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Kanika Dhillon: Writing is my creative expression

Kanika Dhillon  

She doesn’t like getting stagnated in a comfort zone, Kanika K. Dhillon says, towards the end of our conversation. Her eagerness to discover new zones is all so evident in her writings. Her first book ‘Bombay Duck is a Fish’ was a satire on the film industry. Her second ‘Shiva & The Rise of The Shadows’ was a young adult fiction, and her third that will hit bookstores on April 28, ‘The Dance of Durga’ (Harper Collins; Rs. 399), re-examines faith and love, through a feisty protagonist from Punjab.

At her office in Banjara Hills, Kanika smiles at the reference to diverse genres. “After I wrote ‘Bombay Duck…,’ other publications wanted me to write in the same genre. I was eager to move on. Someone who heads a publishing house told me it would be a career suicide. I was told you need to build a brand and for that, you needed to have a consistent voice,” she recalls. The advice came from a marketing perspective, but it didn’t make creative sense to Kanika. “I looked at writing as my creative expression. Maybe someday I’d return to a satire, not now,” she says.

Kanika wanted to explore science fiction and learnt that there was a dearth of home-grown superhero stories for young adults. She wrote ‘Shiva & The Rise of The Shadows’.

With her new novella, she wants to “question the definition of power, love and faith.” Her heroine Rajjo transforms into a Godwoman from a naïve youngster. Rajjo hails from Gurdaspur, and is a nod to Kanika’s own moorings in Punjab. “I grew up in Khankot. So Rajjo’s similar setting is close to my heart, though later she goes to Varanasi and from there, travels the country,” says Kanika.

The idea for this book came from Kanika’s observation of how faith cuts through social strata and education. She remembers spotting juice bottles and sugar sachets bearing a guru’s face and was at a loss trying to reason with someone who felt the products must be healthy since it had his name.

On Rajjo’s journey, Kanika elaborates, “Rajjo is socially conditioned to be a believer, like many of us, but at one point she feels all this is a sham. Her idea of revenge is to become a Godwoman and sell the concept of God. She becomes a star in this business even as she loses faith. Ironically, millions see her as a messenger of god. Rajjo also falls in love in a way that’s socially unacceptable.”

The writing process wasn’t easy. “There was a time I felt Rajjo had become so powerful and I struggled to bring her back to normalcy again.” Kanika moved away from this story for two months until she knew what needed to be done. “The character dictated my writing,” she avers.

Writing for films

In the meantime, Kanika wrote the screenplay of Manmarziyan (a forthcoming Anand L Rai production starring Ayushmann Khurana, Bhumi Phednekar and Vicky Kaushal). She contrasts writing for a film, which calls for brevity, as against a book that’s more descriptive. “ Manmarziyan also has strong characters, but I felt refreshed writing it.”

Kanika Dhillon

As Kanika talks about her books and screenplays, we are curious to know how this alumnus of London School of Economics and St. Stephen’s turned writer, and associated with films like Billu Barber, Om Shanti Om and Ra.One. She laughs and says LSE and St. Stephen’s were part of a backup plan if her writing career didn’t take off. She wanted to be a writer but her parents were concerned if it will help her earn a living and wanted her to study further. After LSE, a plum job with an MNC awaited her. “At that point, I thought I should give writing a shot. I knew if I took up that lucrative corporate job, switching to writing wouldn’t be easy.”

With an excuse of doing a thesis in Mumbai, she shifted base. She had written a few short stories meanwhile and Katha Books published it. “I approached Pritish Nandy Communications and Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainments with the stories,” she recalls. She worked with Red Chillies for five years, followed by other studio stints. “My parents thought I had lost it, but were supportive,” she says.

Kanika doesn’t regret the detour from writing to LSE and Stephen’s. “It is pragmatic to have something to fall back on,” she sums up. She now divides her time between Hyderabad and Mumbai. Her previous screenplay, Size Zero, was directed by her husband Prakash Kovelamudi. The film is poised to be remade in Hindi.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 9:48:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Kanika-Dhillon-Writing-is-my-creative-expression/article14257188.ece

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