“My book is a result of intense soul-searching. I have plunged deep into the dark, bottomless pit of painful memories and woven a story out of them,” Manisha Koirala writes at the beginning of her book Healed. Over the next 21 chapters, the actor, true to her words, does precisely this. Co-written by Neelam Kumar, Healed is a deeply personal account of the actor’s struggle with cancer and her triumph over it. It is also a heartbreaking portrait of a once-upon-a-time superstar, narrated with disarming honesty.
Over a telephonic conversation, Koirala told indianexpress.com how cancer became a metaphor for all that was wrong in her life, and how that phase also triggered an introspection into her life, leading to revelations that helped her put her life back together.
Excerpts from the interview.
In the acknowledgement of your book, you write, “To you, dear reader. May you realize your limitless human potential and rekindle your inner spirit to face every challenge life throws at you.” Looking back now, do you view cancer as something that rekindled your inner spirit, or was it the challenge life threw at you?
There are a couple of things working here. Cancer definitely rekindled my spirit. It made me realise that every human being has the capacity to overcome a huge setback. Eventually, it depends on us. We can either sit back and think that life has been horrible or take charge of the situation and do what we think is best.
I have also been very lucky to have very intelligent people around me who compelled me to become the best version of myself. So, to answer your question, I think it has been a bit of both.
In the book, you write about your struggle with putting on weight, your dependency on alcohol, even your tendency to choose the wrong guy. Was this candour a deliberate style to hide nothing from the readers or was it for you to get closure?
All of it together. It served as closure, for sure. At the same time, writing this book helped me make sense of everything that was going on. So many incidents take place in our lives and since we do not understand why they happen, we leave them without any analysis. I wanted to analyse everything and go into the deeper layers. There were many things that had happened to me – things that disturbed my psychological sphere. I did not want to make the same mistakes repeatedly. We are human beings and we are flawed. I did not want my readers to feel cheated. I wanted to establish that bond of trust with them.
At the same time, writing the book was almost like confessing what I had done. It helped me move on in life.
In certain passages in the book, you write about how difficult it is for a female actor to look a certain way. Do you think the “pressure” is more now?
Absolutely. Looks matter a lot and it has always mattered. We always judge. I have not only been on the receiving end but I have also judged others. When I was looking like an alien, without any eyelashes and eyebrows after the treatment, I was worried about people comparing me to the way I used to look earlier. I feared they would judge me based on how I looked. My biggest fear was to see pity in their eyes. I tried to cover my fears and apprehensions up as much as possible. I would smile but I would shy away from looking at people’s eyes. I mostly stayed in my own shell.
Was the response different from what you had feared?
Absolutely. The whole episode was an eye-opener for me. I remember my first encounter was with Hrithik (Roshan). He was very kind, sweet and nice. He did not judge at all and was extremely encouraging. There were others too who visited me at my Bombay home and constantly encouraged me. I slowly started walking but I would still keep my head down. But when people started recognising me, they actually encouraged me. I started seeing that people were not that unkind. They were encouraging, smiling at me, reminding me how brave I was. I received a lot of warmth. I saw a beautiful side of humanity.
Has the way you look at Bollywood now changed? And do you choose your movies differently now?
Yes, it has definitely changed. I feel that while choosing a movie now, it is important for me to get the feeling and vibe that I am going to enjoy the process with the director, my co-actors, the script. My days and living hours are precious to me. If it is a stressful job, I will move away from it.
I am seeking for more nuances and layers. Interesting characters and interesting roles are what I am looking for.
In the book you write, “I had become my own roadway. I had become my own destination.” You have evidently traversed a journey and come to your own conclusion. Are you healed now?
I think the title of the book does not only suggest healing through cancer. The condition, for me, had become a metaphor for everything that was wrong with my life. It referred to my emotional stress, my confidence level. I wanted to be a complete person and realised that the well-being of mental health is extremely important in achieving that. Healing has to be done in totality, in every sphere.
Being diagnosed with cancer helped me identify all that was wrong in my life. It also helped me search for the solutions. I discovered self-love, I learned to prioritise myself over others and, most importantly, realised that I had to love myself first before somebody else loves me.
The doctors will take another four years to tell me I am cured. But if you ask me whether I am healed or not, then I will tell you, yes I am. I am not waiting for the doctors to tell me that anymore.