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I went to interview Lisa Ray and came back rather impressed with the workings of her mind, her opinions, her ready laugh... her Siamese cats. Okay, so the body's there, of course. I couldn't have missed it even if I wanted to, because that body - green eyes, amazing bust, sleek contours and impossible legs - made it necessary for me to duel with a belligerent security man to gain access to a flat with varicoloured walls, artfully selected conversation pieces and great wood work. The person in the body, however, is strangely nonchalant about the whole beauty thing.
Lisa Ray, face scrubbed clean, has a rejoinder to make-up whiz Mickey Contractor's comment that many brides want to be made up to look like her on their wedding day. "Poor things!" she says, "They should see me first thing in the morning." Then, in a flash of empathy, "Poor Mickey!"

One day, she was gone. As usual. Then suddenly, she's back again. As usual. Breathtakingly beautiful. As usual. Curled up on a yellow sofa, in a room dominated by an obviously much-used computer, Lisa Ray talks of her latest hiatus. "I took a year off to work with other aspects of my life. I read, I worked with information and knowledge... The restlessness drained away. I deliberately lived an isolated existence, and I learnt to exist with the self I got to know in that time. I realised that I am not a people person and I've become reconciled to that - I no longer have to force myself to be a party animal."

Not that she could ever be accused of constantly painting the town red - indeed, Lisa Ray seems to personify self quarantine. "I enjoy spending time alone, and in a strange way, my reclusive tendency has worked well for my modelling career. I always find that when I give myself space and time, I come back refreshed and I can offer a fresh perspective to my work. It's very important to take a break..." Canvases, framed and otherwise, stand to attention in the hall of the vibrant flat - the home that Nisha Jamwal, friend, interior designer and business partner, helped Lisa colour to her own attitudes. Other paintings - from Lisa's own collection - hang in carefully designated places around the house.

The year away also saw Lisa and Nisha promoting new artists under the Art Aegis banner. "I can't even draw a straight line," she laughs, "but that just makes me more appreciative of art. I was always curious about the Indian modern art scene, and holding our exhibition was a very satisfying experience, especially since we did everything - from hanging up the paintings to calling everybody for the show." Now Nisha's back to her other work and Lisa's scorching the print and audio visual media; art preoccupies them by appointment only, but it will always be a part of Lisa's life.

During the sabbatical, Lisa also went to Canada - where she was born and brought up. Born of a Bengali father and Polish mother, she returns to that faraway land often "to immerse myself in family, take a course or two, catch up on shopping and friends, realign myself to that life again. Canada's a great destresser..." This time, she brought back a whole new way of eating. "I'm the opposite of a health nut, I love food and I eat like a sow, but now I'm an enthusiastic convert to Dr Berry Sears' concept of eating in 'The Zone'. This largely involves reducing simple carbohydrates in your diet to lose weight and regain energy. I used to laugh at other people talking about things like this, but my energy levels are just soaring... I sound just like one of those fanatics," she laughs, then hams on, "Finding out about the Zone has been the most exciting thing in my life - what a life, huh!" Nevertheless, it has been an exciting life for the woman whose beauty first saw her model for Bombay Dyeing at 16, scorch the covers of Glad Rags in the interim and whose most recent appearance in the video for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Aafreen almost set the small screen smoking. But Lisa Ray is nonplussed by all the fuss. "I'm just a little uncomfortable with the celebrity circus that goes on here in the beauty context. I think the beauty business has run out of control in this country; it's become an unhealthy obsession. I don't want to sound pseudo, but I really believe that beauty comes from a combination of things, least of all just good looks. A confident woman is always going to be better looking than just a beautiful one."
Of her own beauty, she says, "People don't realise how much other people work at making you look good. A lot of magic happens behind the scenes..." And Lisa believes her USP as a model comes from being a great canvas for the magic to work on. "I think I'm completely flexible. I can be made to look very different every time - that's my special contribution to any project. I can look young and innocent, or do a great vamp look; very, very foreign or absolutely Indian." Still, absolutely Indian or not, this is one chameleon that Hindi commercial cinema is not going to win over just yet. "Hindi films are a completely different world unto themselves - of untapped talent and too much politicising. Our films need to improve in quality and production values, to speak the international language of cinema," she declares. Of her exit from the late Mukul Anand's Dus, she says, "I realised that that world was not for me. It demands dedication; it sucks your life - I was not willing to give it that. My logic to quit when I did was that it was better to leave than do a half-hearted job or leave half way through - it seemed to me the most decent thing to do... "A lot of models are going into films," she muses, "Hats off to them. It's a difficult life and unfortunately people expect too much from them. They probably work their butts off. I'm just much lazier, I guess." Lisa tries on a wedding gown for a commercial to be shot the next day. Draws the veil over her face and says she feels positively bridal. She neatly sidesteps the subject of romance, love and marriage. But she wants to talk about her parents. "They're very dear to me - we have such a lovely relationship now that I'm grown up. I think it's wonderful that they spend half the year here. I love it when they come down - I don't have to run the house. But I also like my time alone, so the other six months give me that. We have a lot of fun together - I've got my computer-shy father addicted to the terminal. They've both become my friends and it's a great time of life. One thing I've learned in life is the importance of nurturing relationships. If you get it right, you're set - you can be as happy as a bug in a rug!" "The future," Lisa intones dramatically, caressing an imaginary crystal ball, "the future is looking goooood! God knows," she laughs to break the moment, "How do I know? I'm not a very diligent or organised person - I basically just flow. There is the big picture, of course. One day, I would like to write. I write short stories off and on. One day, I would like to put my experiences on paper - I would die happy if I did that. Which means it will happen... Right now, I'm happy doing art. Happy that I'm as comfortable now in Mumbai as in Canada. Happy being back on the modelling scene, grateful that people in the industry don't throw their chappals at me each time I reappear. That I'm getting a chance to do more different, interesting work. I would cut my price for an innovative campaign..." And then there's the millennium to think about. Lisa does. "Hopefully, my computer won't get the bug for me... The new millennium will not be as futuristic as people thought it would be. I'd like to see it go the other way. Yes, we can't do without technology, but we can go towards humanity. I see a trend. If we can work on that in the new millennium, that would be so cool. "About everything else, who knows?"



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