Model-turned-actor Sonali Bendre had an elaborate welcome in the Hindi film industry when she was 19. Playing the female lead in Aag (1994), she had the promise of being the best newcomer, and she soon delivered blockbuster films like Sarfarosh and Hum Saath Saath Hain (both in 1999).
Also, experimenting with the art of storytelling across mediums, she went on to act in regional language cinemas – in Tamil, Kannada, and Marathi- as well.
Sonali has stated that what keeps her going is the fact that acting ‘allows her to play different characters without having to bear the consequences.’
Sonali married filmmaker Goldie Behl in 2002, and the couple had a son in 2005.
Life was panning out well for Sonali when, in 2018, she was diagnosed with cancer, with just 30 percent chances of survival.
Dealing with the Curveball
Sonali and her husband had come to check on her health in New York city when she was diagnosed. “We didn’t have an apartment, we hadn’t booked anything. We were hunting for apartments between doctor appointments,” Sonali has said later.
However, in between the rush, Sonali noted that she was on her feet, and out there. “At the end of the second day, I said if I can be active, it means I have it in me. My body is much more resilient than I give it credit for,” she told media later.
Coming to terms with the metastatic cancer was difficult for Sonali; but it changed her worldview. She gives all the credit to her friends and family who kept visiting her during the six months of treatment in NYC.
The recuperation period was one of new discoveries for Sonali. She realised that until then, she did not know the traumas that people were dealing with – not even those whom she had known for 10-15 years.
What she understood first hand was that everybody has enough to deal with on their plate; that while circumstances can never be perfect, responses can be.
In these times of bonding, Sonali has said later, there were times when she forgot about her illness.
Switching on the Sunshine
Having been associated with a healthy lifestyle till then, Sonali’s first instinct was to hide her illness - as it would mean the end of her brand. But her positivity won in the long term, and she shared most of her battle with Cancer on Instagram.
Sonali has said she wanted to see the best of things, not as a victim, and that she ‘definitely did not want self-pity.’ All her posts are accompanied by hashtags #switchonthesunshine and #onedayatatime.
“Every time I have put out a post on Cancer, I’ve maintained the reality of the situation without being fake about it, and yet not lose the positivity. It’s a little boring to be sad and whiny,” she has shared.
Sonali’s son Ranveer Behl, now 14, has also been a support through her recovery. Although he was at a summer camp in Austria when Sonali was diagnosed, she wanted to ensure that they are transparent with Ranveer and go through it together, as a family.
“As much as we wanted to protect him, we knew it was important to tell him all the facts. We've always been open and honest with him, and it wasn't going to be different this time. He took the news in a mature manner… and instantly became a source of strength and positivity for me,” reads an Instagram post by Sonali Bendre, who had authored The Modern Gurukul: My Experiments with Parenting in 2015.
Sonali’s opening up - not in a way of seeking sympathy, but living one day at a time to the fullest - inspires one to not succumb to the tragedy of it all. More Cancer survivors may be switching on the sunshine daily, thanks to her.