Where 'Dev D' ends, 'Manmarziyaan' starts, says screenwriter Kanika Dhillon
The novelist-turned-screenwriter is common enough in Bollywood, but Manmarziyaan writer Kanika Dhillon is a bit different. Her screenwriting career signals no inclination to have her novels made into films; literature and cinema, she concludes, are different animals. Having penned three books (Bombay Duck is a Fish, Shiva & The Rise of The Shadows, A Dance of Durga) and co-written two films (Ra.One, Size Zero), Kanika is making her independent screenwriting debut with Manmarziyaan. Directed by Anurag Kashyap and produced by Aanand L Rai, the films stars Abhishek Bachchan, Vicky Kaushal and Taapsee Pannu in the lead. In an exclusive interview with Cinema Express, Kanika describes Manmarziyaan as an ‘edgy, complicated love story’ set in contemporary Punjab.
How personal is the story of Manmarziyaan for you?
I was born and raised in Amritsar. The characters of Manmarziyaan are deeply rooted in that world. This is the first film I’ve written entirely on my own, including story, screenplay and dialogues. I wanted to return to my origins to tell this story. It’s completely my voice.
You were insistent on getting Anurag Kashyap to direct this film. Why?
When I was writing the script, I was secretly wishing for Anurag to direct it. But everyone told me he is a writer-director, that he doesn’t direct films by others. But I wanted to try my luck. Manmarziyaan is a complicated love story with a completely non-judgmental and fearless take.
Is it true that Aanand L Rai produced Mukkabaaz to get Anurag on board for Manmarziyaan?
When Aanand sir heard the script of Manmarziyaan, he instantly agreed to produce it. On my request, he approached Anurag, who was busy with Mukkabaaz at that time. So Aanand sir decided to produce both films. It tells you a lot about his passion for good stories.
Despite many difficulties, he has stood by my vision. He gives writers a lot of respect and freedom.
How did the cast come together?
We needed an edgy and complicated combination of actors. Taapsee and Vicky were obvious choices. Aanand sir suggested Abhishek for the role of Robbie. I think Abhishek’s character has turned out amazingly. I can’t think of anyone else playing it.
The drama seems to revolve around Taapsee’s character...
Taapsee didn’t have to act in this film – she is Rumi. She has the same fieriness that her character has. There’s a certain wildness to her spirit, it’s very sufi-like, hence I called her Rumi.
How different is writing a novel from writing a screenplay?
Writing a novel is a personal experience, while filmmaking is collaborative. A novelist plays with words and sentences, while screenwriters need brevity and visual appeal. You need very different skill sets for each. Presently, I am focused on creating a body of work in films.
After Manmarziyaan, I have two more films coming out: Kedarnath and Mental Hai Kya.
Will you want to direct someday?
I definitely will. Right now, I am enjoying the process of writing. I am in a very creative space. When I feel I have the right story, I will plunge into direction.
Anurag Kashyap has a reputation of improvising on set. Did you ever have creative differences with him?
I was present on set every day and we had long discussions before shooting some scenes. I never felt Anurag was changing my vision in any way. He connected with the story at a very gut level. Whenever we had an argument, he would either convince me or get convinced. That’s the fantastic thing about him. Amit Trivedi has composed the music of Manmarziyaan.
The songs have a very experimental, earthy flavour...
I am a huge fan of Dev.D. It was Amit Tridevi's breakout album. When Anurag recommended him for Manmarziyaan, I went crazy. Nothing can match up to the Anurag Kashyap-Amit Trivedi combination. They understand each other thoroughly. They finish each other's sentences. After reading the script, Anurag told me, "Where Dev.D ends for me, Manmarziyaan begins."