My bipolar, lesbian character is complex but pushes boundaries: Lisa Ray
Returning to Indian screens playing an actor who has problems both with her bipolar disorder as well as her sexuality, Lisa Ray is confident, aggressive and utterly natural. There are those who will forever think of her only as the girl from Nusrat Fateh Ali’s Afreen Afreen but then they haven’t read her soul-shattering memoir, Close to the Bone, where she writes in considerable detail about her cancer journey, or seen her performance in the second season of Rangita Pritish Nandy‘s Four More Shots Please (4MSP) where she returns as Samara, is-she-is-she-not lover of one of the four main leads, Umang Singh, played by Bani J. How did Ray negotiate the role, how is she handling the lockdown in Singapore where she has relocated, and what does she think of the world that awaits us post the Coronavirus. She tells Kaveree Bamzai in an exclusive interview for SheThePeople.
1. Playing an ageing superstar who is reluctant to come out as a lesbian and is bipolar. Not very easy was it? How did you prepare for the role?
First off, I was confident in the support and sensitivity of the entire team behind 4MSP is portraying Samara’s journey with sensitivity. I surrendered to Nupur Asthana’s direction and the fabulous writing of Devika Bhagat and Ishita Moitra. Rangita and Ishita met me before the formal script reading to share Samara’s emotional arc. I had so much confidence in the entire 4MSP team–including Bani–in realising this season’s storylines that I simply had to show up.
2. We so rarely show mental illness on screen. What were you conscious of that when you went into the role?
I was conscious of the fact that mental illness has not been adequately and sensitively explored on screen in India, so I felt it was incredibly empowering simply to reflect that on screen. However he frankly didn’t have a chance to deep dive into the topic and the depiction is not prescriptive obviously. But you could say broadly that self-love and self-care is a strong part of this season’s narrative–so taking time to heal is also an important topic to highlight.
3. Making Samara both tender, insecure, sometimes exploitative, always the star. Is it a problem sometimes to play a character who is on the borderline of likeability?
I like to take risks, sometimes they pan out, sometimes they don’t. But playing Samara in 4MSP was a unique opportunity to explore a complex character through the female gaze and in a female centric production. The Indian audience is finally accepting fallibility. And that’s always been the contextualisation of my life and experiences, so I think it’s an important leap forward
4. How are you coping with the lockdown in Singapore? How are you keeping your immunity up?
I’m an introvert, so self-isolation is my comfort zone. I’m also working on my next book for Harper Collins and on some level, this slower pace of existence is conducive to reflection and absorption. I’m also getting time with my daughters which is phenomenal–they came to the set a few times, but it’s obviously been challenging to be a working mom of twins. I have, like many of us, been very distressed by the plight of migrant workers and the most vulnerable in India, so I’ve tried to contribute–for instance supporting people providing relief on the ground in Chandigarh through my friend Neelam Mansingh–however I can from Singapore. I’ve also purchased a beautiful piece of art by Dhruvi Acharya, an artist I have admired for a long time and 50 per cent of the purchase will support relief in India during the corona crisis. I’ve also been writing articles on my experiences during this time for various publications. Immunity boosters: turmeric, a juice cleanse once a week, loads of reading and giggles with my family. Yoga and vino.
5. As a cancer survivor, you’ve had so much experience unfortunately of hospitals and doctors around the world. Do you think we all give adequate attention to healthcare? Or prepare adequately for living well/building our strengths?
I don’t think we give it a second thought until illness throws a shadow at our front door. It’s only natural. I do reflect that my health care experiences have softened this coronavirus blow for me. I accept that life is unpredictable and ever-changing. Health is also not only the absence of disease, but a strong and fortified immune system,, which we are discovering has as much to do with our mental state as physical.
6. Has the lockdown made you reconsider anything in your life?
That I really enjoy a solitary existence. I may never re-integrate (kidding! well, only slightly) I suppose I’ve struggled through the dark night of the soul in my cancer journey, but this unprecedented event has simply solidified my values: live humble and simple, invest in love and people, read a lot, laugh a lot, spend time in nature and with animals. Recognise how intrinsically we are connected and humble yourself before that. Be kind. Simple stuff. I am longing for a trip to the mountains when we are out of the coronavirus clutches.
7. What next on the workfront after such a fabulously complex Samara (the role in Four Shots Please!)?
Writing, writing and more writing. I’m awaiting the release of AR Rahman’s epic directorial debut 99 Songs, as I’m sure many others are. After that, I submit to the mercy and compassion of the universe. Humanity will keep getting challenged until we absorb the lessons we are called upon to learn. Until then, my priority is a deeply felt life in all its shades.