I was 11 when ‘Ilu Ilu’ (from 1991 Hindi film Saudagar) became a rage and Manisha Koirala was this new actor taking Bollywood by storm. Almost two decades later, listening to her speak at the Zee Jaipur Literature session was a closet fanboy moment.

She was at the ZeeJLF to promote her book – ‘Healed: How Cancer Gave Me a New Life’ and inspiring a packed house not only as a cancer survivor but getting a few laughs sharing anecdotes about her journey through Bollywood.

Here are some of the anecdotes the 48-year-old actor turned author shared:

How films happened:
“I was offered fifty thousand rupees for a Nepali film and I did it because I thought it was good money. While doing the film, I realised I loved being in front of the camera and this is something I could do. I emotionally blackmailed my mother to bring me to Mumbai as a birthday gift.”

A journalist suggested I meet Subhash Ghai:
Saudagar was my third attempt… My mom’s very good friend Meena Iyer, a film journalist, said ‘Subhash Ghai is doing a film, why don’t you try?’ After I was signed up, Vivek Mushran and I were put through intense training of horse-riding, classical dancing, Roshan Taneja acting classes.”

Got rejected by Vidhu Vinod Chopra initially:
“During 1942 A Love Story my first screen test wasn’t good at all. Vidhu Vinod Chopra said Manisha you’re rejected. I said I can’t be rejected. I asked for another chance. Vinod gave me 24 hours and asked me to come back the next day. The whole night I kept going over the script until my mother intervened and said ‘you’ll go mad.’ The next day after the screen test, Vinod was pleasantly surprised and said: ‘If you were zero yesterday you are a 100 today.’ That’s when I realised what it takes to be a good actor — dedication.”

Hoping to write more:
“I’m basking in the sun being an author. I hope this continues and perhaps I’ll write more books. I love acting and I’ll continue to be an actor. I should be able to tell stories that inspire people. But I’m prepared for wherever life takes me.”

‘I don’t want to die’: 
“This book that I have written starts with a line ‘I don’t want to die’. When one is diagnosed with cancer, the first thing that happens to us is the thought of death. It’s a very difficult thing to comprehend. It was a long night (the night I was diagnosed with cancer). It was excruciatingly lonely and painful. The plane ride from Kathmandu to Mumbai is 2 hours but it felt like a lifetime.”

Manisha Koirala speaking at ZEE JLF 2019 (Photo Courtesy: Zee Group)

The treatment:
“My grandfather who had cancer was treated at Sloan Kettering. It so happened that my mother’s childhood friend from Banaraes was a doctor in New York and that’s how we connected with Dr Chi… Choose the right doctor and follow the doctor’s advise to the T. Once the doctor has done his bit, it is my responsibility to revive my health. I realised you need to make a lifestyle conducive to a healthy life.”

Acknowledging flaws:
“I drank a lot. It was champagne if I was celebrating and vodka if I was depressed. I found a reason to drink. Once cancer struck, that was out.”

Living life to the fullest:
“When it is our time to go we should be graceful about death. But as long as we live, we should do our best and try and do everything possible.”

Koirala, who was first diagnosed in 2012 and fought a pitched battle for recovery till 2015, is now back on the sets and has essayed roles in films like Lust Stories and Sanju. The latter is a biopic on actor Sanjay Dutt in which she portrayed the character of late actor Nargis Dutt. Nargis died of cancer in 1981 — and was treated in Sloan Kettering, the same New York Hospital in which Koirala had her surgery.