Kanika Dhillon’s journey is nothing short of an inspiration. The Amritsar-born novelist and screenwriter recently made waves with the film Manmarziyaan. While her work has made her a known face today, it is her strong individuality and vision that sets her apart. Some of her works include Ra.one, Size Zero and the latest, Manmarziyaan. Kedarnath and Mental Hai Kya are two of her upcoming films.

SheThePeople.TV got talking with Kanika about Manmarziyaan, writing films, gender notions, #MeToo and more. Some edited snippets from the conversation:

On ‘Manmarziyaan’

Un-romanticising love, Kanika believes, was one of the most exciting parts of Manmarziyaan. She calls the film, “a grey wala shade”. “It was a very honest effort from my producer, director and all the actors. We all were trying to tell a tale of love in the current times. Is it a curse for this generation or its saviour? Is marriage and commitment preconditions of true love? How do we not define it?” she says.

On her crew

“Each one of them brought the characters alive and Anurag worked with them like magic. Taapsee’s [Pannu] raw unpredictable and untamed spirit fired Rumi further. Vicky [Kaushal] would just surprise you every time he would give a take and it was a delight to watch! Abhishek [Bachchan] was sheer gravitas. I remember the first day and his first shot was such a fantastic moment, where he just made everyone take a pause. Abhishek owned every frame – line and emotion of Robbie’s character!” she reflects.

Kanika describes her equation with director Anurag Kashyap and producer Anand L Rai a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

They cannot and should not dictate the narrative of how we should think, feel and act.

Several self-proclaimed groups, in Punjab, and elsewhere, lashed out at the film and Taapsee’s character in it. When asked how she handles criticism that’s just based on people’s perception and preconceived notions about women, she says, “the best way to deal with it is to reject it, not only ignore it. I insist on rejecting it – it’s important to voice it in today’s times! It’s considered safe to not dissent or disagree. And that safety is the most dangerous thing of our times.”

Kanika Dhillion
Kanika Dhillion

Kanika’s idea of filmmaking does not get overshadowed by perceptions, preconceived notions, fundamentalists and fringe groups. “The only way to stop it is to disagree and reject it – by saying it out loud. I wrote about it and made it very clear that it was very uncalled for, in my opinion,” she adds.

“I can fight and give voices to my film characters, but I hope there was a way to fight and give a voice to that entire mass of women out there who are operating from a victimised and suppressed position”

Clearly, not a lot has changed even now when it comes to portraying a woman on-screen and characterising her. She reflects saying, “we have been living in a patriarchy of eons. Forget stories, characters or films, or portraying women on screen, we are still struggling to give them a safe working environment at home or at work. Be it sexual harassment or domestic abuse. The bitter truth is we have a brigade of educated, aware strong women and we also have a mass of women not so aware of their rights. The first lot is trying to fight the battle, the second is suffering without really knowing that there are options or rights that they can exercise.”

“Every time they run women down, they end up making us the better ones”

On Mansplaining

Kanika says, “Mansplaining is everywhere. Be it those jokes that still do the rounds and crack the men up! Or the references we draw in day-to-day life! From trivial to not so trivial. Well, the best way to handle it is to tell yourself that since this gender can’t do without us, cannot put us down, can’t entirely make us behave the way they please. We irk them and it’s a great thing. We indeed are the better sex!”

On writing novels and films

Kanika has penned three novels: Bombay Duck is a FishShiva and the Rise of the Shadows and The Dance of Durga. She finds writing novels and films divergent but fulfilling. “You are a primary creator in a novel and the film is all about teamwork. Unlike novels, screenplays are organic. They can change, or need to be edited as per the interpretation of the director and the actors. As an author, I use my words and the imagination of my readers to evoke an imagery, the colours, the faces, the music, the clothes, the mood and the weather,” she explains.

With novels, she says, her vision is in her head and it connects with her readers directly. “In a film, there is an army that you need to deal with.” On a lighter note, she adds, it’s the social skills that really need to be way better as a screenwriter than as an author. She observes that novels are more indulgent for writers compared to screenplays where brevity holds the key.

On #MeToo Movement

#MeToo is about deconstructing a toxic pattern that has been carrying on since ages. She adds, “So far we still have a lot of silences that need to break, in the top brass – and why only Bollywood – what about the rest of the country? The political class. It’s like a bro code that the political leaders will fight tooth and nail on any issue big and small, and bring their opponents down by hook or by crook, but the moment it’s sexual harassment, how come there is no backlash of an equal proportion?”

“Men sitting in positions of power are still sitting smug, happy in the knowledge that they will be protected and they can get away with their predator like behaviour. We need to make them uncomfortable enough and put the fear of shame and isolation in them. We need to tell them that they’re not invincible.”

Kanika says that although we’ve started #MeToo India, there’s still a long way to go.

Talking about #MeToo in the Indian film fraternity she describes, “Let’s go back to the Hollywood’s #MeToo, where Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd – basically the top Brass came out and spoke. Do we have the same kind of voices coming out condemning or sharing, not really! But having said that, there still is a considerable reaction from a lot of key Bollywood personalities who have rallied around the cause. Directors have been ousted, companies have dissolved. The movement is making an impact.”

She also voices her concern over the difficulty in shaking the powerful predators. As an industry, Kanika urges, they need to come up with a system of checks and balances in terms of rules, regulations, grievance forums etc. “to make sure women are not so vulnerable when they are dealing with sexual offenders.”

Advice to young girls and aspiring writers

Kanika’s advice to young girls who aspire to write is, “Wear a thick skin. Make friends with rejection and criticism. Start living with persistence and don’t stop fighting to protect your voice.” The most significant point she says is they should never stop writing. “The only way to get better is to do more of it! However, a word of caution: choose the stories you want to tell wisely,” she concludes.

Manmarziyaan’s makers credited Kanika as the ‘creative producer’ of the film. This move paves the way in a justifiable and accurate direction for not only writers but also women who have been long waiting to acquire the credit they deserve.

Featured Image Credit: Kanika Dhillon

Also Read: Important To Bring Women To The Forefront: Amar Kaushik

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