There is a lived-in vibe to Tahira Kashyap Khurrana’s films, which capture the simplicity and innocence of small towns. The short film directed by her, Quarantine Crush, which is part of the just-released Netflix anthology Feels Like Ishq, packs that in as it tells the story of a teenage crush and friendship during the pandemic. Music-loving Maninder (Mihir Ahuja) tells a few innocent lies to strike a friendship with Nimi (Kajol Chugh), who is in self-quarantine next door.
This is the third short film directed by Kashyap Khurrana after Toffee (2018), which is about the friendship between two girls irrespective of their class divide, and Pinni (2020), which explores the loneliness of a homemaker. Both these films are also scripted by the 38-year-old, who has written four books including The 12 Commandments of being a Woman and The 7 Sins of being a Mother.
During this interview, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana takes us through the process of making the film in the backdrop of the pandemic, her writing ritual, and why hope will always remain a part of her work. Excerpts:
Was the story of Quarantine Crush developed while you were in Chandigarh?
When everything was shut during the pandemic, we went to Chandigarh to be with our parents. This was the time I wrote my book, The 12 Commandments of Being a Woman. The story of Quarantine Crush is written by Gazal (Dhaliwal). When we were in Chandigarh, we made the most of it – developing the script and adding a few nuances to it. We shot for three days. Prior to that, we did a lot of prep online. It was a new way of filmmaking for all of us at that time. We were a little jittery but the process went really well.
Did you aim to capture the charms and ways of small-town India through the film?
I’m very connected to my roots and the kind of childhood I had in Chandigarh and the world that I lived in. That reflects a lot in the kind of stories I write and the films I make. Given an opportunity, I want others to see the world I was brought up in. There is a lot of happiness and love that I see in that environment. Quarantine Crush showcases an iota of that.
What was the process of collaborating with writer Gazal Dhaliwal?
This is the first time I collaborated with someone and it was lovely. Art is subjective. What appeals to me might not appeal to the other person. Here we had two strong-headed people coming together for a project. We jammed and we argued. The outcome was that we were on the same page after a couple of days of argument. That’s a process and it’s important for everyone’s growth. Now, I am open to collaborations.
Did the experience of making short films earlier, make it easier this time?
I have made two short films earlier, Toffee and Pinni. This is my third short film. I love this format. It’s very easily consumable. At the same time, it is challenging to ensure that it hits home. You have less time to create engagement (with the audience).
Is there a story behind how you created the character of a lingerie seller who moves his business home?
This is something I had suggested. The profession of Maninder’s father was not underlined in the script that I got. I wanted him to have a bra shop. The man is very sincere about what he does. I gave the idea but it’s Gazal and the team who developed the character and added the details.
How was the experience of working with young actors, Kajol Chugh and Mihir Ahuja?
I wanted to work with new people. This story was about innocence. So, this was a chance to work with fresh talent. My definition of love is different – Nimi is not a stereotypical thin girl with lovely teeth. Maninder wears a turban. I wanted to be true to their characters. I wanted to normalise that love can happen between two regular people.
The film ends with a hopeful note about vaccine.
There is always ‘hope’ in every project of mine – be it a book or film. This resonates at a deeper level with me.
Do you follow a writing routine?
My writing ritual has gone for a toss. When I realise that I have a deadline, I get into a writing shell. For instance, if I am seated at a dining table, I keep writing there and no one is allowed to sit there. I usually have these manic spurts where I continuously write for weeks and months. Writing every day perhaps is a better idea.
What news of the feature film that you wanted to direct?
I will be sharing news about it very soon.
You have dabbled with several things. Have you found your calling in filmmaking?
I guess so. I love photography, painting and telling stories. Everything has led to where I intend to be and help put the pieces of a puzzle together. I am happy that I have found my calling (in filmmaking) and working towards that.