CHAT A cross-cultural phenomenon, Lisa Ray says she’s happy being who she is and that one doesn’t have to be labelled by a place
It takes courage to talk about your past. More so if you are from the world of glamour — an actor, a model constantly in the limelight — and rated as one of the most beautiful women in the world. And, Lisa Ray has shown us how.
In 2009, at the Toronto International Film Festival, Lisa Ray announced she was diagnosed with cancer (multiple myeloma). Hers is a story many women have followed since, especially on her blog, The Yellow Diaries . “The red carpet is all about being perfect. My announcement there was about rebellion… to be there when I wasn’t feeling like the ideal,” says Lisa on her decision to go public with her diagnosis, and that too at such an event. “It was because it provided such a striking contrast to me at that time — my physicality was so changed, but I kept thinking, ‘have I changed as a person?’ It was also my way of deconstructing the business (of the glamour industry) for myself,” says the 40-year-old stunner. About her two-month-old marriage to Jason Dehni, she says, “So far so good… He’s been treating me rather well because he knows otherwise there are a lot of Indians out there who are going to catch him,” she laughs. Her full name is Lisa Rani Ray. “Yes, Rani’s my middle name… my father calls me Lisa Rani, (director) Deepa Mehta called me Lisa Rani on the sets of Water without knowing it was my full name. I realised that in my new phase of life, this name is quite befitting.”
Lisa has always considered herself a cross-cultural phenomenon, being born and raised in Canada by an Indian-Bengali father and a Polish mother. But both India and Canada have left no stone unturned in claiming Lisa as their own. “I did struggle with identity politics while growing up. I identify with India and when I travel abroad I identify myself as Indian, and I love explaining Indian culture to others. However, I feel you don’t have to be labelled by a place. Today, almost everyone is a global entity. I’m comfortable with who I am.”
And on her website, she describes herself as ‘Accidental actress. Covert Social Activist. Snowleopardini’. The first refers to her being “discovered” by a modelling agent when she was 16 and holidaying in India with her parents — a magazine cover in a swimsuit and an ad campaign later, India flooded her with offers; she did a few Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil films. But she was choosy and did a few films here, a few in Canada, but mostly stuck to small international arthouse productions.
The second phrase refers to her second lease of life, where during and post cancer treatment, she’s been raising awareness and funds through a campaign — a shampoo ad also persuades women to donate hair to make wigs for those with cancer. And the third? “Oh that’s just a name,” she says dismissively. “People give each other names! Someone gave me that name,” she says. Lisa was part of the modelling and acting scene in India in the 1990s. Did Bollywood at that time expect her to play just a glamorous heroine? “Yes and no… the 1990s was a very different time. It was a more intimate industry; now it’s more transactional in nature. People in the fashion industry that I worked with closely recognised me for being more than just a pretty face. We created the industry, you know, where models became actors… and I’m not saying it egotistically. There were no stylists, we didn’t have agents… we had to be creative on our own. But I just didn’t want to be slotted as a conventional heroine. I’m blessed to be embraced by India.”
On the cusp of 2013, Lisa has a lot going for her — in Canada she’s hosting Season Three of the popular TV series Top Chef. She’s working on her book; a memoir. She’s partnering with Indian design house Satya Paul to present an exclusive line of cocktail saris inspired by her wedding trousseau.
“And I have a husband to run back home to now,” she says.
I identify with India and when I travel abroad I identify myself
as Indian, and I love explaining Indian culture to others.
I’m comfortable with who I am