Screenwriter and producer Kanika Dhillon, who has written films like Manmarziyaan, Kedarnath, Judgementall Hai Kya and Netflix film Guilty, thinks it is a fantastic time to tell different kinds of stories on screen.
Kanika interacted with fans during a recent Facebook LIVE from The Indian Express page, where she opened up about flawed characters, her struggle with cooking during the lockdown and how writing for films is different from web.
Here are excerpts from the interaction:
How are you spending your days in the lockdown?
I’m trying to keep sane. Although we’re all very lucky to be at home with food and shelter. There are so many underprivileged people out there. So, just trying to have a lot of gratitude. Also, I have newfound respect for all the people who help us run a house. I’m trying to cook, but I’m pretty bad at it! I’ve also started gardening because my gardener is obviously not coming.
With a few of my friends, I’ve started an initiative called ‘Feed The Hungry’. So far we’ve sent meals to more than 40,000 people. We are hoping to raise more money and send out more food till the lockdown lasts.
How do you see the industry changing post the lockdown?
A lot of films that are ready are going to be released on OTT platforms. I just hope that once the lockdown opens, it’s safe, and people go back to the theaters and we go back to making movies and then having theatrical releases.
When you started out, who in the industry motivated you?
I started out as an intern in Red Chillies owned by Shah Rukh Khan. So, there was this producer called Bobby Chawla, Juhi Chawla’s brother, a very dear friend and a mentor. He was the first one who saw my writing and he said that I should write stories, and they’re definitely worthy of being made into films.
What kind of stories do you want to tell?
I like to tell all kinds of stories. If you’ve seen my body of work, I’ve written films from Manmarziyaan to Kedarnath to Judgementall Hai Kya and now Guilty, and all the genres are entirely different. Even my forthcoming film Haseen Dillruba, which has Taapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey, is a romantic thriller. I just like to tell the stories and characters that excite me, anything that keeps me going, that’s interesting.
Your female characters are flawed and don’t have qualms about making mistakes. Did you ever have any inhibition regarding this, especially when films are all about perfect love stories and perfect endings?
Initially, Manmarziyaan had its share of people who had qualms. Even actors who we approached before Taapsee (Pannu) and the final cast felt that morality and moral compass perhaps was a little skewed, and perhaps they would not be accepted by the audiences. So there were questions raised about that. But I love my flawed characters and I won’t have it any other way.
Are writers free to find a voice in the industry?
Yes, lately even more so because as you know, before the lockdown happened, there were such exciting stories coming out. We had new shows on web, where one could write and make different kinds of stuff. I don’t know how things are going to be in the future but at least pre Covid-19, it was a fantastic time to be a writer and find a voice.
What was the inspiration behind Guilty?
I’ve studied in Delhi University and there were a lot of important issues around rape and rights of women, which further centered around the right of consent. But we wanted to write a story that goes beyond that, that would talk about privilege, that would talk about the judgment of victim and accused and how we put these people on trial before any verdict is announced. So that’s where the prime seed of Guilty comes from.
What do you remember of your acting stint in Judgementall Hai Kya?
Are you like pulling my leg? (Laughs) Sita had run away and I had to step in because I’ve been a classical dancer and been on stage. We were shooting in London, so, we couldn’t find anyone at such a short notice to come and deliver those dialogues and do some dancing. That’s how I stepped in. I thought I was pretty bad.
Is writing for films different from OTT platforms?
Yes, it’s different because the censorship is less compared to the theatrical format. We have more time to tell our stories, say eight episodes, whereas when we write a film, brevity is the key and we have to finish everything in two hours. There is more freedom to write on OTT platform because we have options of isolated viewings. A family will not necessarily view the series together so we can explore darker themes, which otherwise would be censored. And of course, OTTs require a certain amount of binge-worthiness. At the end of every episode, there has to be a hook point so that you keep coming back for it and you’re unable to move from your couch.
One character you wrote which is closest to you?
I feel great affinity for all my characters. They are all special. But I would still say Rumi’s character in Manmarziyaan, because it was my first independent voice that came out in a story. Rumi will always be very special and very close to my heart. A lot of me is reflected in Rumi.
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