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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Manisha Koirala: An Inspiring Discussion on Optimism, Survival & Stardom

Manisha Koirala is a name that is synonymous with beauty, grace, humility and courage.

Koirala is one of India’s leading film actors.

Born into the prominent Koirala family in Nepal, she made her Bollywood debut with Saudagar in 1991, before going on to establish herself as one of the leading actresses with films such as:

1942: A Love Story, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Bombay, Khamoshi: The Musical, Dil Se, Mann, Lajja and Company.

Last year, she returned to the celluloid after five-year hiatus with the coming-of-age drama Dear Maya, Netflix’s Lust Stories and Sanju.

But her credentials are not just limited to cinema.

She was appointed the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund in 1999 and 2015 and was involved in the relief work following the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

The actress promotes causes such as women’s rights, prevention of violence against women, prevention of human trafficking, and cancer awareness.

After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, she has been cancer-free since 2013 and her journey to recovery has been poignant and inspiring, to say the least.

Filme Shilmy speaks with Manisha at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival in London to discuss her book Healed and her inspiring journey of recovering from cancer.

Your book, ‘Healed’ aims to inspire readers suffering from illnesses like cancer. When was the moment you decided to write the autobiography?

Actually, this is not an autobiography, per se. It is just on my journey of dealing with cancer.

I do reflect on it back and forth… I do reflect on my childhood, but 80% of the book is about coming to terms with and recovering from cancer.

I decided to write my book when I was ill.

I thought the experiences I was going through was quite valuable and though I must share this with people.

Reflecting back, six-years-ago circumstances were completely different. What are some of the key things you’ve learnt after battling cancer?

First of all, I feel that this life is a blessing, a gift and we are actually on the driver’s seat.

We can go where we want to and how we want to live/travel.

The main thing that I’ve learnt is that we all must enjoy this life to its fullest.

We need to define what that means.

So, it’s about going deeper and deeper to understand what life is… How one wishes to live their life.

Rather than living as a victim, it’s important we live it as a victor.

We all have a choice.

At that point, what kept you most driven and motivated?

I have beautiful support from my family.

I like to call myself a ‘peaceful warrior’ I do not like to be defeated. I like to fight each struggle and come out of it stronger.

It is this strong will that kept me driven and motivated. But I also had the support of my family, without whom I wouldn’t have made it.

Besides the health aspect, what in particular has changed in your life post the recovery?

A lot has changed. I’ve started to value things which I used to take for granted.

I started to view life from a different perception and now I feel I’m living a more fulfilling life… More than I ever did before.

This is not only my story. Other people who have gone through a similar illness to this, who have faced death, they actually appreciate life much more.

Those people are more healthy and conscious, so I guess I’m one of them.

There have been several other Bollywood actors who have suffered severe illnesses and they were also resilient in fighting back. Did they ever speak to you about it?

I don’t really ‘guide’ anyone. It’s just that I’m there to support anybody if they require it.

For me, it was important to read about other people’s experiences, when I was diagnosed with cancer.

When I read Yuvraj Singh’s book about him openly speaking about dealing with the illness, it was a huge support, especially psychologically.

To know that somebody has come out of cancer and living a successful life was a huge moral support.

Even with Lisa Ray, I contacted her. I knew how important it was for me to listen to the healing and doing well.

I did reach out to Sonali (Bendre) and Irrfan (Khan). We are there to support each other.

Hindi films frequently showcase a terminal illness as a death sentence when this isn’t always the case. Why do you feel this has been on-going and how can it change?

I think people will not accept that anymore because audiences know real-life incidents more prominently than before.

Though before this (in terms of terminal illnesses as a death sentence) must’ve been the case.

However, now medical technology has evolved and doing a much better job.

Maybe if I had same cancer ten years back, perhaps I would not have survived.

Now that people are living after going through such serious illnesses prove that it does not always have to end in a tragedy.

Due to the surviving examples, the narratives will change with it too.

The evolving time will influence the stories we see.

After recovering, in what way (if at all) has this changed your perception in choosing the films you do?

I think I must have. When Sanju happened, Vidhu Vinod Chopra saw me and he said that something has changed you (in terms of the acting and performance), so I guess it must have.

But if the Manisha Koirala of today was to meet the young, aspirational actor from Nepal would probably say:

“Girl, you’ll go through a roller-coaster ride. But hang in there, it will all turn out well” (smiles).

Listen to our interview Podcast with Manisha Koirala here:


You’re in the second runnings of your career. What style of projects are you keen on doing?

The kind of projects that I’m looking for is something that I would really enjoy doing… Which I already am.

I have finished a couple of projects and I’m currently in between some.

Fortunately, I love the coming generation in cinema.

Not only just the actors but even the people behind the camera are just so talented. I feel privileged to be working with some of them.

I enjoy doing challenging roles and working with such gifted writers and directors, who will niche out and make something different than what we’ve been doing before.

Finally, how would you encourage other fatal illness survivors to openly speak about their ordeal as you have?

One of the main reasons why I told my story and wrote this book is to support people who are going through similar challenges that I did.

I wanted to support people who at times don’t have a ray of hope.

Once life is over, it’s over. Making peace with your own death is itself a process but before that, why not try making a success of your current life?

There is always hope.

I just wanted to say that YOU do YOUR best. Of course, the right doctor and treatment are necessary but the will power is very important in life.

So it is essential to stay positive, determined and never give up.

Undoubtedly, Manisha has proven the words ‘Kar Har Maidaan Fateh’.

Despite facing a tumultuous journey, she has faced every trial and tribulation with positivity and strength.

We can all learn and take a leaf out of Manisha Koirala’s book.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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