Imagine having a successful career as a model and actor in Bollywood and Hollywood with a life full of excitement and media attention. And then suddenly; being plunged from the limelight into the darkness. That was what happened to the beautiful Lisa Ray; but she refused to bow before her dreaded illness and came out a survivor and an inspiration to all cancer patients. Lisa’s real life story runs like a Bollywood plot. An internationally acclaimed performer, philanthropist and actor with a reputation for taking on challenging issue-oriented films, Lisa was raised in Canada by an Indian father and a Polish mother. While on vacation in India, she was discovered by the modelling world and went on to become not only one of the most successful cover models in India but also an acclaimed, award-winning actor who starred in Canada’s Oscar-nominated film Water.
Lisa Rani Ray is an Indo-Canadian actress, model, television host, philanthropist and social activist. She was born on 4th April 1972 in Toronto to a Bengali Hindu father and a Polish mother and grew up in the suburb of Etobicoke. She spent some time of her childhood at Shyambazar, Kolkata, West Bengal. She excelled academically, doing five years of high school in four, while attending three different high schools: Etobicoke Collegiate Institute, Richview Collegiate Institute, and Silverthorn Collegiate Institute. She spoke Polish to her maternal grandmother and watched movies of Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray with her cinephile dad.
Lisa came to public attention when she appeared in an advertisement for Bombay Dyeing wearing a high-cut black swimsuit in the 1990s, opposite Karan Kapoor. Subsequently, she returned to Canada to attend university to study journalism, but a car accident that injured her mother derailed those plans. Instead, she returned to India, where she appeared on the cover of Glad Rags wearing a red Baywatch-style swimsuit. The sensation that caused led to more magazine covers, spokesperson deals, and a job as host of her own show-business program. A Times of India poll named her the "ninth most beautiful woman of the millennium," the only model in the top ten. She also anchored the TV show 'Star Biz' on Star Movies, with actor / model Kelly Dorji. Lisa also appeared a music video for the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s 'Aafreen Aafreen', and then took an assignment to anchor a TV show.
After turning down a number of roles, Lisa made her Indian Film Industry début in 2001 with the Hindi film 'Kasoor', opposite Aftab Shivdasani, in which her voice was dubbed by Divya Dutta, because she could not speak Hindi. Her work in that film caught the eye of Deepa Mehta, who cast her opposite Rahul Khanna in the romantic Indian-Canadian romp 'Bollywood-Hollywood', in 2002. Realizing that acting was something that she wanted to pursue more seriously, she moved to London to concentrate on a career in the performing arts. While there, she studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama, The London Centre for Theatre Studies, The Desmond Jones school of Physical Theatre, and BADA. She graduated from the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA), in 2004, with a post-graduate degree in acting. While studying, she made a conscious effort to not accept any film offers until she had graduated. However, while still at ALRA, she received another call from Deepa Mehta, who made her an offer she simply could not refuse — the lead role of Kalyani in Mehta's highly controversial and much-anticipated feature 'Water' starring John Abraham and Seema Biswas. Therefore, in 2005, she worked again with Mehta, in one of her most acclaimed Oscar-nominated film 'Water', in which she spoke her lines in Hindi, although her voice was dubbed in the final cut. It is set in 1938 and explores the lives of widows at an ashram in Varanasi, India. The film is also the third and final instalment of Mehta's Elements trilogy. It was preceded by 'Fire' (1996) and 'Earth' (1998). Since then, Lisa has worked in many productions from Canada, Europe, and the United States.
During the summer of 2009, Lisa scanned for multiple myeloma (a type of cancer). "I knew something was wrong for a long time, but I was such a triple type A personality that nothing less than a diagnosis of cancer would have made me make the changes in life that were needed," says Lisa. She was in shock initially, which was followed by denial but she never lost hope and tried to transform the experience into something which could help others. "My father’s love and support were unconditional and overwhelming. He slept in my hospital room in a cot while I was going through my stem cell transplant. I owe this remarkable man everything," Lisa says. "I believe in the power of prayers," she emphasises. Lisa has a basic belief that life is for her; not against her. "I'm stubborn. It never occurred to me that I might die; however, I knew it was not going to be easy. I worked hard – using meditation, positive affirmations and healers to re-frame my cancer as an experience from which a lesson had to be learnt. I didn't think of it as a bout of bad karma or a death sentence," she says.
In July 2010, Lisa was finally declared a survivor. Beating myeloma isn't easy but it is possible, stressed Lisa then. Going through treatment was very tough at times but humour and writing helped. "And sometimes just crying and letting my grief out helped too," she adds. She also researched a lot about alternative therapies and approaches to healing as well as letting her grief out; all of which helped as well. When asked how she feels about beating cancer and bouncing back into her earlier avatar, Lisa says, "I simply feel more comfortable with myself. Work and validation is not important. I have always marched to my own tune. I think you have to look inside yourself to find your truth and passion. I love acting but it is not the be all and end all of my life. I love writing as well as entrepreneurial activities. Remember I've been working since I was 16 and it is very hard to have such a long career in this business. I think what I am doing right is making up my own rules as I go along," she says. "At times I feel I've packed several lifetimes of experiences into this current life, and perhaps I should take it easy now. But then there’s always something fresh to explore," she adds.
Later in October 2015, Lisa revealed that the cancer had not been fully cured. “I was diagnosed with blood cancer which is considered incurable and I am still living with this condition,” said Lisa with a smile on her face. Preferring to look at the positive side of life, Lisa who was talking at a breast cancer awareness initiative said: “Cancer has transformed my life in so many ways. I drew so much support from people all around the world especially India because I was open about my cancer diagnosis. It did make me very nervous before making public because I didn't know how people would react. But thankfully, I received great support,” she had said.
She is currently wearing many hats and living her life on her own terms. At present, she is juggling her yoga studio in Toronto, investing in properties around the world, renovating a home in Mumbai, working on an upcoming film and writing a column for DNA; besides modelling and giving inspirational talks entitled 'More Beautiful for Having Been Broken'. She’s also the global brand ambassador for Insight Vacations and promotes travel in India. Her national cancer campaign – Beauty Gives Back – has just been launched in Canada. Besides all this, Lisa has been doing a lot of awareness and fundraising for cancer patients in Canada over the last few years. However, she feels even more work needs to be done in India. "I'm speaking to several individuals about a Cancer Institute and we are formulating a vision first," she adds. Basically spreading awareness has become part of the fabric of her life. She sees it as paying it forward as so many people helped her during her treatment.
Lisa is also working on her book which is to be published by Harper Collins and touches on her life experiences. Describing her reason behind writing the book she says, "I believe I'm a writer at heart but it was my diagnosis that prompted me to write 'The Yellow Diaries' and that was so well received that I was offered this publishing deal." Writing, acting, travelling, Cancer Institute, spending time with her hubby in Hong Kong and babies are on Lisa’s future plans. Her advise to people is "Hope is available to all us at all points of our time. Whether it is cancer or any other difficulties what we have to understand is life is not a cakewalk."
Note: I am purposefully choosing an image of hers with short hair and just after the difficult procedure of stem cell transplant because I believe she looks really beautiful in this picture. More importantly, the beauty comes from the radiance of hope and strength that emanates from her face and not any kind of make-up.
Source: Wikipedia and Google search.