Manmarziyaan writer Kanika Dhillon: My characters are unapologetic, don’t feel need for justifications
Manmarziyaan has given me a sense of fulfilment...and there is nothing I want to change in this film — Kanika Dhillon
Ever since the trailer of Manmarziyaan was released, the hype surrounding the film was massive. Anurag Kashyap’s foray into romance, Abhishek Bachchan’s return to the screen after a two-year gap, Vicky Kaushal’s strikingly different avatar and a film that revealed untapped shades of Taapsee Pannu, were some of the many attractions. But, despite receiving a positive response from critics, this tale of messy reality of youth romance failed to connect with the youth and with the general movie-watching audience. Screenwriter and creative producer of Manmarziyaan, Kanika Dhillon, too, wonders what could have gone wrong.
“Whoever has gone to see the film has really enjoyed it and have said some amazing things. They have also connected to all three characters but I don’t know why we haven’t got the numbers. That we can’t predict. All we can do is continue to make good stories. I am not in a position to kind of evaluate the market or box office because I don’t have all the knowledge or expertise to do it. But I can focus on bringing out good characters and good stories and eventually it will find the audience,” says Dhillon. An author with three books to her credit, Dhillon began her career with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment over a decade ago. She went on to serve as an assistant director on Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om and further co-wrote the script of RaOne. With Manmarziyaan, Dhillon has debuted as an independent story, screenplay and dialogue writer.
The film shows the tempestuous relationship between Rumi (Taapsee Pannu) and Vicky (Vicky Kaushal). Rumi is under pressure to marry Vicky but latter is not ready to commit, and even as Rumi agrees to an arranged marriage, her lover refuses to exit the picture. With many questions being raised over the characterisation of Abhishek and Taapsee, Dhillon says, “My characters in the film are unapologetic and they don’t have to justify themselves and that is why Manmarziyaan is a contemporary tale of love. That is the thread and tone of the film.”
She continues, “When I narrated the script to Taapsee, she had a few pertinent questions about her character. When the character sleeps with her boyfriend after her marriage, she wanted to discuss that at length. She wanted to understand, wanted to take her time to the state of mind of this character. She was like, ‘I will do it if I feel I can do it convincingly’. But when I narrated the story, the first reactions of all the actors was very heartening and also the kind of film it is, there is always a healthy discussion and debate about the judgement, the moralities. They are all thinking actors and won’t get into any role blindly. They would evaluate and sink their teeth into the character. I would love the questions they would ask at the script level.”
“They also knew that with Anurag helming the project would put them at ease. Anurag is brilliant with actors. They were risky characters to a large extent. For instance, Vicky is reckless, irresponsible and considered selfish and yet he is loveable, so to bring that out…dangerously rebellious/selfish/endearing character. Putting all these adjectives in one character would put anyone to think before sinking their teeth into it. Same goes for Robbie (Bachchan) to play that very simple yet wise yet recklessly falling in love, impulsive...there were dichotomies in all these characters. To travel in this, but, of course, Anurag directing gave them the confidence. All these three characters on paper had to kind of travel through valleys and mountains and I think it was good and a brave decision to mull over it. Eventually all of us came together,” says Dhillon.
While Dhillon believes in taking criticism in “the best possible manner” and “in the right spirit”, she wouldn’t like to change anything in the film even if given a chance. “I will always remain true to the story and characters I am writing. As a writer you are judged at every stage. I want to create a mental state which doesn’t break your confidence and push you to do better and that is the kind of balance I want to find and that’s what I am struggling with. Even when I write my books, I always feel, when I sit down to post-mortem, I could have written the book in a different manner. That is more of a habit. But there is nothing in particular I want to change in this film,” she says.
“We reflect the kind of environment and society we are interacting with. Film is the result of the society that we are. A mark of an evolving society is the changing norms, changing situation and changing moralities should be reflected in art. That gives you a stamp of change. If you see it in cinema, or read in a book and accept without any judgment, that puts a stamp of approval in terms of that we have accepted that we are changing. We have accepted that love can be fickle, we have accepted that love can destroy you, we have accepted that marriage as an institution can also be messy, it can be broken and is not sacrosanct. We are all living this reality but have we accepted this in the Indian society rooted in this whole culture of marriage and divinity of love? We are doing all of it in our lives but are we accepting it?,” she questions.
“If you see it in a form of art and cinema which is such a huge influencer in our society, and once you accept it then we can say we have evolved, not for the better or for worse but there is a change, there is an evolution, there is movement of thoughts, of ideas, of situations. That is where Manmarziyaan has come from,” says Dhillon, further adding, “There’s a line in the film, ‘Shaadi shuru nahi hui pyaar khatam nahi hua’. Many of us have been in this situation. This reality of overlapping between love and marriage, many of us have been in that state and it is not a happy zone to be in. It gets messed up, some people get out of it, some sink and some stay in that. It is messy, but it is love.”
Parallels were drawn between Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Manmarziyaan because of a similar premise, and Dhillon says, “Yes, many people told me that the film reminds them of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. That was the last landmark film and it took us 20 years to come to another triangle like this which says a lot. But I feel love stories are more about characters, emotions and moments rather than plot because love stories will ultimately revolve around characters. Pick up any love story in the history of cinema and you will have that kind of format but what was great about Jab We Met, or Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, or Mani Ratnam’s Bombay and all the iconic love stories so far — it was the fantastic characters and they reached out to us. In that sense, I am okay with the comparisons.”
Manmarziyaan, undoubtedly, is a special film for Dhillon, who has also written Abhishek Kapoor's Kedarnath and Rajkummar Rao-Kangana Ranaut starrer, Mental Hai Kya. "Manmarziyaan has given me a sense of fulfilment. For some, Manmarziyaan is perfect whereas for some it's flawed. There is always another story, another character another next time, perhaps I will reach out to those who didn’t enjoy this. I also want more love from the audience. But I will not hold myself to please X, Y and Z and will always remain true to the story and characters I am writing," says Dhillon.
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