Celebrity Interview: Lisa Ray

By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service

imageMumbai, (IANS) Lisa Ray, who disappeared from Bollywood after the hit "Kasoor" and resurfaced with Deepa Mehta's "Water", says being a global gypsy explains her long absence from the Hindi film scene.

"I'm a gypsy and a global citizen. I don't need to belong to any one place or any one film industry. Particularly one that doesn't throw up challenging roles for women," Lisa told IANS.

"I'm flattered that Bollywood gave me any opportunities as I don't qualify as a typical heroine from any angle. So obviously, in terms of creative pursuits and satisfying myself as an actor, I'm finding interesting opportunities all over the world."

However, she adds: "I believe Hindi cinema is changing and if something challenging came my way, I wouldn't hesitate to consider it."

About desi heartthrob John Abraham, her co-star in the film, she says: "It was a pleasure working with John. He is professional, committed, generous, polite and talented."

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: How did you get into Deepa Mehta's "Water"?

A: Deepa sent me the script for "Water" under a working title - "River Moon" - in December 2003. I loved the script, it was so lyrical and vivid. I wanted to be a part of this beautiful project because I greatly admire Deepa, love working with her and the story and script are extremely compelling.

Q: Was it difficult for you to get into an era and emotions that were culturally and chronologically alien to you?

A: Playing the character of Kalyani was a great opportunity to immerse myself in a life and era I was unfamiliar with. While the era and circumstances of Kalyani's life are very different, all emotions are universal. I welcome the opportunity to portray challenging characters in meaningful cinema and I am grateful to Deepa for giving me this opportunity.

Q: How much help did you get from Deepa in connecting with Kalyani's esoteric character in the film?

A: I received a lot of help and guidance from Deepa in connecting with Kalyani's character. Deepa is the consummate actor's director. Deepa gifted me with an excellent study on widows in India called "Perpetual Mourning" and under her guidance, I attended a workshop with Neelam Mansingh, a gifted theatre director and Deepa's childhood friend, in Chandigarh.

I also visited Vrindavan and spent time in vidhwa ashrams (widow refuges) there. I was in drama school in London when I began working on Kalyani, so Deepa and I used to have lots of discussions and communication on character, actions and motivations and other acting grammar and technique.

However, Deepa also gave me the single most important piece of direction, which came from her heart. Deepa gave me an image to work towards. She said, and I am paraphrasing: 'I want Kalyani to be like a beautiful lotus flower, blooming in the murkiest of water, untouched by the muck underneath'. That was the one image that was most important for me in connecting with Kalyani's character.

Q: I believe you and John Abraham got along like a house on fire?

A: It was a pleasure working with John. He is professional, committed, generous, polite and talented.

Q: You also had the opportunity to work with some fine talent like Seema Biswas and Waheeda Rehman?

A: Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to act with Waheeda Rahman as she plays John's mother in "Water" and we don't have any scenes together. However, it was an honour to work with Seema, whose work I had always greatly admired.

Seema is remarkably down to earth and approachable aside from being one of the most talented actors in India today. She is so committed to her craft. As I was studying theatre at the time of shooting "Water", and she comes from a theatre background, we spent many hours discussing theatrical techniques and form.

During the rehearsal period, Seema was so generous. She helped me get the nuances of my character right and answered any question I had. I am in awe of her as an actor and human being. Let me also say, there was a great camaraderie on the set of "Water" among the entire group of actors and crew. I never felt I was working on a film. It is as though I was experiencing and living a different life.

Q: What happened to your career in Bollywood after a hit like Vikram Bhatt's "Kasoor"?

A: I get tired of answering questions on Bollywood. It's true I had a lovely experience working on "Kasoor" and it's true the film was a hit and I received many more offers. I would like to turn this question around. What are the compelling reasons for me to be a part of Bollywood? I am only half Indian, I grew up in Canada, my Hindi isn't perfect and as an actor I really lust for challenging roles.

I mean, given all this, I'm flattered that Bollywood gave me any opportunities, as I don't qualify as a typical heroine from any angle. So obviously, in terms of creative pursuits and satisfying myself as an actor, I'm finding interesting opportunities all over the world.

I'm a gypsy and a global citizen. I don't need to belong to any one place. Or any one film industry. Particularly one that doesn't throw up challenging roles for women. Having said this, I believe Hindi cinema is changing and if something challenging came my way, I wouldn't hesitate to consider it.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: I never plan. Also, I don't like cataloguing projects like a shopping list. Especially when we're talking about a project that is as precious to me as "Water". So in the immediate future, I've been tied up with a lot of promotions for "Water". It was an honour to open the Toronto International Film Festival. It was the first time a non-English or French language film has been given this honour.

"Water" was also invited to open many other festivals across Canada and I love gauging the audience reaction to this film, which is so far from most people's personal experience and yet has the power to strike a universal emotional chord in everyone who has seen it.

Q: Where do you hope to go with "Water"?

A: "Water" releases in Canada early November. Then we have our big American release by Fox Searchlight - again the first time they have picked up a Canadian or non-English language film - in the early part of 2006. The response to the film has been overwhelming. Individuals I greatly admire from Atom Egoyan to Roger Ebert have come up to me to congratulate me on the film and my performance.

I'm so happy for Deepa and the triumphant end to her journey. This is a strange business and you can never predict what happens, but I'm so gratified to have been a part of something that was made with integrity, passion and love - a lot of love.