The 2019 edition of ZEE Jaipur Literature has been on full swing at the British Library.
On Sunday, cancer-Survivor and acclaimed Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala and film critic Nasreen Munni Kabir joined Sanjoy K. Roy on-stage to discuss the autobiographical book Healed: How Cancer Gave Me a new life.
The conversation titled The Healing: Of Bollywood and Beyond was an inspiration to readers suffering from the illness, as well as documenting key experiences in Koirala’s life journey.
Filme Shilmy exhibits the main highlights of this poignant, yet thought-provoking discussion.
Breaking into Bollywood: A Brief Talk on the Beginning
In the beginning, Manisha explains how she left shooting for an Indie American film to attend this wonderful event.
During the discourse, Nasreen Munni Kabir discussed Manisha’s trajectory as an actor and how her roles were of “grace and dignity.”
The familial reaction was not very positive, but her grandmother encouraged her to pursue her acting career.
Film journalist Meena Iyer really helped her.
It was quite emotional as she mentioned how the mother abandoned her and how recently she has reconciled with her… An incident which is documented in her book.
In her initial days, she spoke about how she was approached for Boney Kapoor’s Prem and Randhir Kapoor’s Henna before she received her debut in Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar.
Nasreen Munni Kabir opined on her journey, especially on her ability to portray a mysterious character:
“She had a sparkle that was required. She played characters which you can relate with.
They were the best directors who chose Manisha. It is the director’s eye who catches the talent.”
She gave Mani Ratnam as an example.
Koirala further revealed that she was about to say no to Mani Ratnam for Bombay because she felt apprehensive about doing a mother role.
The conversation then presented her view on superstardom:
“I was too busy to fathom it. It’s now when I look back I realise it does take a toll on your brain because you’re too young. But yes, it affects you. These things slowly seep in.”
Coming to Terms with Ovarian Cancer
To our surprise, Manisha came to terms with her superstardom at a time when she was staring death in the face. She explained:
“One of the most profound experiences for me was cancer. It forced me to reflect on my life. You can’t sugar-coat it.
When I started reflecting I realised how marvellous and slowly I took it for granted.
When I faced death, that’s when I thought that if I had a second life, what would I do? At that point, I realised that I need to be grateful and work harder.”
Her writing was evocative about returning to Kathmandu after the first test was revealed about the cancer diagnosis. “That was the longest day of my life.
After doing a series of tests and waiting for my results, I started noticing that all my extended family were coming rather than the immediate members. I kept wondering why they were there.
The doctor is a family friend. He had tears in his eyes and then he broke the news to me. I didn’t know how to react or feel.
After the diagnosis we got a second opinion in Mumbai we were hoping that it would be wrong, but it wasn’t.
Eventually, it hit me that I had late-stage Ovarian cancer, which is when I rang family/friends to go to New York.”
But despite the initial positivity, there was still apprehension of curing her cancer:
“My doctors and Nurses kept telling me that it can be treated, though I didn’t believe it.
My surgeon in New York Even was initially optimistic but became concerned after he realised that cancer had spread.
Three years after being cancer-free I went back, he said I’d have to wait 10 years more. I stopped living in fear. No matter how long I live for, I will live it freely.”
When She Felt Inspired to Write her Book
There was a short pause, during which Manisha got quite teary-eyed.
“I hated seeing pity in people’s eyes. But I saw a different aspect of humanity. People were encouraging.
Slowly, I noticed that people were compassionate about me to recover. That’s when I realised the world is not very a bad place.”
Breaking the culture of silence regarding the illness. “I waited for six years until I was on good grounds and healthy.
I kept a lot of notes but waited until I gained confidence. I want the book to motivate and give hope to people who have gone through what I have.
Nowadays people are coming out and sharing their story. Society has evolved and people are educated to accept it.
We need to change the narrative and encourage people to share their stories.
We shouldn’t be scared of speaking out.”
The talk explores how realism and thought-provoking films are gaining more prominence.
In which, Manisha, Nasreen and the actress herself concluded the discussion on the chat on a light-hearted note:
“When I’m doing movies now, I tell my director that I come from the era of melodrama. So I need guidance (laughs).”
The discussion followed a brief but insightful Q&A session involving the audience.
If anything, the chat left us feeling moved and inspired to fight every hurdle with optimism and courage.
It taught us no matter how high a mountain is, the almighty always gives us the strength to climb it and overcome our deepest fears.