Lights Will Guide You Home

Lisa Ray cap­tured our hearts in the 1990s, bat­tled can­cer in the 2000s and is back to change the game. This Di­wali, it's a time for re­birth, re­mem­brances, and a brand new story

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - FRONT PAGE - by Veenu Singh veenus@hin­dus­tan­ Fol­low @VeenuSingh12 on Twit­ter

In this Di­wali spe­cial, the gor­geous Lisa Ray talks about find­ing rays of hope and what the fes­tiv­i­ties mean to her

S tand­ing in a white-and-peach ge­or­gette Man­ish Mal­ho­tra sari, glow­ing like a diya, Lisa Ray is all set for a Di­wali to re­mem­ber. But it isn’t even Di­wali yet. In her gor­geous new Ban­dra apart­ment (Mum­baikars, the space will make your jaws drop; Dil­li­walas, its sparse sim­plic­ity will make you want to redec­o­rate, ev­ery­one else, it’s so Lisa Ray!) she's merely get­ting ready for the Brunch cover shoot. And even then, the model and ac­tress looks like she could make a fes­ti­val ar­rive early.

It’s go­ing like clock­work. “I’ve been do­ing this for more than 25 years, you know?” Ray says by way of ex­pla­na­tion. And we do know. Only too well. The 43-year-old half-Ben­gali, half-Pol­ish, browneyed, Toronto-born model has been smil­ing at us from posters, bill­boards, TV shows, mag­a­zines and soap cases (re­mem­ber those white bars of Evita?) ever since she de­buted in a Bom­bay Dye­ing ad in the 1990s.

Ray, pos­ing in a high-cut black swimsuit with Karan Kapoor, was just a teenager then. She hoped to be­come a jour­nal­ist. But In­dia was just start­ing to get a taste of eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion. For many, the in­ter­na­tional face and In­dian con­nec­tion (and those eyes!) were the very em­bod­i­ment of how we wanted In­dia to be seen.

That ad led to a cover shoot for Gladrags mag­a­zine. Ray wore a red Bay­watch- style swimsuit, and that in turn led to more mag­a­zine ap­pear­ances, mod­el­ling as­sign­ments, a mu­sic video for the late Nus­rat Fateh Ali Khan’s Aafreen Aafreen, and even an as­sign­ment to an­chor a TV show.

Grow­ing Up With In­dia

Whether it’s a pho­to­shoot, or life in gen­eral, it’s safe to say that Lisa Ray has al­ways fol­lowed the light. And with Di­wali com­ing around, it’s no sur­prise that she’s ex­cited. “Apart from dec­o­rat­ing my new flat with diyas, can­dles, and ran­goli, I will also buy gifts for ev­ery­one in my life,” says Ray.

Her plans en­com­pass two ci­ties: Mum­bai and Hong Kong, where her hus­band of three years, man­age­ment con­sul­tant Ja­son Dehni, is based. Flit­ting within Asia ac­tu­ally seems like the more set­tled op­tion. Ray has di­vided her time be­tween con­ti­nents, and in her avatar as a film ac­tress, trav­elled far more.

Bol­ly­wood came call­ing soon af­ter her mod­el­ling suc­cess. She hit the big screen in 2000, in the for­get­table mur­der mys­tery Ka­soor, but it wasn’t un­til two years later that

I have just cel­e­bratedd my third wed­ding an­niver­sary and in­stead of or­der­ing flow­ers, my hus­bandd flew from Hong Kong to de­liver them per­son­ally

her big break ar­rived.

In 2002, film­maker Deepa Me­hta cast Ray in the hit ro­man­tic com­edy Bol­ly­wood Hol­ly­wood op­po­site Rahul Khanna. For an In­dia that was learn­ing to laugh at its own stereo­types, Lisa Ray was once again the poster-girl for the chang­ing na­tion: Western­ised, In­dian, and great fun.

Her por­trayal of a young widow in Deepa Me­hta’s Wa­ter in 2005 showed good signs of the way her ca­reer could go, but in­stead of re­turn­ing to Bol­ly­wood, Ray de­cided to move back to Toronto where she starred in a slew of films and TV shows. In­dia, and Ray, it seemed had moved on.

A Dif­fer­ent Turn

In 2009, Ray was di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple myeloma, a rare kind of can­cer, con­sid­ered in­cur­able. Wellmean­ing industry ex­perts asked her to keep it quiet. She went though bouts of anx­i­ety her­self. But some­where, the woman who’d stood for change de­cided to change her story. She went pub­lic with news of her dis­ease and bat­tled it head on – go­ing bald from chemo­ther­apy but fac­ing the cam­era with a courage not many 100-crore ac­tresses would likely show. Af­ter un­der­go­ing a stem cell trans­plant, Ray was de­clared can­cer free in 2010.

Ray says she’d al­ways in­tended to re­turn to Mum­bai, not only to work and be with her close friends, but also to be an in­spi­ra­tion to other vic­tims of the dis­ease. “It’s a kind of per­sonal ex­per­i­ment, says Ray. “I’m 43, and the fact thatat I can work in In­dia post can­cer is a strong mes­sage for women andd can­cer sur­vivors.”

The Yel­low Diaries, her blog about her fight against can­cer, be­came a huge suc­cess. A book that touches on her life ex­pe­ri­ences and strug­gles will be pub­lished by Harper Collins soon. “I talk all the time about my can­cer ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ray says. “I be­lieve in shar­ing openly. This of­fers hope and sup­port to oth­ers go­ing through the ill­ness. Fight­ing can­cer is tough. Maybe one of the tough­est ex­pe­ri­ences you can have. But it doesn’t mean you can’t get through it. We are put here to live and love fiercely and to do our best. The rest is in God’s hands.”

Ris­ing From The Ashes

Back in Mum­bai, Ray is de­lighted that, at this stage in her life, she doesn’t have to take the first film she is of­fered. “I don’t have to work, but I choose to be in In­dia be­cause it’s an ex­cit­ing time, with new sto­ries in cin­ema,” she says. “Loads of fresh tal­ent and end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties. I’ve com­pleted two films: a ro­man­tic com­edy called Ishq For­ever, re­leas­ing in Jan­uary, and a thriller, Zah­hak. There’ll be new projects next year.”

In­dia has changed while she’s been away. Our films have changed too. “It’s a pos­i­tive evo­lu­tion,” Ray says. “The work ethic, bound scripts, start-to-fin­ish sched­ules, none of this was around in the late ’90s when I was here last. There’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment, but I think it’s worth­while to ac­knowl­edge how far things have come,” she says.

But while the industry has changed, the pro­duc­ers’ per­cep­tion of Ray has not. Abroad, Ray was seen as an ac­tor. Here, she’s still seen as a model and TV an­chor. “So in this in­nings, I’m look­ing to do some soul-sat­is­fy­ing and fun work,” she says.

Love, Pray, Cel­e­brate

And amidst it all, there's Hong Kong and a suc­cess­ful longdis­tance mar­riage. “I have just cel­e­brated my third wed­ding an­niver­sary and in­stead of or­der­ing flow­ers, my hus­band flew down to de­liver them per­son­ally. That is the sort of re­la­tion­ship we have. We are both strong, in­de­pen­dent in­di­vid­u­als who are busy in our re­spec­tive worlds. We miss each other, and we don’t go more­mor than three weeks with­out one or the other fly­ing to Mum­bai or Hong Kong,” says Ray.

It was Dehni who en­cour­aged Ray to work full time in In­dia again. “He knows how im­por­tant In­dia is to me. My mar­riage has not chained me, it’s given me wings.” Ray will cel­e­brate her Di­wali in Hong Kong with her hus­band. “I will taket a morn­ing to med­i­tate anda ex­press grat­i­tude for my re­birthr and all that I have in my life,l and set in­ten­tions for the com­ingc year,” says Ray.

But will the cel­e­bra­tions in Hong Kong be as grand as theyth are in In­dia? “Di­wali is cel­e­brat­edce wher­ever there is an In­di­anIn com­mu­nity,” she laughs. An­dAn you just know, she’ll find her light,lig just as she al­ways has.

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