Money, name, fame and a string of hits—I had it all. I had friends whom I could party with at any time and awards that were coveted by many. It was a life only the chosen few get to live.
But even though the world was at my feet, something strange began happening to me. I soon started feeling the misery of existence. I became wretched.
I think it was during the shooting of Laawaris, which released in 1999, that I felt the pressure getting to me. I had been working non-stop till then. I confided in Dimple Kapadia that I was tired of this routine of getting up, putting on makeup, going out for location shooting, returning home exhausted and being constantly ‘on the go’.
Without my realizing it, my life went into a downward spiral. I quickly lost interest in the privileges that were being bestowed on me. I became bored and disinterested in life. The pressure of performing so many roles, of expressing so many emotions every single day, began to vex me. I became a robot— instantly donning another persona at the snap of ‘Lights, Camera, Action’.
I became tired of the relentless pattern of my days—wake up, shower, put on make-up, work, come home, remove makeup, sleep. I think I felt the final snap at the point I was acting in twelve films in a year. The pressure was too much. The burden began seeping into my bones; the complexities of my characters began gnawing at my soul. There was no holiday, no time to watch the clear blue skies and golden beaches. Just constant trips to the film set and the hotel.
I remember how resentful I had felt when I had gone for a shoot in Australia. I wanted to immerse myself in the timelessness of the Great Barrier Reef, the MacKenzie Falls, the Kakadu National Park and the stunning landscapes. I wished to run outdoors to explore the bushwalking trails and soak in the beauty of the Blue Mountains. For I hail from the mountains myself and have been an ardent nature lover all my life.
To take my mind off shoots, to numb myself, I started drinking. If I was on a diet, it would be vodka. I remember my ex-boyfriend once telling me that I had no sense of balance. He said, ‘You are a workaholic. You either work hard or party hard. Where is your sense of balance?’
Of course I was aware that I had a tendency to go overboard. Many people around me had tried to tell me that.
But the truth is that I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t appreciate my work. I simply didn’t like it. Somewhere, in a contorted way, I began wilfully doing the wrong things. To spite myself, I chose the wrong films. I began feeding my ego.
I insisted on being the central character, even if it was in a B-grade film. At that point, I did not even care who the director was. Getting a central role mattered more than anything else.
My state of mind was toxic, my approach to life complacent and my attitude ungrateful. So here I was, reliving the past in my head in a hospital in New York, praying desperately that I would live.
‘I resorted to name-dropping. Mine!’
One night I needed a nurse urgently. I rang the bell several times to call the nurse on duty. I was anxious and the wait seemed endless.
This is no good. I need to think of a ploy.
To tell you the truth, with each passing day, I was becoming stronger. That is why my mind was clear enough to implement a strategy, and Bollywood came to my rescue.
The next day, when the morning-shift nurse arrived, I began making small talk with her—the light and breezy kind that connects one woman to another.
Shamelessly, I resorted to name-dropping. Mine!
‘Have you heard of India’s Bollywood?’ I asked the nurse as she pulled out and reapplied my wound dressing quite mechanically.
‘You mean in which they dance and sing? Ah, yes! I love watching those musicals.’
‘Well, I am a big star there, you know. I have done eighty films in Bollywood.’
She paused, mid-action. I could see a veil of admiration descending on her bored eyes. She looked at me with new eyes now.
She checked my vitals more attentively, smiled at me more and even placed the TV remote in my hands!
My heart rejoiced as I stroked the length and breadth of the TV remote. It had worked!
After that, I began dropping gems of information about my starry life on my attending nurses. The result? I would receive more sympathy and extra care from them. I could even ask for and become the privileged recipient of more heated blankets whenever I fancied them.
‘Really?’ the nurses would ask me. I would nod my head, trying to look important and yet being very matter-of-fact about it.
My clever plan had worked, but it drained my energy. I had to use the same strategy shift after shift.
‘Why don’t you Google me?’ I asked them, hoping they would give me more attention.
My fairy-tale introduction actually worked as an open sesame. They suddenly became curious about me and the enchanted life I had led. It opened the door to many deep conversations, surprisingly. We shared our joys, sorrows, concerns, fears and hopes and spoke about the situations we currently found ourselves in.
From a patient–nurse relationship, we graduated into one of woman to woman. I got into a first-name basis with each of them. We joked, laughed, prayed and kept track of what was going on in each other’s lives on a day-to-day basis. We discovered each other’s human side. The bonds between us became personal.
My head clearer now, I began noticing the flowers that would arrive in my room and told them stories about the people who had sent them. As I began to feel better, I also noticed the cards from fans, family and friends that arrived in the mail for me. The nurses would carefully prop them all up in neat arrangements in my room.
Grateful and delighted at this attention, I would say loudly to them: ‘Are they all beautiful? Any particular one stands out?’ It was a game we played happily each morning and afternoon.
Excerpted with permission from Healed, Manisha Koirala with Neelam Kumar, Penguin Random House India.