When screenwriter Kanika Dhillon set out to write a modern-day romance, she did not want it to be a mushy celebration of love. Instead, she wanted to depict the fickleness and unease that accompany romantic relationships. The result was a messy love triangle that went on to become the script of Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan.
“We lead such complicated lives but in cinema we kind of simplify them,” Dhillon told Scroll.in. “We never really show them in their raw, naked forms. We often box them. In this story, I wanted to present these characters as they were: complicated, unreasonable and sometimes reasonable, and messy.”
Starring Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal and Abhishek Bachchan, Manmarziyaan will be released in India on September 14 after its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto Film Festival (September 6-16) under the title Husband Material.
Set in Amritsar, the film tells the story of Pannu’s sharp-tongued Rumi, who is torn between two men: the reckless Vicky (Kaushal) and the level-headed Robbie (Bachchan). Dhillon said she took two years to complete the script and said the film tells a story that everyone can relate to.
“We like to keep love as a very pure emotion,” Dhillon explained. “We are all humans and we are all capable of doing things that we are not really proud of. You may not come across as an enduring strong character, but you will be genuine and truthful. That is how my characters are. You are going to be in joy, pain and you are going to be uncomfortable, all at the same time. That is how we live.”
Dhillon’s writing credits include Anubhav Sinha’s superhero film Ra One (2011) and Prakash Kovelamudi’s Telugu drama Size Zero (2015), which takes on body image issues. She has also written the books Bombay Duck is a Fish (2011), Shiva and the Rise of the Shadows (2013) and The Dance of Durga (2016).
Dhillon said she did not have any genres or benchmarks in mind while writing Manmarziyaan, which made the experience liberating. “There was no moral or cultural check that it has to adhere to a kind of tonality.”
On her writing process, she said, “Once my physical setting of a story is decided, then I will look for an emotional setting to match it. Once I am satisfied with it, that is when I get to writing the whole screenplay.”
The film tackles the heart’s fickle ways and the dilemmas posed by a love triangle without any judgement, Dhillon asserted. “It is possible to love one person for something and another person for something else,” she explained.
Dhillon said there was no one better than Kashyap to steer such a story. “In retrospect I think I wrote this film for Anurag [Kashyap],” Dhillon said. “The film needed a mind that was very non-judgmental. Working with Anurag was a dream come true. I loved the way Anurag has interpreted the characters from the film.”
Among Dhillon’s upcoming films are Prakash Kovelamudi’s psychological thriller Mental Hai Kya starring Rajkummar Rao and Kangana Ranaut, and Kedarnath, starring Sushant Singh Rajput.
Will she bring shades of grey to those films too? “I do not like sanitised characters,” Dhillon said. “They make me nervous. Even as a person I gravitate towards people who have an edge.”