Photographs: Mike Cassese/Reuters Arthur J Pais In Toronto
"All my life is an open book," says Lisa Rani Ray in a soft voice as she talks about her work in the delightful satire Cooking with Stella, and her few month old fight against cancer.
"I have pretty well done what I said I would. I said years ago that I was not interested in doing films for the sake of being in the business. And I have been doing just that and I am very happy with my choices."
"And that is the reason I told about my cancer through my blog," she continues. "I update the blog, and I walk around everywhere as any other person would do."
She is no more her glamorous self, she has put on weight and her glasses make her look older than her 37 years. But Ray radiates uncommon warmth and optimism as she discusses her life now.
A reporter tells her about author Katherine Russell Rich (Dreaming in Hindi) who has been successfully fighting cancer for over two decades, and has also written a book, The Red Devil: A Memoir About Beating the Odds about her struggle.
"I would certainly want to meet with her," Ray, who lives in Toronto with fashion designer Paolo Zambaldi, says. "We need to have communities for people to share their progress and setbacks in fighting cancer "
'The Dirty Realist in me'
Photographs: Mike Cassese/Reuters
She suspected that something was wrong with her in late June, and when the diagnosis said she was suffering from a rare bone cancer, she did not spend any time crying over the revelation.
The diagnosis did not paralyze her, she said, but offered her strangely some comfort. The most important thing on her mind, she continued, was about starting the treatment.
Telling the world about her condition through the blog was also important to her, though it took her quite a few weeks to determine how exactly she was going to do it. Her admirers and acquaintances came to know her condition only in early September.
On her blog, she wrote that on hearing the diagnosis, 'I didn't react and I didn't cry. That's how I felt after the diagnosis: 'Ok, I've got The Cancer. The tough part is over.
'Myeloma is incurable... (but) I believe it can be cured... That's the Dirty Realist in me... I'm aiming for Full Remission... I am humbled and inspired.'
'I will have nothing to hide'
Ray, whose father is Hindu and mother Catholic, has been meditating and doing yoga for a long time, and she says she continues to do both, acquiring discipline and self confidence along the way.
Since she was preoccupied with the initial stages of chemotherapy, she had not seen Cooking With Stella, she said, adding that she was longing to be on the red carpet and watch the film with hundreds of fans.
It was one of the two dozen films that received a gala treatment at the Toronto International Film Festival last week. "This is my town, and I take as special pride in being part of this film," said Toronto-born Ray.
"I will have nothing to hide," she said, looking at a reporter peacefully through her spectacles. In another interview she admitted, 'I can swamp out, plump as I am, chewing out on a hot dog if I feel like it. I'm protected by a shield of honesty. I'm Myeloma Girl.'
In the new film, she plays a Canadian diplomat of Indian-Polish heritage (as she is in real life).
'Over the top films are not for me'
Photographs: Mike Cassese/Reuters
A few days after meeting with reporters, she joined the press day for the film directed by Dilip Mehta and later walked on the red carpet along with her co-artists Shriya Saran, McKellar and Seema Biswas. Not to forget Mehta; Ray considers him and his sister Deepa Mehta (who directed her in two films -- Bollywood/Hollywood and the Oscar-nominated Water) as her family.
Ray has acted in over half a dozen, independently made films, shot mostly in Canada. In the year 2001, she played the lead in Vikram Bhat's Kasoor but felt uncomfortable with Bollywood movie culture.
Three years ago, she told rediff.com that she certainly did not mind doing a Hindi film or two if they were made in Canada or America and she had in them the kind of parts Deepa Mehta had given her. She played a widow who takes her destiny in her own hands in Mehta's Water which grossed over $4.5 million in North America and is the highest grossing Hindi film in the region.
"I have nothing against good Bollywood films," she said . "But the over the top films are not for me."
It will be many months before Cooking with Stella is released. It is going to several film festivals in North America, South America and Europe in the next few months.
Lisa Ray is prepared to walk on many more red carpets and be at hand when the film opens in Toronto and North America in March. "I had fun then (shooting the film) and I have fun now seeing it embraced by fans."