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Mini Mathur: This is a very special episode of the show, and we know that everybody who plugs in to us is a legit cinephile, a closet filmmaker and a screenwriter. So, we thought it was a good idea to put their screenwriting skills to test, and here we are with the team of Haseen Dillruba.

I know everyone’s looking a little frazzled by seeing me here instead of Smriti. I know you weren’t expecting me, but kahani mein twist pe aap logon ka copyright hai kya? Hum bhi Dinesh Pandit padh lete hai kabhi kabhi.

Smriti Kiran: This is a spoiler-filled session. So, if you haven’t seen Haseen Dillruba, please go and watch it, and then come back and plug into this chat. Mini, please take over.

Mini Mathur: I’m a big fan of the film. Kanika, I’ve been seeing a lot of your films, and I love how you write your characters. What’s amazing is that you’re a graduate in Economics from St. Stephens, you’re an LSE post-grad, yet you switched lanes and chose to take lunch orders and printouts at Red Chillies. Then, you made your move to films. I’m sure somewhere this defiance and perseverance, so to speak, found their way to Rani Kashyap’s character in this film. Is this why you feel really compelled to write the kind of women characters that you actually do, who are rebellious and who defy boxes?

Kanika Dhillon: How beautifully put, Mini! Nobody’s made that reference before, but you have hit quite near home. As a person, I am a non-conformist and I do like to do things my way. I do like to have the agency of choice, be it in making my life decisions or be it while creating heroines who have that agency of choice. A big part of who I am and what my belief system is… Not to say that I endorse extramarital affairs, like Taapsee has been going around and telling people, so I have given that disclaimer out. At the core of it, being a nonconformist and heavily protecting the agency of choice as a woman is something that I carry with me. It automatically translates into my characters.

Mini Mathur: Vinil, you’ve always cast brilliantly for your ads. Even here, I particularly enjoyed your choice. Is the world you create around your principal characters as important as storytelling for you?

Vinil Mathew: Absolutely. You have to choose your actors wisely because the film works in totality, so you can’t have a primary cast existing as another unit and your other characters as a different unit. So, definitely, one spends a lot of time thinking about the primary and the secondary cast. I usually try to find people who would do justice to the character written. But also, one wants to get some element of freshness. You don’t want to see the same people and ones who are the obvious choices. If you’re casting somebody who’s known as an obvious choice, then treat them differently or present them in a manner that is fresh. So, those are the two things that pretty much influence my casting choice. The same goes for this film.

Aditya Srivastava as Inspector Kishore Rawat

Mini Mathur: How was it like working with and putting two actors together like Vikrant and Taapsee, who are both huge pillars of the craft in their own right? Vikrant is somebody who has a background in theatre, so he’s very studied, and Taapsee is a spontaneous firecracker of a performer who will give her best in her very first take. How do these two people get directed together? How do you manage this?

Vinil Mathew: Firecracker is the right word for Taapsee, for sure. As you know, Mini, in our industry, actors cast us, not the other way around.

Taapsee Pannu: Now, Vinil, I want you to come up with the truth and nothing but the truth about how I was cast. I want the truth from both Kanika and Vinil. If you don’t tell me, you wait and see how I’m going to present it. This is probably the last interview I’m doing for this film, so you two better be true to this question.

Vinil Mathew: Kanika, since your association with Taapsee goes much longer than mine, why don’t you tell us the truth?

Taapsee Pannu: The background is not important. Everybody knows the background. Kanika has written Manmarziyaan, and she knew me even before that. A little background information about Vinil. Vinil has rejected me for an ad.

Kanika Dhillon: Vinil, I’ll start it off, and then please take over.

I shared the story idea of Haseen Dillruba with Taapsee around the time that we were finishing Manmarziyaan. Taapsee immediately told me that it sounded very exciting. I said, ‘Of course, I’ll come to you when I’m done with this.’ Then, the film was written, but there was a big gap from Manmarziyaan onwards. I did a couple of other films in between and I went back to the story of Haseen. I brought it out and wrote it. Taapsee was busy doing so many other things by then.

I called Taapsee and said, ‘Babes, why have you been avoiding my calls? Please pick up.’ I was running around, and Vinil asked me what’s happening, so I told that Taapsee wasn’t giving me any time. Finally, I narrated the script to Taapsee, and Vinil and I went out, had a drink and celebrated Taapsee.

Mini Mathur: This is such a dry-cleaned version of the real truth.

Taapsee Pannu: This is not even dry-cleaned. This is not the version at all.

Vinil Mathew: Each story has its own journey. I wasn’t the first choice either. I don’t think it matters as long as I was the choice. Eventually, I got into the film. That’s what matters. There’s a sense of destiny for each of us. I think except for Kanika, all of us were rejected mutants who luckily managed to get together to make this film.

Taapsee Pannu as Rani and Vikrant Massey as Rishu

We had a different kind of character in mind, a different personality in mind. Hence, we started out seeking actors accordingly. It was a hypothetical thing. Taapsee had just come off Manmarziyaan, which was also a love triangle written by Kanika, there was an extramarital affair there too. One was aware that one had to be as differentiated from the previous film. It was coming back-to-back. We weren’t sure about how different this film would be. It couldn’t be a sequel to Manmarziyaan, which is probably why Taapsee wasn’t the immediate choice, because it would just be a repetitive casting in that sense. So, we did seek out, and unlike what Taapsee often says that we exhausted all options, that wasn’t the case. We met a female actor. But we were not able to close the film because we were unable to cast a male actor opposite that actor. It was stuck.

We give the credit to Aanand sir, who knew Taapsee much better. He said, ‘Let’s not pull this any longer. If Taapsee comes on board, we can just start the film with her. She’s big enough for us to get the project on the floor and get moving.’ Kanika went and met Taapsee and narrated the script. I wasn’t part of that. Then, there was a five-minute introduction session, which I’d requested for myself to be able to meet Taapsee and figure out where we stood. Taapsee came. She was dressed like a very dainty girl, very different from what one would have expected. You just didn’t know what was coming at you. Two minutes into a pleasant conversation, I was given a very candid admission by Taapsee. ‘Look, I don’t give more than three takes and I don’t do rehearsals.’

Mini Mathur: So, you started the film on frenemy vibes?

Vinil Mathew: I will take out the ‘fre-’ bit of ‘frenemy’.

Taapsee Pannu: I was like, ‘This is karma. You reject me, and now you have to put up with me for an entire film.’

Mini Mathur: Vikrant, I really enjoyed watching you in the film. I’ve noticed that you’ve never really hesitated to pick roles that are relatively smaller and in films with very strong women characters, even when you’re being chased in the industry. What really makes the cut for you?

Vikrant Massey: There are multiple reasons, for sure. To begin with, I was not in a position to choose until a couple of years ago. Whatever came my way, I just wanted to capitalise on that and make the most of the opportunities provided. Post A Death in the Gunj I got more offers. I was, at the same time, blessed with a lot of people coming to me with good scripts, maybe because of their faith in me from whatever they’d seen before. So, it’s an amalgamation of so many things. For example, Alankrita is someone who is a dear friend, who makes really strong films and has a very strong voice. She has been doing that for years. It’s a moment of honour for me to be a part of that.

I will also concede one thing, which I probably very recently realised about myself. It’s also a conscious decision to collaborate with them because, unfortunately, I have been, like most of us, a product of patriarchy. Up until college, I was not very aware of women’s issues. I was not sensitive to it. So, for me, my life has come full circle and I am getting an opportunity to sort of cleanse my sins and probably sensitise my own self while working with them, understanding things far more closely. And I wanted to contribute in whatever way I could. When I started travelling because of work post-college, I started self-educating with regard to a lot of things. Here I was presented with an opportunity to work with such great minds, to learn a lot of things, which I was not exposed to earlier. And at the same time do something I love the most and is the only thing I can do, which is act. I just want to contribute and at the same time, focus on myself and play parts that are relevant. I want to play parts that resonate with people and do justice to whatever is offered to me. That is how it is. The ultimate truth is that one film leads to another. I have to be at my A-game for other people to notice my work. All of these things just fell in the right place at the right time, and here I am. I hope I continue to do so.

Mini Mathur: Alankrita, whom you’ve worked with in Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, said that you are so sensitive to the role that your character plays in the larger narrative, and that makes for a really selfless actor.

Vikrant Massey: In her films, I end up playing someone treading between the grey and the black. I just want to represent society. I believe it’s a symbiotic relationship. Any form of art is reflective of the world we live in. That’s how it is. So, I want to contribute in whatever way I can to this larger narrative that is so important.

Smriti Kiran: The film hinged on your character working. Rishu has the sharpest arc in the film. You oscillate between the intimidated and near evil. How did you bring humanity to Rishu’s blind spots?

Vikrant Massey: A lot of it was laid there for us. The structure that was provided in the script was more or less good to go. So, there was not a lot for me individually to work on. Obviously, when you’re on the floor working, you’re improvising. When you’re working with someone like Taapsee and Vinil, who have a great photographic memory, they definitely aid a lot of things that you do and you put in your bits. But most of it was actually laid there for all of us. Vinil complemented that world really well. If I were to say how I made it human, I would say that it was already set up that way. There are so many subtle things out there. For example, when the inspector is saying, ‘Aisi auratein bohot chalaak hoti hai.’ Ye saari cheezein saath mein chal rahi hai, so that makes it real. As I said earlier, we are only reflecting on what we’ve experienced and what we’ve seen around. The entire arc was so beautifully structured. Kanika is someone who brings her own experiences to paper and then complements it on the screen. It’s a bit of everything coming together. It’s also a lot about how I have responded to Taapsee on the floor.

Mini Mathur: Taapsee, you’ve never hesitated to call a spade a spade. How do you judge and weigh the characters that you play, and their potential impact on everyone who watches the film?

Taapsee Pannu: I think the impact happens when I strike that chord with the audience and get the relatability and the association right – in the sense that when someone watches the film, they feel that it feels like them. ‘This feels like I could have been this.’ So, that relatability is what has helped me get the impact that my characters have on my audience. That has been my biggest weapon from the time I have discovered that this is what I can do with my performance, which was in the beginning of my career here in Hindi cinema. When I moved to Hindi cinema from the South, I realised that if I stopped being the aspirational person and try to be a real character who has shades of grey, sometimes lighter, darker, because all of us have that then it will help me normalise real, female characters on screen to a great extent. That became the reason for the impact.

Mini Mathur: I’ve also heard you say that in your personal life, you’re a fairly conventional person. Yet when it comes to the characters that you pick, you pick fearless, uninhibited and slightly avant-garde characters, some of which, of course, Kanika writes for you. Does this delight you or make you question your own ideas about how you have evolved?

Taapsee Pannu: I am pretty black and white in real life. My characters on screen are much more fun and exciting than who I am in my real life. I think it just helps me live that alternate life where I do that. It also puts me in that uncomfortable zone on screen. That is what brings out something that I don’t know exists in me. I like to play out of my comfort zone. Rani was out of my comfort zone. Like them, nobody else would have imagined me as the first name for Rani Kashyap because it’s not the regular Taapsee casting. It brought out something new and different from me, and probably that worked for the character as well; because in your head if you expect a femme fatale, who’s also really sensuous, uses her sexuality and all, you expect a certain type of look, maybe because someone not so conventional for that character did that character that it started looking different from a regular prototype. That really helps me bring out that newness and realness in these kinds of unconventional characters on screen.

Harshvardhan Rane as Neel and Taapsee Pannu as Rani

Mini Mathur: Amrita in Thappad reacted to domestic violence in a completely different way from how Rani did in Haseen Dillruba. How did you fix that in terms of how you played the characters and what you felt was the right portrayal of them?

Taapsee Pannu: Amrita was a very white character as compared to Rani. You can barely pick flaws in her, right? So, when she is so white and when that happens to her, it looks like one is oppressed and the other is the oppressor. That’s the feeling that you get when you see one flawless character, who isn’t like a flawed character. You feel that this character deserved better.

On the other hand, when you have Rani and Rishu, two really flawed characters, if you start seeing from only one lens, which is that of Rishu’s, it is going to be unfair because you need to see from Rani’s perspective as well. She is also not the most white character. She is not the person who just did the most righteous things. To top it all, it’s not like Rishu says that we should be together. He says, in a very clear line, ‘Main tumhe maar dunga if you stay with me.’

She knowingly says, ‘I still want to be with you.’ Isn’t that a choice that she makes out of no pressure? Nobody forced her to be there. She knows that there’s a flaw in her. She probably takes that decision in order to overcome that flaw or forgive herself by making sure she still makes the relationship work and turn the opinion of the guy after whatever she had done. Nobody pressured her. Nobody forced her. Nobody was oppressing her. She chose it. Because she was also wrong somewhere, she knew, this was her way of repentance. So, you can’t judge the same act with the same lens when they’re two very different characters to whom that’s happening, or who are choosing for that to happen to them.

Mini Mathur: Panditji ne kaha tha ki woh pyaar hi kya jisme khoon ke chhittein na ho. It is a slippery slope to navigate. We have fought hard to steer our narratives away from perpetuating male toxicity. Did you at any point worry about slipping into the very old patterns that writers like you, Kanika, and directors like you, Vinil, have tried to break?

Kanika Dhillon: As Taapsee rightly put it, while I was scripting it, I was aware of the fact that this could be misconstrued in a manner where it may seem like it is romanticising the abuse or romanticising the oppressor. I was unable to convince myself that it was because for the simple reason that I’m in no way emotionally, physically, financially, in any way, making the woman disabled. In fact, when two people aren’t on an equal footing or when a person is more powerful than the other, oppression can happen. You can term it as oppression; you can term it as one is a victim and one is an oppressor. In this case, the person that we are thinking of can be termed as oppressed and Vikrant being the guy who’s inflicting some kind of abuse on the woman, I have deliberately constructed the woman to be more powerful, to have a very strong agency of choice. It is deliberate. At no point do you feel that it was beyond her means to get out of it. At no point do you feel that she was manipulated into it or forced into it.

So, I was convinced of it myself. I am aware of patriarchy. I’m also very sensitive to it. But I did make a very conscious choice to make sure that the balance of power is kept in a way that we do not fall into the trap of the woman being the oppressed and the man actually inflicting violence on her and then me going on to romanticise it. That is how I’ve tried to take care of that aspect of it.

The story is about a love that faces extraordinary situations. This is not just one choosing another partner or getting confused between two people. It is about how far you are going to go in love for the feeling of redemption or even sacrifice. In the climax, there comes a point where Vikrant’s character has to choose between self-preservation and sacrifice. He chooses to sacrifice to be together with his lover. Also, I would like to mention here that there’s an overall arc to this character. It’s not that I’ve just left it at, ‘He’s such a romantic guy because he beats up his wife or he’s so appealing because he’s got this raw sexuality which is almost violent.’ I haven’t done that. The point where she falls in love with this guy is not when he turns violent. The point where she falls in love with this guy is when she sees that he’s standing there and he’s taking all the emotional trauma and still protecting her. So, that is the moment she realises that this man is really much more than what she thought he was. That’s where the turnaround starts happening, and she then goes on to make the choice of staying on and seeing if she could make things right.

Coming to Rishu’s character, from the inception of this character, he says, ‘Main pankha theek karne ke layak hoon.’ He’s saying that he’s not the hero in anybody’s life. He’s a wallflower, and everybody thinks that it’s okay to fuck him over. When he wants to express that he’s angry, when he wants to express that he matters, that he’s not okay with this, coupled with male ego and somebody humiliating him, he is going to act out of character entirely. He is going to make mistakes, and he does rectify them in the end. So, I have not left the guy in a romantic situation, of him being violent in his love. I’ve taken the arc to where he apologises, where things become okay. I’ve made my heroine say that this is not you, that you’re a good guy and you’re just behaving in a way because you’re angry, and it’s not cool. He has understood it and he has apologised, then we’ve found the resolution. He’s gone as far as to even sacrifice himself in the love story.

I think I’ve dodged the bullet as a writer. My director has done a fantastic job. It’s a very difficult thing for him to direct because it’s one thing to write it on paper and another to direct. Of course, I wasn’t going to give the scripts out to the audiences. It had to be made into a film, it had to live, breathe and feel real. Vinil came in and did absolute magic on it. Whenever I see the film, I’m like, ‘Thank God, Vikrant was playing Rishu!’ Every time I watch the last shot, I’m like, ‘Thank God for Vikrant!’ And Taapsee, of course, we know is outstanding. That’s why I keep gravitating towards her, even though she may say that I do not, but I do.

Taapsee Pannu: She just makes sure that I make the mistakes with aplomb. Kanika makes sure that she writes my characters as someone who very confidently goes all over the place making mistakes.

Kanika Dhillon: I’m very fascinated by Taapsee. I love her guts in real life. I love people who are out there. I gravitate towards people like that. I feel a natural magnetism towards her.

Mini Mathur: She’s the muse to your feminism, I think.

Taapsee Pannu: But I don’t know how it happens that she looks at me and thinks, ‘How do I turn her upside down in front of the camera and show a completely different side of the female, which doesn’t exist in her.’ Her films where the girl is doing wrong all over the place are the two scripts that I have done. Her other characters are much nicer, confident girls, very powerful characters but good and nice. Only I get to do the bad ones. I’m the chosen one.

Smriti Kiran: Vinil, second acts are supposed to be much harder than your first ones. How did your experience of directing Hasee Toh Phasee inform your turn as far as Haseen Dillruba goes?

Vinil Mathew: I don’t think there was any conscious choice of doing something differently vis-a-vis my first film. Unfortunately, there was a gap of seven years between both films. Most people think that I directed my first film, then went to some sort of an ashram, disappeared and came back for the second film. I’m also a practising advertising filmmaker. A journalist asked me, ‘Did you forget your skills? Were you able to get them back?’ I said, ‘This is something I do for a living. I’m on a set, and I’m dealing with actors. The systems are pretty much the same.’

Not that I have a body of work in long format, but when Haseen Dillruba came, I actually didn’t see it with any other perspective than giving this script a hundred percent. It was a new journey for me. I didn’t have the baggage of the past. It was something that I started afresh. My attempt and my effort were to be true to this story, and how I bring it to life.

Consciously, there was no such thought, but subconsciously, there were a few things. When I did my first film, even though I’d come after years of shooting advertising films, I was a newbie. I would welcome suggestions and opinions of others, those who’d spent a longer time in features. I would take their opinions very voluntarily. I felt that I needed to secure myself with better counsel when there were situations. I realised that not all of them worked out at the end of it. I had to defend something which I actually was never, in the first place, convinced about. So, I was very sure that this time around, whether good or bad, right or wrong, I would just go with my intuition. This was so that even if things don’t work out tomorrow, if I have to defend something, I’d rather defend my own mistakes than somebody else’s advice which I’ve taken that now I can’t stand for.

In that sense, there were times where I very forcefully steamrolled things that I felt I was sure about. I was not always right. When the film was complete, I realised that maybe there are things that were done on a wrong judgment call. But I know that I own the film completely. Directorially, I did pretty much what I wanted to, and I would stand up and own anything, good or bad, on this film.

Secondly, when you come from advertising your eyes and mind are trained to notice 50 things in a frame because that is how it is. When I was shooting my first film, I tried to put the whole learning that I had onto that film. There was just too much effort. I realised I was exhausting myself very soon. This time around, I realised that I needed to pace myself because this is like a marathon. I can’t clutter my mind with a hundred things that are going on and I’m only seeing faults, flaws, problems and issues. So, the idea was to streamline things that really mattered and also not push or seek the most perfect thing but something which was just good enough and move on. That was a very practical learning for me. I didn’t need to hold on to something which I’m not getting and then waste a lot of time and effort into doing that. I need to sustain my energy. I need to sustain my enthusiasm for the project. So, I streamlined a lot of things in my head, I knew what were the critical points I needed to work on and that if the peripheral things did work out, it’d be a bonus. They really don’t matter in the end because you have to look at the big picture. So, the effort, not just with this film but also in life, going ahead, is to keep streamlining, simplifying and easing out my process of working. These are probably two things I worked on. Otherwise, when the project started, it was a fresh start. I was completely seeing it as a first-time filmmaker.

Mini Mathur: I feel that in this film, you walk the tightrope between directing a film that has comedy, romance, thriller and mystery, and it’s seamlessly done. Now that you’ve tasted long-form, feature-length blood, what is your dream genre? What would you like to see in your repertoire from here on?

Vinil Mathew: The word ‘blood’ strikes a chord. Humour is undervalued a lot when you’re making films. Especially when you make films that don’t necessarily have a message or an issue and you simply try to do humour of various sorts, whether it is slapstick, dialogue-based, physical comedy, whatever, I think it’s completely undervalued. A lot of effort and skill goes into creating humour. So, I feel that whenever you work on humour, you don’t get returns for your effort. But it is the coming together of a lot of things and landing well. It has to be the actors’ sense of timing, how you conceive of a scene, your reaction, your edit. There’s skill involved. I really enjoy doing humour, but it’s like a black hole for me. I keep putting effort into humour but I never get the satisfaction that I’ve done something.

Honestly, for me, a thriller is a really simple thing to do. There’s no trial and error because it’s written for you. For me, it’s easier to pull off a mystery-thriller because there’s no uncertainty while you’re on the set. When you have a scene that is funny, from when you land on the set till the edit’s done, you’re not sure whether it’s going to land correctly. What if the whole joke falls flat or the humour does not come through? Then the entire effort is wasted. So, there is always this tweaking and trying out of things. That element is there when you’re doing humour. Contrary to that, when you’re doing thriller, mystery or suspense, I feel it’s more of writing and editing rather than executing it on set, which is fairly straightforward. There are only two or three ways of doing it.

In fact, when we were shooting, we spent a far more disproportionate time doing the humorous parts because those were really cumbersome. As for the thriller parts, we knocked it off in 10-12 days because it was a straight, easy thing.

And I’ll just be grateful if I get an opportunity to make a film and I don’t have to wait for seven years. I’m genre-agnostic. I’m happy to do anything that comes my way.

Smriti Kiran: You all came into the industry with no connections, from a background of education. You have gone from strength to strength with every year that you have spent in the industry. Are you mindful of creating opportunities for people now that you are in a position of power?

Kanika Dhillon: As a struggling writer, I was horrified because I realised that writing is considered to be the most superficial job on the set. From the ADs to even the spot boys, everybody thinks they can write better than the writer; and that there is absolutely no skill involved. I’ve spent a decade in the industry, I’ve come a long way from getting these looks from people that say that they can write a better Instagram post than what I have written, that there is absolutely no technical skill involved in writing and you’re just here because you look pretty.

I genuinely feel that there is no structure for a writer. All writers that come here, not only me, are made to feel that you’re not contributing anything to the project, so you’re dispensable. Also, there’s a very illegitimate relationship with the writers that the directors and producers continue to have. The directors have now made it more legit, but the producers continue to have an illegitimate relationship with the writers. This is simply because they want to use everything that you are doing but when it comes to credit, they don’t want to give you enough respect or enough money. It’s almost like having a wife, the director, who is very respected and who has set a standard of income that he should get, a writer is like a keep that you can use and then as per your convenience either drop their name or not pay them. We also don’t have the muscle to make the contracts in our favour. I’m sorry I’m using such strong language, but it’s 10 years of frustration and struggle.

Mini Mathur: Kanika, do you think that’s changing? One thing that has come out in the last few years is that we lack good writing.

Kanika Dhillon: Yes. Since I happened to find a voice here, I’ve found that there are many more talented people than me. I’m lucky enough to have a platform and voice. My single agenda is to raise the following issues: that writers need to be respected more, they need to be paid more, they need to be represented more. I’m willing to keep talking about it until people stop listening to me or things change. I’m very glad that this time the platform totally supported me as a writer. It was a culmination of all the voices that had been telling the platform to do so. Before me, a lot of writers questioned why the platforms were not crediting the writers and finally, we saw a very positive change in Haseen Dillruba. I was credited on the trailer and on the poster. I do believe that when these little wins happen and when I go around talking about it endlessly, I’m at least creating a reference point for the newcomers. They can then say, ‘Look! She got it. And if she got it, then I’m going to ask for it.’ That’s the reason I harp about it and talk about it so loudly, because young writers who are sitting on the negotiating table have a reference. When I was sitting across the table from my producers and my directors, the first thing that’s thrown at you as a writer is that there is no precedent. ‘Ye aise hi hota aa raha hai. Ye aise hi hua hai. Ek writer bata do jis ke saath aisa hua ho.’ So, I want to change that. I want to set a precedent so that others who are coming in can negotiate better because there will be a reference point. I will continue to talk about it, continue to fight and create a nuisance about being credited and being represented. That is something that I’m doing for my tribe. I definitely want to see us standing tall and being given the credit that we deserve.

Mini Mathur: Isn’t this the first time that Netflix has put the director and writer’s name on the trailer of the film?

Kanika Dhillon: If it was not for my director or Taapsee or Vikrant, I would have not come this far. That is also very clear. In the scheme of things, we do know that the entire game is skewed towards the stars. They are the ones who can make most of the difference. And in this case, my actors did support me till the end. You pick up any of their interviews and you’ll see that they have spoken about the writer or the craft of it. So, I would definitely say that this change is also going to happen because those who have the most influence in the industry are taking this up as a struggle that they need to be a part of.

Taapsee Pannu: Kanika rightly said that it’s about setting a precedent. Many times when I go on set, I have girls who don’t come from a movie background, who play the supporting cast, girls who I’ve worked with during promotional events, who come and tell me that I give them hope. That’s one of the most heartening compliments that an actor can get. When I started, I was not a good actor, I’ve always owned up to that fact. I learned my craft over a period of time. I did not start with a big superstar film. It was not like you’re launched in the biggest way. I don’t belong to a family who can fund films to help me get in. No remote connections to films whatsoever. I’ve had a very slow, steady rise, still climbing up. It’s not a one movie fluke that people really warned me about after Pink. They said, ‘You’re destroyed now because every time you come on screen people are just going to keep comparing you to Pink, and then they’ll tell you that you haven’t lived up to this and that,’ because that became such a cult film at that time.

My first film released 11 years ago. I never thought I’d come this far. I had decided that I will do whatever in my capacity to help the actors who come from no background, who don’t have the obvious connections here. I haven’t even worked with big studios that sign you up as a talent. All the films that I have gotten are because of directors who have repeated me in their films because they probably had a good experience of working with me. So, I really would like to use this position of power now to help others. I’m sure it will be very visible for people to see this in the future. But, yes, this is a decision I took a year or so ago. I’m working on it.

Vikrant Massey: I don’t think I’m still in a position of power. There are far more opportunities coming my way. There is definitely a sense of recognition. For all pragmatic reasons, I will need to consolidate my own self first for the next four, five years so that I can provide a platform for people in whatever capacity I can. Whatever I have been doing so far, I think somewhere down the line I’ve started walking down that path where I can accommodate helping or assisting someone in any way that I can. I have a small, independent production company called Homemade Films, so by funding documentaries, by funding whatever I can, accommodating or providing a platform to people who really don’t have the right resources, or the right door to knock on. So, I’m still at a fairly nascent stage right now. I’m just seven years old in films. I need to consolidate myself first so that I can help anyone in a better way. I’m at it, though. There are a few litmus tests going around here and there, but I think I would be into it full-fledged, hopefully, soon.

Vinil Mathew: I’m just trying to find an escape route because I think I’ll sound very shallow compared to everybody else, because I don’t think I’ve found that level of success to think of it. While I’m still raising opportunities for myself, to raise opportunities for others is a little distant for me right now.

In advertising, where I do a lot more work, very early on in my career I spent a lot of time and effort casting and looking for new talent. Everybody in the advertising world knows how much pain I go through to find or discover new faces or new people. I came in an era where there were only good looking models who used to do advertising. One has fought for that change to introduce much more new, fresh talent, which keeps coming out. I’ve always pushed for that.

I’ve always believed in a sense of meritocracy for technicians and people who I work with. So, the attempt is always to get the most meritorious person to work with me. That in itself is enough. One doesn’t need to go beyond that because as long as you find new talent or a bunch of people who have the drive and the stomach for doing something interesting, I’m happy collaborating with them. In fact, on Haseen Dillruba, I’ve worked with a crew which I’ve never worked with in my entire career. This is the first time that I’ve worked with them on this film. None of the people I worked with, except for maybe the costume department, I’ve worked with before. It was a really interesting experience for me adapting to a fresh bunch of people. That’s something I try and keep doing because it keeps me on my toes, helps me reinvent my set of skills. But having said that, I don’t think that I’m in a position like my co-participants to talk about creating success or opportunities for others. So I’m very shallow, and I’ll admit the fact that I’m looking to make my next film. That’s the truth.

Smriti Kiran: Vinil, ek cameo bhi toh tha jisme…

Kanika Dhillon: Smriti, there’s a very funny story behind Vinil using that photo.

Vinil Mathew: Let me tell the story, Smriti.

For that particular photograph, we needed somebody who Taapsee would reject in the film. That guy had to really look so bad and disgusting that she’d rather go to Jwalapur than go with this guy. There was a line which we edited out, where the maasi tells Taapsee, ‘Iska transfer ho sakta hai Bombay, par iska plastic surgery se bhi kuch nahi hone wala.’ That was the original line and that was the original guy. It so happened that Shweta, who edited the film, found one guy, and everybody was laughing at it whenever that guy used to come to the trial screenings. Obviously, we didn’t want to use that guy because he did not even know that his photograph had been used. So, we asked somebody else, who was well-known and we put his photo, we were good to go with that. At the last minute, there was a legal issue, so we could not put his photo as well. Then, as usual, production came and gave me some obvious photographs, and it wasn’t going anywhere. So, I called up Kanika and said, ‘Kanika, main kya karu? Koi baith hi nahi raha hai. All these guys are not even funny.’ So, Kanika said, ‘Isme kya hai? Koi takle ko dhund le, jo mota sa, ganda sa dikhe.’ I said, ‘Isse bada hint kya milega mere ko.’

Vikrant Massey: That’s classical Kanika.

Kanika Dhillon: Not at all! In fact, this was Vinil’s suggestion. I was blabbering. I said, ‘Arre, yaar, koi bhi takla aur thoda mota dhund lete hai. Isme kya rocket science hai?’ And the next thing I hear is Vinil saying, ‘Hmm…’ I didn’t know that he was going to offer his own picture. I laughed so hard, I fell down on the sofa laughing.

Mini Mathur: Because it’s also classic Vinil to run himself under the bus first.

Vinil Mathew: And then, taking that perfect photo itself was an exercise. Shweta, who was taking the photograph, and I was giving my usual pose, said, ‘Boss, this is not even funny, it’s scary. Please try to smile a bit.’ Then she said, ‘Now you look rejectable.’ My thing was to reach a point where I was perfectly rejectable, you know?

Kanik Dhillon: There’s another thing that you should know about Vinil. He’s a hard taskmaster. There were times when I would come to the office and say, ‘Vinil aa gaya hai?’ He is such a hard taskmaster. He’s the only director who has made me go back to the traumatic memories of me doing nagin dance in front of guests who used to come at home. My mother used to say, ‘Abhi kar ke dikhao!’ And Vinil used to say, ‘Abhi likh ke dikhao! Abhi! Ye line abhi likhogi tum.’ Vinil, do you realise that nobody has ever whipped me like this into working? So, he’s quite a hard taskmaster. Just letting you know.

Vinil Mathew: I just want to build on this. So, the four of us were not making a film. It was an exercise in role-play. Basically, hum log teacher-teacher khel rahe the. Hamare school ki jo headmistress hai, woh hai Taapsee Pannu. The first thing she’d do is scold all of us. Matlab jo bhi aa gaya eye line mein galti se is going to get jhapped. So, it’s like how a teacher comes at seven o’clock in the morning thinking, ‘Kyun class mein aa gaye?’ Taapsee was that. All of us would get scolded. That is the teacher. I was the student who was sitting in front of her, who was in her eye line, who used to get scolded. So, that was my role with Taapsee. Then, Vikrant is that class monitor, who’s always impeccably dressed and is always there, saying the perfect things. Kuch problem hi nahi hai. So, he’s the class monitor of our class, who would also step out of the school and start smoking. He’s also getting the girls, but he’s also coming in and being the class monitor. He was playing that complex role.

With Kanika and me, I was like a parent at home. Jo do bacche hai, unse keh raha hoon ki homework kar lo. I was like a working mom, who’s anyway got 10 things on her mind. Kanika has to be dragged and sat down and told, ‘Kanika, ye scene likh de. Ye kar de, woh kar de.’ So, I had to use the same skill sets which I use to deal with my eight-year-old son with Kanika. We were just playing teacher-student-parent aur film ban gayi side mein.

Team Haseen Dillruba’s Favourite Entries

All the participants who attended the Dial M For Films sessions sent in their take on the twist of the film. Vinil Mathew, Taapsee Pannu and Kanika Dhillon chose favourites from the lot.

Vinil Mathew: My first choice was Pearl. I think Pearl’s was the most whacked-out suggestion for me because it was something which I would have never dreamt or thought of. She said that the plot is between Rishu and Neel to bump off the wife, and they are having an affair. I thought that was the weirdest and crazy suggestion. I never thought of that and that really stood out for me. So, yeah, that was my favourite.

[Pearl Pereira – Taapsee, the wife is innocent. Vikrant is the mastermind who plants his own death after planning with his boyfriend Harsh since they are unable to confess it openly to their conservative family.]

I’ve chosen two other entries (Rishu Raj and Neel Joshi) that I really liked because they came dangerously close to the actual plot of the film, and I said, ‘Shit, man. They really guessed it.’

[Rishu Raj – After marrying Rishu, Rani gets to know whatever expectations she had for her married life are not going to be fulfilled and she is also disappointed with Rishu’s personality. When she meets a boy who is masculine she could not control herself from cheating on Rishu. She does want to continue this but the other boy resists and harasses her. Rani tells this to Rishu who gets angry at first but then they both plan to frame him for Rishu’s murder which is inspired by Rani’s favourite novel and they become successful in it. In the end, we get to know the other boy gets framed for Rishu’s murder but Rishu is alive and along with Rani goes on to live a life full of excitement and less monotony.]

[Neel Joshi – From the trailer, it’s clear that Rani is accused of killing her husband with help of her lover Neel. But it’s quite possible that Rishu is not dead at all. Rishu had found out about his wife’s affair and decided to take revenge. However, he still loves his wife and doesn’t want to do something terrible to her. So, he plans to kill Neel and set up a whole thing as his own murder. There are two reasons supporting this: As we can see in the trailer the body isn’t found but only a hand is shown with a tattoo of ‘Rani’. It’s a great trick by Rishu to put such a clue for the police, by intention, leading the investigation in the wrong direction. Neel is missing after the murder. But, the truth is Rishu is missing and Neel is dead. That’s how Rishu takes his revenge on Neel and also punishes his wife.]

Taapsee Pannu: I will read out bits of that answer because I felt it just touched and went, touched and went through the plot of the film so many times. It was like, ‘Dhak-dhak, isko pata chal gaya. Nahi. Isko pata chal gaya. Nahi.’ It was woh wala feeling. It’s written by Sachin Kumar. 

[Sachin Kumar Enganati – Rishu is attracted to Rani at first sight and proposes marriage. Rani is a fan of pulp writer Dinesh Pandit’s mystery stories and thrives for an adventurous life. The self-centred Rani is tired of her boring husband. Her appetite for sex and adventure is found in her dynamic neighbour, Neel. Rani’s affair with Neel, her not being the ideal wife, makes Rishu suspicious of her intentions. Rishu confronts Rani but gets beaten up by Neel. As his dreams fall apart, Rishu’s obsession with Rani and his inability to get her makes him desperate to kill himself but he fails in the attempt. Rani feels guilty. Little does she know but the fictional writer Pandit ji is none other than her husband. Rishi reveals his hidden shade and is adamant to implement his fictional stories in his real-life to frame his wife. Rishi kills Neel and makes it look like an explosion as if he was killed in his house, so that Rani will be the prime suspect in order to make her pay for her infidelity. The police are confident of Rani being the murderer and Rani keeps trying to prove her innocence while narrating the whole story to the audience.]

I also liked this answer because a lot of people wanted to see Panditji in flesh and blood, or someone would be revealed to be Panditji. That was also expected by a lot of people. But when it didn’t happen, it was a bummer or a surprise. We shall oblige this in part two when we present Kanika Dhillon as Dinesh Pandit, in a spinoff of Haseen Dillruba. That will be an awesome spinoff, I must say. But for now, Sachin, what you wrote makes for a good story in itself. If not Haseen Dillruba, it’s at least inspired by Haseen Dillruba. It’s a very thriller story plot that he has. So, congratulations, you’re my winner.

Smriti Kiran: Kanika, weren’t you tempted to get Dinesh Pandit in?

Kanika Dhillon: Not a character, per se, but we did want to give a face to him. In fact, Vinil was keen to have a known face on the back of a book. It was better that we didn’t because you are wanting to see him. You’re left with that little thing, ‘Arre, Dinesh Pandit!’ He lives longer like that because you don’t see him, when he’s a figment of your imagination. But we were tempted in between to give a face to Dinesh Pandit.

Coming to the winner for me. I would also like to read it out. It’s just three lines. The winner for me is Rachit Raj. He’s a film critic. I just love the bizarreness of the plot. I laughed, read it again and laughed again. I really enjoyed this because of the wackiness. It was quite wicked.

[Rachit Raj – Rani is revealed to have had an illegitimate child, leading to a terrible onset of postpartum depression. It is in that period that she allegedly commits the crime, only to realise her boyfriend uses her blackouts and panic attacks as a way to frame her for what was a crime of passion committed by him after a confrontation with her husband.]

I think that there are so many more twists and turns in these four lines than the entire film – from postpartum depression to blackouts to manipulation in these blackouts. I feel it’s quite whacked out, and the whackier the better for me. So, just for the sheer imagination of it and the sheer improbability of it, Rachit Raj would be my winner.

Q&A with Dial M For Films Participants

Ankit Garg: I can always make out the suspense of the film around the midpoint of the film. So, as a writer, till what scene did you think that you should maintain the suspense and thereafter it’d be okay if people knew about it?

Kanika Dhillon: It’s a good question because as writers we are all very insecure ki yahan par toh nahi pata chal jayega, yahan par toh nahi pata chal jayega. Also, we are living in a world with social media. From the moment you’ve seen the film, who’s going to stop you from actually revealing the twist everywhere. You see the film tomorrow and everything is up on social media.

I stopped fretting on that question a long time back because I realised that we can’t fight social media or we can’t monitor what people are writing. What was more important was, if you watch the film, while you have an inkling of what happened, would you still enjoy it? Would you still want to know how he did it? Would you still want to follow the journey of Rishu and Rani? That’s what I was focusing on. In this day and age, I feel that when you write a thriller, you have to very well be aware of the possibility that when a viewer is going to come and watch the film, they already know what the end is thanks to social media.

Abhinav Mishra: Whenever an actor prepares for the role of a killer or a corporate shark, they go through a rigorous process of creating that character in itself. However, most of the characters played by Taapsee are strong women characters who hold some sort of mundanity, yet we can understand the thought process of that character, whether it’s Aadukalam or Thappad or, my favourite, Manmarziyaan. How do you show that regularity or mundanity of a girl-next-door in a distinguished manner? How do you prepare yourself for that?

Taapsee Pannu: One thing that’s constant in most of my characters is that either they already have a voice of their own or they will eventually find a voice of their own. That is one thing I wouldn’t want to change. If that calls for being mundane or being repetitive in any way, I won’t mind that. So, my Amrita of Thappad will always be different from my Rumi of Manmarziyaan; my Aarti Mohammad of Mulk will always be different from Rani Kashyap, and my Minal Arora of Pink will always be different from a Prakashi Tomar of Saand Ki Aankh. They’ll all be different but there’s one undercurrent common to all, which is that they need a voice of their own. That will be there because that’s what I want to hear in the female characters that I hear personally. So, I end up gravitating towards them.

Usually, with all these characters, I find that one common link between me and that character. Over that, I build a fictional character. If I don’t find a single connection, it is impossible for me to build up a character on top of it. Amrita of Thappad will be played very differently from a Rumi of Manmarziyaan and a Rani Kashyap of Haseen Dillruba.

I’m the same face. Eventually, you’re going to see more or less the same person on screen. But just the reaction and things like how you smile, breakdown or how spontaneous you are in reacting to other actors or the character in front of the camera is going to differentiate my characters. I build on it, as I told you, after connecting that one common thread that I find with my characters.

If five of my films are going to come out in a year, and I make sure that I don’t let a good script slip out of my hand, I have to make sure that each one of them looks different, feels different for my audience, with a little bit of help from my director, writer, my co-actors and, of course, the way the whole setup is done. All of this aids me in doing all of that.

Manas Kumar: How do you arrive at a common ground with the editor? Shweta Venkat Mathew has done your last film as well. What are the liberties and the boundaries that you set for the editor? How do you guys arrive at a common ground?

Vinil Mathew: I don’t know if my answer would be true to a director-editor relationship otherwise. We are married, and it’s tough to find common ground. But I like to work with Shweta because she’s an absolutely fantastic editor. At the end of the day, it’s also tough because I’ve known Shweta before she became an editor, and you’ve seen the process of her growth. We’ve grown together.

She comes with a lot of instinct when she edits a film and that instinct is something that is very special. A lot of editors can do a great mechanical job or an obvious thing, but Shweta is somebody who can come up with a really original way of thinking about something. I really value that. Being married to her and editing it in the same house is also very stressful. It’s complicated. There are bigger issues involved. To retain the balance, I never work with her if I’m not shooting or doing a film. I reserve the most important project of mine to work with her, so that we give each other space.

When I did my FTII course in direction, we didn’t have an editing batch. So, we also ended up doing our own edits as well. I also did negative cutting, splicing and all those things, the old-style before digital editing came in. So, when I’m conceiving of my shot breakdown, I also have a very strong editor’s thing in my conception of a scene as well. I pretty much know that I need so many cuts, inserts, reaction shots and coverage. So, I shoot with that.

I let Shweta do her cut. I don’t interfere in it at all. She has the script, and she’s left with the rushes. I do not come in at all. Typically, I sit with one of her assistants and do my cut in parallel, where she has no idea what I am doing. Then, at a certain stage, we show each other our cuts, debate it out and decide which is better and what is working. Also, I have a good circle of friends who are all editors as well. We have a community of friends who are also editors, they also pool in at times. We thrash it out, we discuss and the person who convinces everybody else of what is the best way to go around with a scene wins. Then, we just amalgamate everything else and look at the best option.

It’s a very laborious process, a little tiresome, but editing, probably, is the most important thing and the most underappreciated process of filmmaking. Actors look good because of good edits, and the films look tighter. For instance, in Haseen Dillruba, when there’s a conversation between Rani’s character and Rishu’s character, we always cut the headspace for Rishu. The endpoint of Rishu is very close. We never give him breathing time. We cut him sharply. So, we always feel that he’s somebody who’s not getting his voice out. Taapsee gets a little bit more headspace. So, how much weightage to give, how much close up to give the main actor, how much to cut, a lot of small things go in an edit and people don’t realise that. That’s something I take very seriously.

Because I’ve only worked with Shweta on feature films, we’ve kind of ironed out this process where we both edit separately and then we fight it out. We combine the best of both and keep fighting till the very end. Even when the film is done, we keep fighting because we both have very strong points of view on what we liked. So, it’s a very tough process, but fortunately, I make a film every seven years, so seven years is a good time to kind of decompress, detox and go back again to the next one.

Sachin Kumar: I’m curious about the two secondary characters in the film. What is the point of view of Rishu’s parents in the film? As audiences, we expect them to believe that Rani has something to do with Rishu’s death but they didn’t seem to react in that way. What’s happening in their mind during the investigation?

Kanika Dhillon: There are indications in the second half that the parents are very amiable. They are not suspecting Rani and they do support Rani in her entire struggle, where she’s saying, ‘I’m not actually the killer.’ So, that is very clearly shown. There is no ambiguity in where the parents stand. When we move onto the story, we realise that Rishu is alive. We do take the leap of faith that eventually the parents will get to know that they did not lose their son after all. But in the second half, it is not left ambiguous that they suspect Rani. They are, in fact, very sad about the loss of their son and hence they are in a very quiet, very sombre mood whenever they’re seen in the second half. But they are with the daughter-in-law, and when she comes back home and she says, ‘Kal phir se thane bulaya hai,’ they are suffering in their own grief but they are not blaming the woman for the death of their son. That is what we’ve left at. We’ve not gone overboard to say that they are with the woman or they are suffering with the woman because they are suffering such a huge loss themselves. At least that is how we conceived it. We didn’t think they’d be in the state of mind to go out there and make these statements about how they know she has not killed their son. They are just grappling with what has happened around them.

Yamini Das as Lata and Dayashankar Pandey as Brijraj

Vinil Mathew: That’s completely there in the film. You see their stance because that is something which was very important. I’m sure that as a viewer you wanted to know where they stood. Also because you saw them so prominently in the first half. To be honest, we’d shot additional portions with them. There were scenes where they were being interrogated by the cops. There was a scene where Rani is offering them medicines and all. There were many more scenes that gave them a presence in the second half. But this was something that we eventually took a call on in the edit, because by the time the film gets into thriller mode and you really want to pace things up fast, one of the things one tries to do is ask oneself, can I take this information out and will the film still work? So, it being there helps to clear some things, but in the interest of pacing, in the interest of the thrust of the film at that point in time, we said that even if we take it out, it’s not really unsettling things. It just helps us to be crisper and move to the plot faster. So, that was the reason why that got trimmed. It’s just there to indicate where they stand vis-a-vis Rani, but we didn’t elaborate on it because it wasn’t really adding to the thriller. At that point, we really wanted to move fast and get on with the plot, which is the reason why they got a very cut down presence in the second half.

Zignesh Biswal: Vikrant, you’re an actor who has worked in all possible mediums available in entertainment. In one of your earlier interviews, you said that you want to play an antagonist as close as possible to Langda Tyagi from Omkara. So, for this brief negative character which you essayed in Haseen Dillruba, did you take inspiration from that? There was this one scene where you attack Neel in the park, which is one of those edge-of-the-seat scenes. What was the psyche behind that, and did you take any inspiration from Langda Tyagi for Haseen Dillruba?

Vikrant Massey: No, actually. It’s true that I’d love to play a part like Langda Tyagi, but for this particular part, I really had no reason to derive inspiration from him because they are poles apart. Rishu is very different from Langda Tyagi. He’s a very docile person whereas Langda Tyagi is an aggressor. We’ve seen that throughout the film. He’s an out and out antagonist.

With regards to that sequence when I go to Delhi and I’m about to attack my cousin, it was very organic. I was walking that particular way during one of the rehearsals and Vinil spotted it. It was between shots, I was doing something, and I was just holding the screwdriver trying to rehearse, and Vinil told me, ‘I really liked what you just did and I want you to do that.’ And when you keep experimenting with things, it sticks. He’s on a very high frequency at that point, when he goes to his cousin. He’s very angry. He’s humiliated, he’s hurt. He does not know where he belongs. Woh jo displacement wali feeling hoti hai na, woh bohot kharab hoti hai. It was absolute aggression, hurt, a lot of things mixed up together when we shot that scene, and maybe it eventually reflected on screen.

Nitesh Shahani: What went through your heads while interpreting and putting to life that particular sequence in the climax where the murder and sacrifice are revealed?

Taapsee Pannu: For me, the basic thumb rule for Rani was that since she was very flawed and so was Rishu. They don’t have the most conventional way of expressing love to each other, or for each other. They can go to pretty bizarre limits to show their love because of the kind of love that they have. They definitely are not predictable characters. You can’t say that this is right and that is wrong for them. So, it would naturally have been beyond somebody’s imagination. When Rani strays, you would not have imagined Rani coming back to Rishu and telling him what had happened. So, it’s not a very normal, real way of how you see women react, or anyone react, when they stray. Rishu being Rishu of the first act, reacts the way that he does, saying and meaning, ‘Main tujhe maar dunga.’ By this time, you know that these two are not really normal, regular characters, and they will go to some crazy extent, based on the fact that they are going through what they’re going through together in the second half. So, that made it clear for me that there are no limits for Rani and Rishu to do whatever they will do in the climax for each other.

In the climax, my character never expected and never even wanted Rishu to do what he does. That’s a line that Rani didn’t want Rishu to cross. At least that’s how I reacted to that sequence, that I wouldn’t want him to do it and it’s him who wants me to let him do it. That’s how I was treating Rani’s character based on whatever was happening.

Vikrant Massey: They are real people and they are flawed people like all of us are. Nobody’s unidimensional. But by the end of it, we need to understand that these are really simple, ordinary people who have been thrown into extraordinary circumstances. The very first thing she says when they realise that they’ve done something is, ‘No, don’t do that. I don’t want to lose you.’ So, these are sane heads on firm shoulders. But somewhere down the line, they are human. The survival instinct that lies within us comes to the fore. It is those split-second decisions at that point in time when you realise that there is something unwanted here – it’s daytime – there are so many things that come to your head. You really just react instinctively to whatever is coming your way. They’re like split-second decisions. So, not a lot of it is thought out. These flawed, human, real characters are like anyone else trying to survive, to find their own space. That’s what leads them to certain things that they do. These were the things that were my driving force when I was shooting. Obviously, there was the unconditional love for Rani, but the very fact that life had come full circle after a lot of shit and he would not let go of it, in any case, made him fight till his last bit. That’s the amount of love he has and that’s the capacity he possesses within. That’s the wonderful arc we see: the guy who seems docile, who is actually not able to utter a word the first time he meets this woman, goes out to her and he says, ‘Okay, this is what we do,’ and she says, ‘No, this is not what we will do,’ he says, ‘Now, you will do what I ask you to do and I need you to support me.’ It’s this camaraderie between these two people, the thickness of their love, that is so beautiful that they are willing to go to an extent to save and protect each other.

Pramit Chatterjee: Is the ending that we see the true ending of the film or just the version that the police inspector imagines in order to make peace with the fact that he couldn’t actually solve the case? Was there a draft that didn’t end this way?

Kanika Dhillon: There were multiple drafts before this ending was finalised, but this particular thing of ‘Is this actually happening or is the inspector imagining it’ was never put down in a draft by me. I’m glad that you asked that because it was very tempting. I did think about what if this guy just imagined it and we left it open-ended. But then it was more fulfilling when I battled it out in my head. For me to sit through this entire story and see the entire journey of their love story and emotions would require a very solid culmination, which should not be left to the understanding of the version of the audience. They should not be left to make up their own ending because there had to be a very solid closure to the story. So, I went with Rishu coming back in the end. But I did toy with it because it’s very exciting to just let it be as a figment of the inspector’s imagination. But Rishu had to win.

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