For Nepalese and Bollywood actor Manisha Koirala, battling ovarian cancer in 2012 proved to be just the wake-up call her life needed. An illustrious acting career aside, she also became the Goodwill Ambassador of United Nations Population Fund in 1999 and 2015.
For years now, she has been a forerunner in speaking for women’s rights and issues such as gender violence, human trafficking, and dealing with cancer and the stigma associated with the disease.
Breaking into Cinema
The 49-year-old hails from a family of renown politicians in Nepal - her grandfather Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala is the 22nd Prime Minister of Nepal while her father Prakash Koirala has held several ministerial positions in the country.
Having grown up in Nepal, Manisha made her debut in Nepali film Pheri Bhetaula (1989). In 1991, she stepped into Bollywood with Saudagar alongside veteran actors like Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar. And it wasn’t long before Manisha made her name in the Hindi film industry with films like 1942: A Love Story (1994), Khamoshi: The Musical (1996), Bombay (1995), Dil Se (1998), among many others.
In 2001, Nepal honoured her with the Order of Gorkha Dakshina Bahu, the second-highest civilian honour of the country. To sharpen her understanding of the film industry further, Manisha completed a diploma in filmmaking from New York University in 2004. Since then, she has produced low-budget films like Paisa Vasool (2004), which featured no male lead actors.
Remarkably, she has also acted in regional cinemas of India with Malayalam psychological drama Elektra (2010) and Tamil-language comedy film Mappillai (2011).
While the film industries in India is vast, Manisha has rightfully owned a big slice of the pie through her acting and filmmaking prowess.
The Cancer Crusader
“You see many people close to you suffering but it never quite occurs that it will happen to you,” Manisha had said about her cancer diagnosis in 2012.
The actor underwent treatment, including surgery and chemotherapy successfully in New York. She had a full recovery by mid-2014.
Forever greatful for second chance to life 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻gm friends.. this is an amazing life and a chance to live a happy& healthy one 💖💖💖 pic.twitter.com/LzCL25mWVc— Manisha Koirala (@mkoirala) December 1, 2019
Manisha has repeatedly said she has no bitterness about her cancer experience. In fact, she says it has made her happier and more content with life. Since then, she has been spreading awareness on the importance of taking care of one’s health, saying that she took her life for granted, neglected her health, and cancer taught her to value life and health.
Like most people who have won the battle against cancer, Manisha urges people to speak openly if something ails them.
“Try as hard as you can, but if it seems like a situation beyond repair, please do not suffer silently. Don’t let societal shame or pressure keep you tied to a situation. Ask for help. Reach out. If you keep on enduring it silently, your body will become a host to potential diseases,” Manisha wrote in Healed, which recounts her journey from facing failures, cancer to finding joy in life.
Manisha calls herself a cancer crusader, and says she has never been victimised by the disease. And true to the title, she has come back stronger than ever and inspires her followers to appreciate and be grateful for what life has to offer.
Life After Cancer
It would be a lie to say that cancer has not affected Manisha in her career. Her struggles have actually had a positive impact on her comebacks, marked with performances in critically acclaimed films like coming-of-age drama Dear Maya (2017), Netflix original Lust Stories (2018), and blockbuster biopic Sanju (2018).
7 years of being cancer free and in good health.. working to satisfy my hunger for creativity.. knowing giving back to the society which has bestowed so much of affection is not only a duty but is pure love .. HOW CAN I NOT BE NOT GRATEFUL 🙏🏻💖 #blessed #gratitude #ikikai pic.twitter.com/d78g6bFAkd— Manisha Koirala (@mkoirala) July 25, 2019
The veteran actor has made it clear that she is nowhere near done with the silver screen. “One or two good films a year are more than enough. I want to have a balanced life and travel the world. At some point, I would also like to write, direct, and continue acting for as long as I live,” she has said.
All along, she continues to tell people that cancer is not the end of the world. Drawing from her experiences, she has said that there is more optimism in dealing with the disease in the US than India, where cancer is often equated with death in people’s mind.
She is all slated to dazzle us next in AR Rahman's romantic musical 99 Songs, Netflix original Maska, and more.
As she continues to dominate the silver screen, it is amply clear that Manisha Koirala is here to inspire and change people’s perception around cancer realistically.