Back With a BANG
From hitting rock bottom to bouncing back stronger, hers is a story of rare courage and grit… In an absolutely heartwarming interview with ‘H&N’, Manisha Koirala bares all About fighting cancer, coping with divorce, making a comeback in Bollywood and more
She played the role of cancer-struck Nargis in the movie ‘Sanju’ quite convincingly. Perhaps, somewhere, she could relate to it herself. The shock of being diagnosed with cancer, the pain of the treatment, the uncertainty of it all… But today, it’s all behind her… Manisha Koirala, the Nepali beauty who mesmerized Indians with some splendid performances in the ‘90s, is back with a bang, after giving the dreadful ‘c’ word – cancer – a tough fight. She’s back in the movies too, wanting to better herself as an actress with each passing role. And if that’s not enough, she’s also an acclaimed motivational speaker inspiring people across the world with her life experiences and lessons.
Meeting Manisha We meet the 46-year-old at her beautifully done up house at Mumbai’s Yaari Road, a suburb home to many a Bollywood and TV star. Plenty of bougainvilla flowers and indoor plants adorn the living room of her 14th floor apartment. But what catches our eye is a big tree trunk decoratively placed right in the middle of the room giving you the illusion of being amidst nature. Antique wooden furniture and a wooden staircase leading up to the terrace lend the place a rustic feel, while the white curtains and sofas add serenity and calm. The big windows open out into the blue sky outside. Manisha’s home feels like a piece of heaven on earth. Dressed casually in a printed house robe with hair tied back, she welcomes us warmly into her abode. The doe eyes still sparkle, and the smile is as radiant as ever… We congratulate her on her brilliant comeback. Two releases in a month, Hindi biopic ‘Sanju’ and ‘Lust Stories’, a web series, and both performances much raved-about… “It was a happy surprise,” she smiles. And adds, “But I had done a good film last year called ‘Dear Maya’, which went unnoticed. After that, there was a lull. I had almost decided to go back to Nepal and do some gardening, renovate the house and look after the dogs, when suddenly these projects happened and I am back in the news!” the second coming While ‘Sanju’ saw her playing a mother who succumbs to cancer, in ‘Lust Stories’, she played an adulterous wife and was seen donning a swimsuit too, a first for Manisha. How did she play two contrasting roles simultaneously? “Honestly, I’m still old school and was not comfortable with my role in ‘Lust Stories’ but I trusted Dibakar, and liked his sensibility as a filmmaker. As for ‘Sanju’, I tried to focus on the spirit of Nargis Dutt. Though she had cancer, as a mother, she was so concerned about Sanju’s career, his life, and was always so full of love for him. I wanted to bring out that element of aliveness
in her. Both the roles slowly excited me.” Was she able to identify with the character of Nargis, having been there? She looks out into the sky from the window, and smiles and says, “Well, we both had a similar health crisis. There was also the fact that in front of our loved ones, we pretended to be fine but inside, it was a different story. So, yes, there were lots of things I could relate to.” Facing the dreaded ‘c’ Word Manisha’s own tryst with cancer started in the year 2012 when she was in Nepal with her family. She goes down memory lane and tells us, “Suddenly, I started having weird experiences. My stomach had started bloating and I would feel sick for long periods of time. A normal cough and cold that would be gone in three-four days would take two weeks. That felt very odd but I put it down to lifestyle, age, stress etc. But this continued for months and my stomach started bloating really badly and hurting too. When it became unbearable, I did a CT scan, which revealed that I had ovarian cancer, which had spread and was a late stage.” The devastating news changed everything… “It felt like I was tasting food for the last time, and seeing everything for the last time. Nothing can compare that feeling of everything being snatched away from you. So it’s quite a spot you’re in,” she says, laughing about it now. the Big Fight Begins – surgery, chemo & More The next thing she did was fly down to Mumbai, and when she was told by the doctors in Mumbai that she needed a complicated surgery, she decided to take off to New York straightaway. “My doctors clearly told me that it was not going to be an easy surgery. There was a possibility that I could be dead during the surgery. It was that bad,” she reminisces. “Then it struck me that a senior politician who had cancer was treated in New York, and so was a well-known sportsperson. My mother had a couple of friends in the US who
“Suddenly, I started having weird experiences. My stomach had started bloating and I would feel sick for long A periods of time. normal cough and be cold that would gone in three-four days would take two weeks.”
“It felt like I was tasting food for the last time, and seeing everything for the last time. Nothing can compare that feeling of everything being snatched away from you.”
were doctors. So, within a span of 24 hours, we decided to go to the US for the surgery. “By the grace of God, we got an appointment with the best surgeon in ovarian cancer there, and the surgery was done successfully. Soon, started the whole process of chemotherapy and amazingly, my body responded really well. The treatment was over but normally in the stage of cancer that I was in, I was told that it relapses within three years. Now, I knew I would live but didn’t know for how long.” Waking up to a new person – Making health priority She came back to Mumbai with a smile, but also realized that she had to make certain changes in her life now… And this change in perception brought about a whole host of amendments to make, especially where her health, diet and fitness were
concerned. “I started doing a lot of research on the internet. I became part of forums for cancer patients. I contacted survivors and asked them how they transformed their lives. I found out that all it needed was an attitude change - they were happier, invested a lot more in their families and contributed to society in different ways. “But I also realized that my lifestyle was totally unhealthy, so I had to work on that first. I consulted nutritionists Vijaya Venkat and Rachna Chachi. Rachna’s book ‘Restore’ on fighting inflammation in the body helped a great deal. I spoke to cricketer Yuvraj Singh and asked him what changes he made in his life. I read, read and read, and gathered enough information to start applying it on myself.”
Focusing on eMotional health While she was healing her body, Manisha also realized the importance of healing her mind and sought help from psychotherapist Eric Mistry. Today, she strongly recommends psychotherapy to all those who feel anxious and depressed. Explains she,
“I started doing a lot of research on the internet. I became part of forums for cancer patients. I contacted survivors and asked them how they transformed their lives.”
“There is a vast difference between a psychologist and psychotherapist. Psychotherapy is a far more spiritual process; it’s about discovering and navigating your inner world. Sadly, treating oneself for mental health is still looked down upon in our society. I was apprehensive too but once I started going for it, I understood that our body and mind are interlinked. It’s human tendency to cling onto pain a lot more than happiness. And if you’re disturbed in your mental body - are hurt and carrying that grudge for long - it will manifest in disease in your physical body. So, it became very clear to me that I had to be in a good, peaceful state of mind.” Then, in 2014, after almost a year-and-a-half of the surgery, she went to Oneness University, a spiritual healing centre in Chennai, and lived there for six months to further understand her inner self and heal. “It’s still work in progress but I know that I need to be mindful about the balance of my body, mind and spirit.
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Today, every day that I live, I’m grateful for living and watchful about my body. I know when my body is tired and needs sleep. Sleep is very important in healing as the cells rebuild themselves during sleep. So I make sure I get eight hours of sleep every day. I drink a lot of water. I say ‘no’ to alcohol and late nights. It’s all about knowing what’s right for your body,” she adds. So, how difficult was the process of turning over a new leaf and inculcating new habits? “It’s actually been the most joyful process,” she reveals. “I know my friends miss me at parties but they understand me. Like, for ‘Sanju’, I was the one who encouraged Raju (Hirani) to have a success party. So I go for parties and dance too but when it’s 11 p.m, it’s past bedtime as my bedtime is 9.30-10.00 p.m. So I start walking out when the caterers are coming in,” she adds with a laugh.
cancer-Free & gratitude-Full When three years passed, and there was no risk of a recurrence, Manisha was relieved. When another two years passed, she knew it was time to celebrate… “Today, when I look back, I’m grateful in some weird way because I’m really enjoying my life now. That jolt was actually a gift from the divine as my whole perception in life shifted. And even if I have to go someday, I won’t regret anything because at least after cancer, I know what living means,” she tells us. “We associate happiness with certain dreams and aspirations - once I have a Mercedes, big flat, big raise, I will be happy. But happiness is a frame of mind. You can be happy sitting here not having those things and be grateful if it comes and grateful if it doesn’t come too. That attitude change in me has made me full of gratitude for living. I don’t mull over
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