My urge to write comes with feeling of protest: Chhapaak co-writer Atika Chohan

Justin Rao

Mumbai, Feb 4 (PTI) The critical acclaim for 'Chhapaak', about an acid attack survivor reclaiming her life, is sweet victory, says Atika Chohan who found her voice while writing a story that mirrors so much of her own life and struggles.

Penning real life survivor Laxmi Agarwal's life story was about healing and protesting all at once, said Chohan who co-wrote the film with director Meghna Gulzar.

'The film has made me more confident and validated my voice,' Chohan told PTI in an interview.

The acclaim and attention that 'Chhapaak' received feels like sweet victory, she said.

The 38-year-old writer said growing up in Old Delhi wasn't easy. It was about navigating overtly male spaces, be it the city's streets or its buses.

'It's where all my anger comes from. It is the source of deep introspection. This is an aspect of my thinking which I never let go of. It is something I try and examine in every story of mine... this gender balancing.

'Because I went through something abusive as a young person in my relationship and also the city I grew up in... I had to negotiate with the paranoia that the city is constantly coming down on me, that men would ambush me. Then you have to fight at home...,' she said.

Her writing credits -- including 'Margarita, With a Straw' and 'Waiting' -- may not reflect her influences in cinema. Some of the films that deeply influenced her are the 90s hits 'Hum', 'Tezaab' and 'Parinda', she said. Chohan said she never felt the need to conform, which led to clashes and anger but also to an affinity with words.

'My urge to write and create comes with a feeling of protest. I have found my voice through anger. The articulation, the craft may have taken time but the need to say things out loud, things which need to be said, was lurking in me from the age of 12. I knew at that age that I had to protest.' 'Chhapaak', starring Deepika Padukone and directed by Meghna Gulzar, tracks the story of a woman attacked with acid by a spurned suitor and the process of rebuilding her life.

'I feel so emotional when viewers tell me how they've seen a lived truth in 'Chhapaak'. It has encouraged me to continue doing what I was because for years people constantly asked me, 'But what do you even do in Mumbai? We never see any of your work? Why can't you write normal, funny films'?' Born and brought up in Old Delhi, Chohan said her childhood was 'dysfunctional' and the one thing that brought her family together was watching movies in Ritz cinema in Kashmere Gate.

'We lived so close to the theatre, it was the only Sunday outing that was allowed. I watched all kind of films there because there was nothing else to do. It was the cheapest form of entertainment for us.' Before turning screenwriter, she was a reluctant journalist and eventually landed up at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

'I was breaking away from my first marriage, my father had passed away. For me, FTII was a place where I healed with cinema.' The scriptwriter said it can get exhausting to hold on to one's ideology in the face of constant push-backs but she has reconciled with being angry.

'Maybe because I am a veteran angry person, I've become comfortable in my discomfort, in being angry. I can now have a good laugh even while I am angry. That is the beginning of satire, sarcasm, black comedy.' Chohan said it's only recently that it has become cool to be 'woke' but she was, for a long time, called 'aggressive, angry and messy' for being a feminist.

'Taking a stand comes with a cost. You end up hurting your friends, losing out on people. You are left behind. You are seen as a problem maker, they call you someone who experiences 'heightened emotions', someone who is 'hyper sensitive.' These are the things which have made me very angry.' Up next for Chohan is Ruchi Narain's 'Guilty' featuring Kiara Advani and backed by Karan Johar and Kanu Behl's 'Agra'.

The writer is looking forward to a '2.0' version of herself. But what will happen the day she wakes up and finds that her anger has vanished? 'With each story I tell of anger, I also heal myself. By the end of my lifetime, I may have created some healing for me and the world around.' PTI JUR MIN MIN