidly. A French press is asked for while the make-up artist buzzes around Nisha retouching her makeup.
The make-up artist is a new mom and she talks of her child fondly. Nisha listens. She loves kids. In a while when the new mom introduces to us her child in person, Nisha is ecstatic. The child is a plump cherub with bunny ears and tiny feet. Nisha promptly makes her way across the room to hold the child as he makes an appearance. She fondles him and plants a ruby red kiss on his cheek while he grins cheekily. She tells the room, “I’d like a kid exactly like this cutie here except I don’t want to go through all that cutting-open-your-stomach hassle!” If only!
She holds on to the kid all the while sipping black coffee. If not for the scene playing before my eyes, I could not imagine her as a motherly figure at this age. Has she found love yet then? “I am not dating anyone at the moment. I have always been open about who I go out with. If I were in love I would tell you,” she smiles.
We are almost done now. Nisha lays on a white bed-sheet among empty coffee cups waiting to be photographed. She is giving the illusion of sadness in her photos that comes out beautifully. “Sad is the new sexy!” she winks at me. She asks to see her shots after every few frames and whistles at her own photos and high-fives her photographer friend. “Malai koi aama le afno chorra dinna aba ta!” she exclaims, motioning to her sizzling shoot. We laugh, but I doubt there would be a man (or woman) who could possibly resist her.
It is time for me to leave as a few last frames are being perfected. Before I leave, there is one last question I have to ask: What was it like at the top of the world?
She rolls her eyes whilst smirking. “Everyone I meet has asked me this question at least once. They expect me to say the scenery was breathtaking and I felt glorious at having conquered the giant. Yet, the irony is that once you do get to the top, you are so tired and dizzy that you are hardly breathing, let alone celebrating. All I remember is that once I was at the top, the first thing I did was hug my guide. The joy that a person bought you safe and sound to the top of the world and you had someone to share that elation with was more than enjoying the view alone.”
The photographer is asking her to turn her head a few degrees every shot. The last thing I glimpse before heading out is a thick-lashed ivory skinned girl looking forlorn after a bad romance. Nisha Adhikari is every bit the actress in every frame, every shot.