I learnt that Lisa (Ray) had cancer when a reporter called to ask for my reactions to her blog announcement. I was so shocked I couldn’t even message her directly. I smsed Deepa (director Deepa Mehta) instead and she confirmed the news," Seema Biswas reminisces.
The actress shares screen space with Ray in Mehta’s Cooking With Stella. She met her at the Toronto Film Festival for the first time since her illness.
“I was in my hotel room, with the make-up artist and hair stylist when Lisa walked in to start with her own preparations.
For two minutes, we just hugged silently, teary-eyed, then Lisa started smiling and over-acting, in an effort to reassure me that all was well. She’s such a strong and brave girl,” Biswas marvels.
‘I went home with her’
The press meet that followed offered them little privacy. So, later, Biswas suggested they go up to her room again for a chat. But the queue for the elevator was so long that they eventually ended up in a quiet corner in the coffee shop, with Ray educating her on multiple myeloma. “Lisa then asked me to visit her the next day so she could show me her little home with a view of the sea,” says Biswas.
Unfortunately, her baggage had been misplaced and Biswas called to explain that she’d be able to make it only around 3 pm. Ray told her to push it back by another hour so she could pick her up on the way back from her chemotherapy session at 4 pm since the hospital was close by. And despite Biswas’s protests, she swung by the hotel the next afternoon, blithely sailed into the street with her friend, flagged down a cab that took them home.
“We met Lisa’s dad at her place, took a quick tour, then went for a long walk during which she told me that she’d been working too hard. The cancer was God’s way of telling her to take a much-needed vacation. It was a wonderful way of looking at a situation that could have given the best of us the blues,” points of Biswas.
The frothy comedy, Cooking With Stella, has got her positive reviews, informs Biswas, even though a lot of people at the premiere didn’t recognise her. When Shriya Saran who plays the lead, introduced Biswas as Stella, a bunch of elderly ladies were genuinely shocked: “But you are so young while in the film you look old.”
‘I was firing the gun incessantly’
Biwas has another film coming up, Red Alert—The War Within, that releases on July 9. She plays a senior Maoist who trains newly recruited members.
The film was inspired by a story that appeared in the Sunday edition of Hindustan Times. Ask her if it could spark off any controversies and Biwas says, “We’re not taking any sides. We are only focussing on the perils of a common man who is trapped in a situation and confused about what course of action is right. I hope the issue will not be politicised.”
The film was shot in the jungle, with Biswas returning to her Phoolan Devi avatar. She says that even though the role is not as big as that in Bandit Queen, she gets to use the gun a lot.
“For a fortnight we were only running around in the rain and firing incessantly,” she says. “It was an ordeal. I have never believed that the gun can be an answer to any of our problems.”