Her creativity and imagination helped her bag the job of an assistant director at Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. She also did screenplay and dialogues of some of SRK’s blockbusters. Kanika Dhillon, author of Shiva and the Rise of the Shadows, which was released recently at the Pune Literary Fest, talks about her experience working both on her second novel and film scripts:
How did you come across the story for the novel?
I have always been drawn to fantasy fiction as a genre, be it films or books. Since I started writing, the urge to write a fantasy novel was always in the back of my head. And then the whole talk of 2012, theories of doomsday started emerging as a narrative in the psyche across the world. That sparked off an idea of teenagers who are descendants of Gods, tracked down by a secret society of keepers who would have the power to save the world from annihilation. Also, the notion that we live in a world we know nothing about was exciting. Secret societies, mythological references to the era of Kalyug, various themes I was drawn to merged themselves and the idea for Shiva arose from those themes. While I was hunting for a story for my second novel that would challenge and excite me, I had the urge to venture into fantasy fiction. It was escapism at its best and challenged me as an author. The risk and challenges really helped me grow.
Why do you feel drawn to the stories you write?
My main reason for writing a story is that I really want to tell the story, so that the readers can take that journey with my character and it should challenge me as a writer at the same time. Like in Bombay Duck is a Fish, it was an urge to capture the underbelly of Bollywood that we generally don’t get to see. In Shiva, it was the challenge to follow the journey of my protagonist Shiva, a reluctant descendant of a powerful ancestor whom we all worship as a God—in a post-nuclear war period.
Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book?
I feel a writer has hundred faces and multiple characters, and he or she infuses a bit of himself or herself in each and every character they write about. Good, bad, ugly, voyeuristic, it all stems from somewhere within and there is a piece of you in everything you write. As a reader I can only aspire to be a character, and I would love to be each of the March sisters one by one, the four sisters in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
Tell us about your journey to become a writer.
Since my mother was a professor teaching English literature, writing was a natural form of self expression since a young age. As a young keen reader constantly surrounded by books, I started wanting to write and took every opportunity—writing for declamations, debates, plays for school or working for college magazines. After a while, professional ambitions took over and I’d made peace with the fact that closet writer was the best I was going to be and that’s where the journey would end. Through my college, as I worked hard on getting a degree, in my free time I laboured endlessly to self-educate and know more about the process of writing. However, by the time I was through with my masters at London School of Economics, I realised writing had become a passion. Life took a U-turn and instead of a corporate job I found myself working in Bollywood. After working on a couple of films I realised the bittersweet stories around me that I wanted to pen down, the underbelly of Bollywood, hence came my debut novel.
What has been the toughest criticism as a writer?
My toughest criticism was for the climax of my first novel. I had some readers writing to me saying how the end was not what they had expected and they were disappointed, as they loved the protagonist Neki. I think it has also taught me to be more mindful of suddenly changing the tempo, pace and tonality in the end.
Many writers describe themselves as “character” or “plot” writers. Which are you?
I give equal weightage to character and plots. However, sometimes the story and the nature of the genre also dictate what should be focused on. The hardest part of writing is to make the reader believe that the world he has created between the covers exists. That the characters the reader is reading about become a part of his life.
A lot of writers—at various points— struggle with rejection, unsupportive friends or family members, mixed reviews, and their own insecurities.
Absolutely not. Like I said my first collection of short stories is still lying with me—rejected and unpublished! And then the climax of my debut novel was something I had to defend to a lot of readers, friends and critics. Criticism is a part of any creative process.
Any plan to adapt your stories to the screen?
Yes, if it lends itself to a screenplay. In fact one of my upcoming novels—Size Zero—is both a book and a film.