I was away in Prague when I read about Sonali Bendre’s brave announcement about her cancer. Initially, I was in a state of disbelief, and thought it was someone’s lousy idea of a joke, or worse, a promotional trick for a new TV show or web series. It was only after common friends phoned and messaged from New York that the truth sunk in. Yes, this beautiful young woman was indeed unwell, and she was not afraid to share the sad news with her fans and well-wishers. Her posts have been heartbreaking but also inspiring. This is really how one should deal with such awful news—take it on the chin and fight back! Sonali is doing just that, and our prayers are with this spunky lady, mother of Ranveer, a gorgeous little fellow, and wife of a mild-mannered, consistently pleasant film director, Goldie Behl.
I have known Sonali for years. We connect on a very basic level, both of us being proud Maharashtrians. We always converse in Marathi and indulge in non-filmy conversations, mainly about kids and books. Sonali is very aware and well read, but never shoves her high IQ down the throats of friends who may have other interests. I also know from our common publisher that she is a thorough professional who meets her deadlines and displays no starry airs during book promotions. Sonali has recently found her niche as a much-photographed fashionista, who is consistently on point, be it on the red carpet or at the by-now-ubiquitous airport outing. As a judge on reality shows, Sonali was seen as an unbiased and friendly person, who spoke her mind without offending any participant. Perhaps that has been her most enduring character trait—her genuinely good nature, minus filters. And, it is this that will see her through the crisis.
I am so proud that Sonali did not hide her medical condition (metastatic cancer). And, she shared facts as well as her emotions with her fans, which not only added to her list of admirers, but also set the right example. Earlier, Irrfan Khan had also taken to social media to talk about his rare condition. He had followed it up with a philosophical letter to his fans, which was seen as a reassuring and heartwarming gesture. Both stars have taken a route that involves direct communication with their vast fan base. It has worked big time. In an earlier era, Manisha Koirala and Lisa Ray had dealt with their cancers in a similar fashion and won hearts.
Gone are the days when Bollywood stars would go to great lengths to hide illness. If at all there was any communication about the star’s condition, it came via a press note issued by a secretary. Most times, the whereabouts of the ailing star were kept secret, and information withheld till it was too late. It was considered “bad for business”. Today, if a star lets everybody know something is wrong, it is considered “good for business”—affected producers can take a call for under-production projects and plan better, like it has happened with Irrfan.
One of her closest gal pals dropped everything and rushed to be by her side in New York as soon as she heard about the ailment. This lady is a busy professional, with several key projects in the pipeline. And yet, she didn’t think twice about getting on the first available flight to be with her friend. That is the sort of loyalty and love Sonali inspires.
Sonali refers to the stage IV cancer as a “curveball” life has thrown at her. I am certain she will deal with it heroically and come home with her signature smile in place and her dancing eyes shining, ready to dazzle her host of admirers. For me, Sonali remains the same ‘Maharashtrian mulgi’ I had been so impressed with decades ago when she greeted Michael Jackson with an aarti, dressed in a traditional nine-yard kashta sari (1996). This was before she got married to Goldie. Speedy recovery, darling Sonali. We want you back in the hood, and make it fast!
P.S. Your recent video on getting your tresses cut broke the internet, and our hearts.