The Bombay Duck is not a duck but a fish. For the starry-eyed newcomers to the film industry who don’t know this, the train back home is always waiting, says Bollywood scriptwriter Kanika Dhillon, drawing a metaphor for survival in the “unforgiving” city with its own code of morals.
Kanika is the author of the commercial best-seller “Bombay Duck is a Fish” and the screenplay-dialogue writer of the new Shahrukh Khan starrer “Ra.One”, scheduled to hit the theatres Oct 26. Co-starring Arjun Rampal, it has a cameo appearance by Rajinikanth.
“When you are in Bollywood, you have to redefine morality. Nobody actually judges. We define our own morals…,” says Kanika, who read excerpts from her book at the Kovalam Literary Fest 2011.
For Kanika, Mumbai is the city of atonement and redemption as she says in her book.
“You have to know that the Bombay Duck is a fish and not a duck,” Kanika says of the survival game. “I have used the fish as a metaphor for my book…”
In the boom-town, life is lean, mean and unforgiving to those who cannot get the best out of Mumbai. Casting couches are real – and so are heartbreaks, the writer says.
“‘Ra. One’ was one of the most difficult screenplays to write. Shah Rukh plays a super hero and a king of romance – an aging Tamilian Shekhar Subramanium who speaks old-fashioned language,” she says.
Then there was a complex father-son relationship for which the dialogues had to be emotional and powerful, Kanika says.
The author had to “read Mahatma Gandhi and V. Shantaram to get the appropriate drift of the language” – and pepper it with intelligent twists. “Shah Rukh likes twisting familiar quotes,” she says.
Reel and real life brush each other in Kanika’s novel. It tells the story of Neki Brar, an Amritsar chick who throws up her job in an MNC to work on the sets in Mumbai. And learn the hard way.
Kanika said: “Neki, the protagonist of the story, was partly autobiographical”.
“I worked as an assistant director – and had to fight with my dad in real life to come to Mumbai like Neki,” Kanika said.
The book opens with Neki sitting on the ledge of a five-storey building with a bottle of alcohol – recapping her life in the film city – and mulling on suicide by jumping off the high-rise. She is dating actor Ranvir Khanna – the second lead.
“I had this dream of grandeur that I would go to Mumbai and everyone will be waiting for me…but it was a rude shock. When I went to the film city (studio complex), it was a horrific sight – with potholes and cow dung. But the holler inside was beautiful…” Kanika says of her first experience of Bollywood.
The film sets are like hilarious comedy shows, Kanika says.
“The energy is crazy, timelines are chaotic and people are running…it is definitely an out-of-the-body experience. Very rigorous and very tiring…Sometimes we lose touch with reality when we shoot a movie. For even 100 days – depending on the length of the shoot – we eat and breathe movies,” Kanika said.
The writer wanted to give “readers an insight into film city”.
How did Kanika flit through writing scripts, managing shoots and penning a full-length fiction novel?
“The novel took five years in the making…since I was working on the sets of ‘Om Shanti Om’, my first film,” Kanika rewinds on memory lane.
“I would return home and it was therapeutic to write the book. I was writing my vision to be directly consumed by the audience. I had more freedom. A screenplay has more rules,” Kanika says.
For now, Kanika is taking a breather.
“I am working on a romantic comedy script and a novel set in Punjab against the backdrop of the political turmoil between 1970s-1990s. It is a love story,” Kanika said.