- Punam Mohandas
- 12 November 2019
"I am a greedy writer!"
SWA Exclusive interview with screenwriter Kanika Dhillon
Kanika Dhillon has been much in the news of late, with her scripts such as ‘Manmarziyaan’ ‘Kedarnath’ and ‘Judgemental Hai Kya’ starring high profile actors and with big budgets, hitting the theatres in quick succession. Rarely has a writer been so prolific as to have three diverse screenplays following on the heels of the other – and we wonder how she does it! She recently spoke to SWA for an exclsuive interview. Here're the excerpts:
Is the film industry more open to newer ideas and offering screenwriters better pay and respect now?
“It's a beautiful period for story-tellers and content creators where all kinds of content is finding an audience,” she says fervently. “Also, the success of a project now is being attributed to content which is a welcome and logical development. With this changing landscape of market forces and content driven stories finding a strong connect with audiences – the content creators are definitely in a better position to create and command more respect.”
How did the script of ‘Judgemental Hai Kya’ come about?
I wanted to write a story about this character who views the world differently because of her mental condition - and then how the world views her differently in return. At one point in life, I was struggling with my own anxiety issues and in retrospect, it all seemed twisted, dark and funny. The germ of a character was born there…” she muses.
How do you handle criticism? Did the feedback to 'Manmarziyaan' especially, demotivate you?
“I am a greedy writer,” declares Kanika. “Hate me, love me, criticise me - as long as you are giving me a reaction, I am happy! Because that is invaluable feedback for me. I would be demotivated if you ignore me as a writer! And many a times I find a lot of gems in the criticism I receive, so I have learnt to welcome it!” she says, tongue-in-cheek.
Is it more important to you how the film fares at the box office, or is enough to have your story told?
It depends on what stage of your career you are in. What expectation have you set from your own film, what is driving you as a creative person at that point; at some point it could be the box office, at another it could be critical acclaim. But as long as neither of this is corrupting the story you want to tell - the story comes first. Once I am done with writing it for the audience I want, I can set the expectation - whether box office success, critical acclaim or starting a discourse; what do I want out of this story. And perhaps if I get all – then that's the best case scenario. But as a story teller, that is not my starting point for a story. The desperate need to tell a story is the only reason to tell a story!” she avers.
You have written screenplays on a wide variety of films. Although this is a trite question, one asks it in the hope of inspiring other writers – what inspires you, what grabs your interest and you think, ah! This could be turned into a story?
“It’s important for me to tell you here that for every idea or story I chose to tell, there are almost tens of discarded ideas, stories and characters; there is literally a graveyard!” says Kanika wryly. “So it's a very difficult decision to make! To be able to commit and then nurture an idea into a full fledged screenplay. A lot of deaths and unfinished burials happen along the way, but the idea that survives the finishing line, which keeps me inspired and engaged and instinctively I keep going back to, eventually makes the cut! So it's a very instinctive decision… and I tend to discover the viability of a story along the way and not right at the start of it! But yes with every story, I do hope that I will be able to develop it fully and keep the inspiration alive.”
As a screenwriter, what are your strengths and what is it that you find the most challenging? How do you deal with the writer’s block syndrome?
“As a screenwriter, I feel my ability to associate and connect with my characters is my strength. I tend to let them take over a narrative with a very strong voice and perhaps that's what makes them stand out- be it Rumi, Vicky and Robbie from ‘Manmarziyan,’ Mukku and Mansoor from ‘Kedarnath’ or Bobby and Keshav from ‘Judgemental Hai Kya.’ Ironically, cracking my characters and keeping them in line with a plot line and narrative is also the most challenging for me as I have a compulsive need to be engaged and inspired by all my characters – be it creating for leading roles or secondary roles! The art of balancing all these characters – in a narrative and plot – is something I have to watch out for, because it can lead to indulgence,” she comments.
Once you get an idea, what is your writing process to develop it? Have you had any training in screenwriting?
The best training in writing is to write and re-write. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I have authored three novels, I have three films and have been writing for TV shows. I feel one develops the writing instinct along the way. I also believe writing is an instinct; you either have a flair for it or you don't! And if you do, then the best training that one can have is to just write your heart out. And eventually you will find your rhythm!”
In a previous interview, you’ve mentioned that you’d rather produce than direct. Why is that?
“I am happy writing and producing content right now. Direction is a completely different ball game all together and as of now, I am enjoying the space I am in.”
A lot of newbie writers are now being given opportunities by the Hindi film industry, which hitherto only supported those from film families or with film connections. Do you agree that it is much easier now to make a breakthrough in the industry as a new writer?
“I’d say this is the best time to be a writer in this industry! So if you have a burning desire to tell a story – jump right in! I feel we are in a golden phase where good stories are not going to be ignored!” Kanika concludes.