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Manisha Koirala shares her emotional journey as cancer survivor in inspirational TED talk

The Bombay actress and three-time winner of Filmfare Critics award for best actress talked about coming back from an overwhelming cancer diagnosis to rebuilding her life, step by step.

Sonal Pandya

Beginning with a slight change to the popular John Lennon quote, actress Manisha Koirala stated in her inspiring TED talk that “Life is what happens to us, when we’re busy making other plans”. The moving video has been garnering views lately for Koirala's honest disclosure.

This year, Koirala will be seen in Rajkumar Hirani’s Sanjay Dutt biopic as the iconic actress Nargis (mother of Sanjay) who ironically lost her battle to cancer. She will also star in Dear Maya (2017), releasing next week, where she plays a woman who goes out to seek her chance at love, not knowing that it has all been a charade designed by others.

One of the leading actresses of the 1990s, Koirala had a dream debut with Subhash Ghai’s multi-starrer Saudagar (1991).

She went on to work in acclaimed projects from 1942: A Love Story (1994), Bombay (1995) and Khamoshi: The Musical (1996). With the advent of the new milliennium, the leading roles slowed down and Koirala continued working but in less than prestigious banners.

In her TED talk, Koirala is honest about her career in Indian cinema stating it was “some quality and a lot of quantity”. Koirala came from Nepal to India and became a top actress; it seemed all her dreams were coming true.

Eventually, she shared she came to lose it all. “Initially, it started subtly, like I signed a bad film, which flopped and I got a bad review. And then was another and another. But even then I had some good directors wanting me in their films,” she explained.

And she wasn’t able to bounce back. “I had developed an unhealthy lifestyle which was attracting the wrong company. Restlessly, I was moving from one bad relationship to another. I was in a mess and I was in denial,” Koirala candidly admitted.

Following a divorce in 2012 with businessman Samrat Dahal, Koirala was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Since 2015, the gutsy actress has been cancer-free. Her journey to survive the illness has been an inspiration to many.

The toughest part of the cancer treatments was not only being sick and losing hair and eyelashes, but the grim reality was signing up officially for possible permanent heart or ear damage. “That's when I got scared, really scared,” she said.

She began to ask herself questions when faced with her own mortality. ‘Did I live well? Was I proud of my life?’ The answer was a resounding no. She had been neglecting her health, her career and the people in her life.

Koirala continued living her life despite the diagnosis and thought about making a drastic change. She reconnected with her family who was always there for her, cultivated meaningful friendships and started to take care of herself, physically and spiritually.

Her career also got a second chance. “I pick and choose carefully, not carelessly as I was doing before,” she stated.

The final gift, Koirala said, was the realisation that she has to give back in some meaningful way. “I made a promise that when I get a second chance to life, I will pay attention and be of service in whatever capacity I can,” she said.

She became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund in 2015, and came forward to help with the relief operations after the devastating Nepal earthquake the same year.

Koirala talked about the importance of talking on the subject of surviving cancer and finding meaning behind it. People tend to take life for granted, she noted, and it was time to remedy that. “This life is a gift, I know it’s a cliche,” she smiled and said.

Her advice to the audience was to make the most of your own life and not go around living someone else’s. Koirala emphasised to live every day with clarity and passion.

Koirala has already shaped her own ‘narrative of triumph’.

Watch the full video of Manisha Koirala’s full TED talk below: