Be it theatre, radio, novels or short films, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana says she has inherently been a storyteller all her life but the journey to director’s chair was full of apprehensions. Tahira, known for her earnest depiction of women in the most hilarious manner in her books “The 12 Commandments of Being A Woman” and “The 7 Sins of Being A Mother”, said she gravitated towards stories since childhood.
“I’m a compulsive storyteller. It was a part of my growing up process. All that I used to do as a kid was tell stories. I’ve loved telling stories, be it whatever medium — theatre, radio, podcasts, novels, short films and now feature. I have inherently been a storyteller all my life and I absolutely love it,” the author-director told PTI in an interview here.
But the realisation that she had what it takes to be a professional storyteller came later in life after dabbling in multiple jobs. “Everyone has their journey. We do four-five things, and then we realise that this is what I want to do. There is a huge section of people who know what they want to do ever since they are young. But I was lost for most of my life.
“I picked various jobs — in the corporate sector, teaching, radio and events — and after a point I realised whenever I was involved with a creative job or storytelling, I would really get excited about it.” Tahira said she decided to listen to her “inner voice” and made her first short film Toffee in 2017, with the help of her husband, actor Ayushmann Khurrana, who served as the producer on the project.
“I borrowed money from my husband to make my first short film, about which I was very conscious. I knew this is what I wanted to be but I needed a sort of push. I’m very grateful for those little openings. But after a point, you are on your own,” she said.
There was a sense of doubt after directing the short film, the director said, but her “big moment of realisation” came when her work was appreciated at various international film festivals, including Cinekid International Film Festival, Amsterdam; Bahamas International Film Festival and MAMI, and later picked by streamer Eros Now.
“Once I made the film I was really sceptical, but to my surprise it got picked up at various festivals and by Eros, so I got to return the entire money to my initial producer. I was debt free. That was my big moment of realisation. Now, there is a lot of acceptance towards myself.” As somebody who always had self-doubt, the validation she received from those outside her inner circle pushed her to work harder, the 39-year-old filmmaker said. “Women always need reassurance. I don’t know why… but it’s constantly there. Maybe it’s the conditioning or maybe we are vocal about it. Maybe men also have self-doubt but are not vocal because there is a false macho idea that they can’t cry and tell.
“I have met so many men who also have self-doubt but they don’t express… I used to beat myself down. But when I got validation from those who were not invested in me or were outside my relationships, that’s when I knew I have it in me and I need to keep working towards it,” she said.
Following the success of Toffee, Tahira directed two more shorts – Pinni, which is part of the anthology series Zindagi In Short, and Quaranteen Crush for Netflix’s anthology series Feels Like Ishq. She has also finished shooting for her first feature film Sharmaji Ki Beti.
The Applause Entertainment and Ellipsis project is billed as a multi-generational ensemble comedy-drama about the modern, middle class female experience. It features Sakshi Tanwar, Divya Dutta, and Saiyami Kher in pivotal roles.
Much like her books, humour will be an integral part of the film’s mood. With age, the writer-director said she has become forgiving towards herself and that brings out the funny side of her. “Humour is a very important part of my personality. Ironically, there was something I pretended to be for a long time because I wanted the world to take me seriously. I felt women who laugh loudly are not taken seriously.
“Then something hit me right before I turned 30. You become forgiving towards yourself. I felt I have a funny bone and I love humour. Even if I’m writing something serious, it will automatically come from a place of humour or fun or light-heartedness.” Her growth as an individual, she said, reflects in her characters who are more liberated than she was in her 20s.
“I see my female characters and they are more liberated than what I was as a 20 year old. One needs to work on themselves and be forgiving towards themselves. It does have a role to play in portrayal of your character.” As she inches closer to the release of Sharmaji Ki Beti, Tahira said she is “excited, nervous and anxious”. She is already writing a few feature film projects and believes it is the best phase of her career.
“I’m working on a lot of stuff, films majorly. Most of it is in the process of development. Some are in the pitching phase, some are in the signing phase, and some things are signed already. It’s an exciting time for any writer and filmmaker. It’s reassuring,” she said.
Tahira was part of an ‘In Conversation’ session at the Film Bazaar here on the sidelines of the ongoing 53rd edition of the International Film Festival of India.