You beat cancer in 2013. Did you wait for nearly six years for Healed: How Cancer Gave Me a New Life (written with Neelam Kumar) to be published because enough time had passed?
I always knew that I would be coming out with my book; I’d kept a diary and made lots of notes during my treatment. A part of me wanted to tell my story but another part of me was very scared of how I’ll feel returning to the darkest period of my life. Ideally I’d like to forget about my cancer ordeal and move on. So, this book comes from a lot of introspection, a lot of digging deep down inside, and examining a lot of pain, both physical and emotional.
I’m not great with language but I like to tell stories. I know the events and the emotional landscape. But I needed somebody gifted with words. Neelam and I met a while back, and she’d wanted to write my memoir with me. That didn’t work out because I don’t think I was ready for it. Cancer would have just been a part of it, whereas I wanted to write about what a catalyst it has been in my life, for change. I give Neelam a lot of credit for helping me tell my story. She’s a cancer survivor too, so she knew exactly what my experience had been like, what my fears were.
You’ve been very unsentimental in recounting those harrowing months, from the moment you were diagnosed, to liquidating your assets to pay for your treatment in New York; the pain of chemotherapy and watching your family suffer alongside you. Most of all, it seems that the cancer spurred you on to examine your life.
When I was being treated, I didn’t know whether I was going to live or die. If you read about people who are on their deathbed, you find that many of them have several regrets and wished that they could have lived their life differently. A similar thing happened to me: I thought that if I had a second chance at life, I’m going to correct a lot of things, and go about my life in a new way. And yet, I made a mistake, when I got into a new relationship during my treatment. That’s when I knew that enough is enough. The body is such an intelligent being and it constantly gives us information, and warnings about ourselves, that I had ignored for so long. So I had to search my soul, really try and understand myself, and try to honour my body and my life, even though I didn’t know how much of it was left.
You’ve been open about your struggles with alcohol in the book as well. Substance abuse is a well-known phenomenon in the industry but very few people have addressed it openly; Pooja Bhatt and you come to mind. Would you say it’s because Bollywood is an unforgiving place and this kind of information impacts careers?
I shy away from putting any kind of blame on the industry. I say this because, by nature, human beings steer clear from somebody who is troubled. In showbiz, so much depends on the image you’re carrying, but not much work is devoted to developing one’s own character and personality. I was apprehensive about how my honesty in this book will be received. There have been times in my career where I’ve wished I could have been clever, or more manipulative, or pretend like other people, so that I wouldn’t have been judged like I have been. But when I was writing, I knew that I would have to own up to my mistakes, and own my truth for it to be out there. Cancer has given me a little bit courage.
You were in two projects last year: Lust Stories and Sanju. You’re shooting for AR Rahman’s debut film as a producer-composer, 99 Songs. How have these experiences been?
Mr Rahman has been such an integral part of my roles in Bombay and Dil Se — I get goosebumps just thinking about the music of the films. I’m very excited about 99 Songs; this film’s treatment is very unique, and unlike anything I’ve done before. I can’t tell you much but I play somebody in a position of authority at an academic institution.
Are there any kinds of roles you’re actively pursuing?
I don’t want to use the term ‘meaningful’ to describe the work I am looking for, because what does that even mean. I want to give my 100 per cent to a role, the length of it doesn’t matter, the kind of character doesn’t matter either. I just want to work with a good script and a good director, and make good cinema.