It was in 1991 when we saw Manisha Koirala flitting across the silver screen asking us sweetly, “Yeh ILU ILU kya hai, yeh ILU ILU?” And while we scratched our heads wondering what it meant, she explained it to us simply- “ILU ka matlab I love you!”
Three years later, after a few box office failures, she got the entire nation’s attention with her portrayal of Rajjo in 1942: A Love Story, a role which had been initially conceived keeping Madhuri Dixit in mind.
What followed were stellar performances in films such as Bombay (1995), Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995), AgniSakshi (1996), Khamoshi (1996) and Dil Se (1998) among others. In 2012 Koirala was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, an extremely painful journey which she has written about in her book. After undergoing surgery, chemotherapy and treatment, the actress was cancer free by mid 2014. She actively spreads awareness about the disease and recently starred in Sanju (2018) and the Netflix movie Lust Stories (2018).
We caught up with the 48-year-old actor to talk about her book, Healed: How Cancer Gave Me A New Life published by Penguin India.
You’ve said that while writing the book there were times when you thought you wouldn’t finish it due to some conflicting emotions you were facing.
The writing of this book has been a roller coaster ride. It is a detailed account of my traumatic experience. I really needed to sit with my pain and confront everything, which wasn’t easy. I went through mood swings and lots of stress – I’ve had two other friends helping me out and our equation became strained. Post that Neela Kumari eventually came and helped me finish the book. I had given up by that time and thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it.
The book had many drafts, and the first one was terrible! I would make my parents guinea pigs. I would ensure that they don’t move, making them sit for hours on end reading out loudly to them. I could see from their faces that they were bored, but I really wanted to get everything right!
How has cancer changed you as a person?
Cancer makes you realise that you will be dead one day. It’s so common seeing people dying and falling sick but we aren’t really ever able to comprehend it ourselves. The realisation that I am here for a certain period of time and will be gone after that made me value my time and life.
I was spending so much money and there was so much pain and struggle to become healthy and my family was in a lot of pain and agony. When you’re sick you actually realize how important health is. I deciding that I will be grateful for whatever I get in this life, give my best to whatever I take on and be light hearted but at the same time be committed.
You’ve mentioned that you’ve been unlucky in love, are you open to a relationship now?
I’ll be very careful about what kind of energy I’m inviting into my life and whether it’s going to be helpful for me or help me evolve as a person. And if I feel that it’ll be too much of hard work then I would prefer to be in my own space.
You’ve also spoken about your descent into alcohol addiction. How did that happen?
It seeped into my life and I did not realize that it would put my life upside down. The reason I’ve taken a chance to write this book openly and honestly and probably be ridiculed or judged harshly in the process, is because I feel I need to share my lessons. And if it’s tough then let it be tough because I want people to realize that it’s not really a great path. We start alcohol by thinking its helping, but that’s really not the solution.
In life, be it relationships or alcohol, we need to be the master of the situation and not the victim. My friends and family drink, my father drinks sometimes, so there’s no taboo as such. But you needs to know your limits so that you don’t flip and start going on a downhill journey.
It could happen because of anything- some people get into it due to pressure while others hit the bottle because of a heartbreak. It’s a high emotion and drama-packed life. Creative people are more emotionally charged so I am a super sensitive person. But the reason I’ve written about it is because it goes out there and also it’s a sort of closure for me- that this happened with me, the chapter has ended and now we move on.