She’s in India on a flying visit, as brand ambassador of Rado watches. Minutes before she flies out of the city, Lisa Ray talks beauty, Bollywood and the years in between.. Roshmila Bhattacharya listens.
You were voted the ninth Most Beautiful Woman of the last Millenium. Aapki khubsoorti ka raaz kya hai?
(Laughs) Hey, I’m not last millennium though the verdict is hugely flattering. I’ve never rated myself on beauty alone. Images of beauty change every year. What’s important is that you’re comfortable in your skin. Meri khubsoorti ka raaz would be yoga, meditation and a healthy sense of self. As an actress, it was important for me to understand my quirks and neurosis so that I could take a character to another level. That’s how I got into meditation which has now taken on a life of its own.
Has the Bombay Dyeing girl changed much in the years since?
You remember the saying: Youth is wasted on youth? It’s true. When you’re young, you put yourself at the centre of everything.. and the egoism accounts for all the energy and dynamism. But as you enter the 30s, you become more compassionate.. it’s less about I, me, myself.
You’re in Bombay this time to promote a new line of Rado watches, right?
(Smiles) Yeah, even in these difficult times, the Swiss watch company flew me down to India at their expense. I’ve been associated with the brand for seven years now.
How would you describe time?
(Thoughtfully) It’s a useful cup to measure out spoonfuls of our existence. I like the big, round face of my watch. It goes back to the idea of circular time. It’s something of a symbol.
How many watches do you own?
(Laughs) Several.. I’ll have to check my safe deposit box.
Ah, so you’re a hoarder?
Actually in the last few years I’ve been sharing more than I have been hoarding. I see the present economic slowdown as an appropriate adjustment of sorts. Excessive consumption is a vice. We Indians have seen so many ups and downs that we are intrinsically frugal in our habits. But the Americans needed a kick.
Has the city changed much?
It’s more crowded.. there are more malls around. But these are superficial changes. I haven’t been around long enough to get to the core. But it’s still home.
What kept you away from home for so long?
I have many homes, including one in Canada. It was a conscious decision to move there rather than divide my time between two continents. I have family there and it was important for me to extend my range as an actor.
And now that I have established myself, am being taken seriously as an actress, I want to come back and do a masala movie..typical Bollywood stuff. The offers never stopped coming. I’m ready for a light entertainer which will balance out the intense work I have been doing.
Who would be your choice of co-star?
(Smiles) Aamir Khan but I don’t know if he’ll consider me. He’s wooing 20-year-olds. I’m a fan of Irrfan (Khan) too.. we worked together in Kasoor.
What about your Water co-star, John Abraham?
Why not? He’s a great guy.. polite and helpful. (Laughs) And he’s not bad-looking either.
Which was the last Hindi movie you saw?
Hmm.. Black, on a flight.. and Rang De Basanti. Slumdog Millionaire, as well, it borrowed elements from traditional Bollywood fare.
You could have played Sue in Rang De Basanti?
Hey, I’m not a firang.
What did you think of Slumdog..?
It was a fine film but for us Indians it wasn’t anything new. It was an ode to Bollywood. But the underdog has captured everyone’s
imagination in the U S. The Oscars for (AR) Rahman, Gulzar and (Resul) Pookutty were well deserved, maybe a little late in coming.
What makes Indian women so attractive to the west? Think Slumdog.. star Frieda Pinto, who’s the toast of Hollywood today. Will she go far?
An Indian woman is sweet and sexy, funny and very feminine.. who wouldn’t love her? Frieda is a lovely girl and should take advantage of the opportunities coming her way./
Not as well as I could have. When Water was nominated for the Oscars, I was told to hang around. But I went off to South Africa to make a film on apartheid, The World Unseen.
For me it was more about personal growth than professional elevation. As an actor, I wanted to explore different kinds of cinema. So, though I have a great agent in the U S, I’ve never spent too much time in LA.
Did Water fail to strike a chord in India because the subject was too close to home?
It’s hard to say since I didn’t come down here to promote the film. It wasn’t a popular commercial film meant for mass entertainment. Going by the feedback I got, a certain section, even here, was deeply moved.
I went with the film around the U S and Canada and after one screening a Greek woman approached me in tears to confess that widows were treated as badly in her country. So though a culture specific story, Water had a universal element.. a common thread which tied people together.
You’ve cut down on your work in recent years.
No, actually I’ve been really busy in the last three years. I’ve shot for six-seven films.
Unfortunately, all of them won’t be seen here. There was Kill Kill Faster Faster.. a lesbian film, I Can’t Think Straight.. The World Unseen.. and a French film in which I played a stock broker.
Quick, give me some tips on which shares to invest in?
(Laughs) Buy gold.. buy land.. don’t buy stocks. And if you must invest in shares, consult a real broker. Don’t think you can beat the market alone.
What was the reaction of the gay community to I Can’t Think Straight?
I got lots of love.. a new fan base which was happy I had put myself behind such a project.
Wasn’t intimacy with another woman difficult?
It was all in a day’s work. I saw it as a story and the character had her own logic for what she does.
Is racism still rampant in South Africa?
Well, apartheid only ended officially in the ’90s.. so it will take time for the wounds to heal. But Barack Obama’s victory in the U S elections makes people across the world hugely optimistic.
There’s a certain connectivity now which in a way has to do with the economic situation too. The so-called recession has ended the night-long parties and brought people home to their family, to basic human values, to the traditions they once held dear. The world is changing.. for the better.
Deepa Mehta is adapting Salman Rushie’s Midnight’s Children for the screen. Has she approached you with a role?
I met Deepa before the Heaven On Earth screening. I liked the film very much. She is more than just a director.. she’s a mentor and a friend. We’ve made three films together. Who knows, may be there’ll be a fourth soon. Let’s wait and watch. No pun intended.