The Lady Speakth
As irrefutable as the economic law of demand is the law that states models have a limited shelf life. They should make hay while the sun shines, then bow out gracefully to make way for the next lot. But, as in the case of everything, there are exceptions. To prove our point, we present Lisa Ray, who has not only been around for more than her share of the limelight, but seems to be just settling down and making her presence felt.
Forget packing her bags, she's now making a foray in to Bollywood with Vikram Bhatt's Kasoor. Aparajita Saha meets the 'now-you-see-her-now-you-don't' beauty and finds out what being Lisa is all about. And this is what Lisa had to say
About the famous Bombay Dyeing campaign
I didn't intend modeling at all. When I was 16, I was in India for a holiday and it was something that just happened. Modeling wasn't a recognised profession then. I returned to Canada and was going to start university there.
About modeling as a career decision
My family was involved in a car accident in which my mother was seriously injured. I couldn't join the university then because I missed the term. I needed a break so I came back to India and it continued from where Bombay Dyeing left off.
About other career options
I come from a family of lawyers and judges, so I guess I would have leaned towards that. I was always inclined towards arts.
About her frequent disappearances
I wasn't serious about modeling and doubts would inevitably creep in. And, when uncertain, disappear! But now I'm settled here, so no more of the disappearing act.
About settling down in Bombay
It wasn't a hurried decision. I was never really serious about modeling as a career until a while ago. After many years of commuting between Canada and India, I decided to finally settle down here.
About her favourite campaign(s)
The Bombay Dyeing will be a perennial favourite. I think it was quite ahead of its time. My recent favourites would be Lakme and Sprite. I like the work I've done, there's nothing that makes me regret doing a particular piece of work.
About her foray into television
I did the BPL Oye show for a while and enjoyed the experience. I was quite comfortable doing a show on television. Television is more personal than films because it is less larger than life. What I like about Starbiz is its informal format. It's chatty and genuine, that's what I'm comfortable with.
About staying away from Bollywood for such a long time
I had got previous offers, but was always on my guard. I've full respect for the film industry but I'm an easy-going person and prefer working in casual surroundings. The pressured work scene that I associated with Bollywood is what made me stay away.
About what changed her mind
I realise the ways of the industry are changing. There's a lot of young blood that is on the scene and talent is being encouraged. There are people who want to make a movie for the sake of making a good film and not only for commercial reasons.What clinched it for me was the presence of a young enthusiastic unit. Vikram Bhatt is an excellent director and the movie has the support and involvement of people like Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt and Tanuja Chandra. I knew that I really couldn't ask for anything better than an offer like Kasoor.
About her debut, Kasoor
I'll reserve my judgement on the movie and wait to see the reaction it evokes! It has Aftab Shivdasani and is a suspense thriller. My character is a modern, progressive and career-oriented woman, a role that is rarely portrayed by the female protagonist in Hindi movies. I feel it's quite challenging and demanding and has tremendous scope.
About her experiences while shooting for Kasoor
We finished a few schedules and it has been a wonderful experience! I'm this enthusiastic about something after quite a while! It feels all the better because it's my first time! I always believe that the first time while doing anything feels the best! After that it gets repetitive.I'm having an absolute blast with Kasoor! I feel charged and focused. I'm pushing myself professionally after a long while. There's a high when I'm doing something that involves discipline and professionalism and, at the same time, combines fun and informality. That's what Kasoor is all about -- everyone is very serious when it comes to work but the general atmosphere is so congenial that it barely feels like work!
About her as an actress
Acting is draining but in a very fulfilling way. I've done some performance oriented modeling for advertisements, but the kind of performance that Vikram demands is very different. He's from the new school which believes that acting should come from within you.He draws out emotions and aspects of myself that I didn't even know existed. Acting under him is a cathartic experience. I'm a director's actress and Vikram has high standards. At times, I think I've delivered the perfect take but he convinces me that I can do still better. Then when I look back I realise that he was right after all! He knows his actors and what he wants from them.
About whether models make bad actors
I think it's an unjust accusation to make. There is definitely a big difference between modeling and acting, but there are certain things you learn as a model which help in acting. For instance, acting requires a high degree of lack of inhibition. You need to bare your soul and emotions to a whole unit and be completely unselfconscious. Modeling prepares you for this since you're so used to being in front of the camera and being the focus of attention. I think anyone can act with the right direction.
About milestones achieved
Professionally, there are none that vividly stand out. I'm satisfied with almost all the work I've done.Personally speaking, I took a year off around two-and-a-half years ago. I spent the entire time doing things I always wanted to do. Things that may seem mundane but that I needed to do and that were important for me. I wrote, painted, did an art exhibition with a friend -- these things and more are what really improved the quality of my life. It completely changed me as a person and I felt ready to get back to work at the end of it.
About regrets and misgivings about her career choices
There are no regrets as such, though I do wonder what life would have been like if I'd chosen a different path. Sometimes I do wish for a less chaotic and more regimented routine. I also wish I'd studied for a while longer.
About the turning point in her career
I've been taking my work and career seriously for the past two years. I like being in control. It's also important to me to be able to distinguish the person I am from the product Lisa Ray is. It makes me enjoy work a lot more. I don't take things that personally and have the required level of detachment. You don't feel exploited or keep questioning yourself. I feel sure and in charge. I'm enjoying this time in life.
About her future projects
Kasoor is the only movie lined up and that's keeping me busy with its intense schedules. I haven't thought about another movie as yet. Kasoor has raised my standards when it comes to choosing movies and has spoilt me! I'm going to take it as it comes.I want to pursue modeling and television as well and have no intention of making films the only priority. I'm looking in to some television projects and am keen to do some behind the camera work as well. I would like to try my hand at direction.I've been approached to be the ambassador for Rado watches. Lakme has some new shoots coming up as well.
About what convinces her to do a project
There are a variety of things. It's a combination of the overall quality of the product and the kind of people involved in it. I make most of my decisions on instinct and I'm fortunate enough to say that I haven't really gone wrong. I haven't regretted anything.
Whenever I take up a project, I intend getting the most out of it -- be it fun, meeting people or learning something new.
What makes Lisa tick
As she walks into the hotel lobby, heads turn.
Well, porcelain complexion, charcoal-black mane, cognac eyes and never-ending legs does have that kind of impact on most people. Lisa Ray has been around for nine years (she started at 16!) and is almost close to the stars now. That's thanks to her silver screen debut. Lisa, who scorched our TV screens (way back in the '90s) romping around in slinky towels (remember the Bombay Dyeing ad) has shaken a leg with Daler Mehndi in the Har Taraf Tera Jalwa video, and now takes her first bow in films with Vikram Bhatt's Kasoor opposite Aftaab Mast Shivdasani. 'I simply love all my roles ,as an actress, model, anchorwoman, music video star and now brand ambassadress for Rado watches,'purrs the lovely Lisa.
No, she doesn't think she'll do a mean job by juggling too many things at one go! 'I think it is possible for a person to channelise oneself in many directions if one is a little organised. I would hate to just be an actress or a model when I have the time and inclination to do so much more. See, the important thing is to be selective about what you do. For example, I have done just a couple of music videos and enjoyed them. Even my show on Star Plus 'Star Biz 'is the only TV show I am doing. But these are all extensions of an acting career,'she brags with pleasure.
How much of the bonhomie with co-anchor Kelly Dorjee in Star Biz is for real?
'We have great fun shooting together. There's a lot of backslapping and instant rapport between Kelly and me. Although we are given scripts, we are allowed to say a word or two if we've seen the film ourselves. I am a major movie buff but I hardly get any time to see films,'she pouts mournfully. For Lisa, playing brand ambassadress is nice: 'After a point, the money doesn't matter. I believe in timeless beauty and Rado is all about that. Making public appearances to promote the brand and taking part in all the events organised by Rado is simply part of the deal,'
What's special about her debut film Kasoor?
'Vikram Bhatt is an amazing director and he's given me a lovely role. I can't say more about it yet, but I am not going to just sing and dance around trees. Then there is an untitled film with Hrithik Roshan and Amisha Patel where I have a fabulous character role. I get swamped with film offers but I am not crazy about doing any and every kind of role. I am happy about what I am doing. The day I get bored I'll do something else,'she chuckles with gay abandon.
Lisa Ray: Expanding Horizons
She's half-Indian, half-Polish; but 100 per cent attractive. Gorgeous Lisa Ray has been a top-notch model for most of the last decade: she endorses Lakme and is the ambassador for Rado watches. And now Ms Ray is exhibiting typical model behaviour by tip-toeing into the world of Hindi films albeit, in her case, with an author-backed role in Vikram Bhatt's suspense thriller, Kasoor opposite Aftab Shivdasani.
Meeting Lisa is quite a revelation. She defies conventional straitjacketing as she turns out to be much more Indian and much less the air-headed model than I had expected.
Excerpts of an interview with her:
How does it feel to have 'movie actress' added to your resume?
(Laughs). It's not hit me as yet, so it's not something larger-than-life for me. What I do feel is that it has been a wonderful experience, where I've been able to push myself professionally, and where I've even evolved somewhat as a person.
What are you playing in Kasoor?
I know everyone says that my film and my role are the greatest, but I'll tell you why my role in Kasoor is genuinely exciting. For the first time, or at least after a very long time, there is a strong female central character in our films. I play a young, professional, independent woman, the likes of which are not typically seen in a Hindi commercial film format. I am playing a lawyer in the film and I take on the case of a man (Aftab Shivdasani) who is accused of murdering his wife. It's a suspense thriller, so I can't give away anything else.
Most models, indeed most actresses, begin with a peripheral, song-and-dance role. Was it difficult for you to plunge straight into a central role?
I probably would have felt a lot more out of place, if I was singing and dancing and skipping away without having anything else to do. I think I was considered for the role because my sensibilities match with that of my character. Besides, everyone was so supportive and we knew we were doing something different, so it wasn't really so tough for me.
Did you like performing?
I'm quite convinced that Vikram Bhatt can make anyone act. See, I'm not trained in acting (I'm very comfortable in front of the camera but that's two different things actually.). I was very fortunate to have a director of Vikram's calibre, who literally draws out a performance from an actor. He explains the emotional context of a scene in such a way that you can't help but feel the same way as your character. The first time I realised I had actually performed, it was amazing. It was a very emotional scene and I managed to cry throughout the shot without any glycerine. As soon as the shot was over, everyone was like 'Great shot'; but then they in a very matter of fact manner moved on to lighting the next shot. But I was sitting there feeling completely shattered, and wanting a little attention and caring. So acting is very exhilarating, but also totally draining.
You said acting also helped you evolve as a person. How was that?
Acting is therapeutic. In the process of expressing such intense emotions, I went into certain areas of myself that I hadn't explored in a long time. I drew upon certain memories and experiences, which I had pushed into a closet. I discovered that you can't bury things. I was the kind of person who kept looking ahead, never glanced back. I thought that was the right thing to do turns out it may not be the case. So through acting, I discovered certain ways of coping with life.
Can you give me an example when performing was like therapy?
It was as a result of a very serious car accident some years back, that I found myself back in India, and modelling. It was a very traumatic part of my life. My mother was very badly injured, and to she is still in a wheelchair, because of the accident. But perhaps, I hadn't fully exorcised myself of those feelings of tragedy. I'm basically introverted, and also I felt that I had to be strong for my family at that time. So I never explored those emotions; the great sense of grief that I felt. But while doing the film, I finally allowed myself to draw upon my past and face the sadness; while of course keeping the story's context in mind.
Do you see yourself doing more films?
I found the Kasoor experience very positive, but I'm also realistic about the fact that not many of these kind of films get made. And that there are not many set-ups in commercial Hindi films where I would feel comfortable. I'll give you just a small example of a director who couldn't communicate with me in a language that I could relate to, and by that I don't mean English or Hindi, but the need for a certain common wavelength. But I do hope that I can seek out people with similar sensibilities, because I'd love to work in more films.
How fluent are you in Hindi?
I understand it perfectly, but my diction leaves a lot to be desired there's no doubt about that. Obviously, it's no secret that I don't think in Hindi, and that I'm not completely fluent in it. I'm not dubbing my voice at this point of time, but in the future I hope to do so.
Why aren't you doing the Hrithik-Esha-Saif film, Na Tum Jaano Na Hum anymore?
I walked out of that film after the first day's shooting, because I felt a little uncomfortable.
Everyone talking of the hot scene you have done with Aftab in Kasoor.
I've no idea why everyone is saying that. I'm sorry to disappoint everyone, but there is no such hot scene.
By your standards or by Hindi film standards?
(Shrieks) I'm an Indian. I don't understand why there should be a differentiation. I myself am very conservative at heart.
When you began modelling, you had quite a sexy image. Is that continued in Kasoor?
Not at all. And none of the work I do is an extension of that either. Even my modelling is not at all similar to what I did earlier. Not that I regret anything I did earlier, but I've evolved and changed.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Toronto, Canada. It's absurd and there's no way you can explain it, but I've always felt that I belong in India. We used to come to India for vacations. In fact, my father's family are very orthodox Bengalis living in Calcutta, and I've been heavily steeped in our culture. I didn't grow up here, but in spirit I've always been a part of India.
Of late, there has been a contingent of NRI's trying to make it in the entertainment world. What do you think attracts them to India?
I've no idea, because I think I was the first (laughs). As far as my break goes, I I was approached while I was here on a vacation. I was only 16 then.
Are you ambitious?
I'm ambitious, but not competitive. I've done things that I'm not supposed to. For a year, I went completely underground. I did it to prove to myself that I could detach myself. Also, people perceive you as an image. Full stop. So I needed to detach myself and get some perspective. I came out with the realisation that there was a lot more I could do with my life. But luckily for me, instead of having to change professions, I was able to incorporate that into my profession.