Humour and wit, with a healthy dose of snark. Those who spend ample time around Tahira Kashyap Khurrana are familiar with her trademark quirks — as are fans of her books that come seeped in these endearing traits.
In 2018, Tahira drew praise for sharing moments from what was possibly the most trying period of her life — her battle with breast cancer. Today, a champion of women’s rights, she pushes for greater female involvement in filmmaking through Indian Women Rising, an organisation she co-founded, and breaks stereotypes surrounding mothers and “the weaker sex” through her writing — most recently, in her book 7 Sins of Being A Mother.
In conversation with HELLO!, Tahira gets candid about using humour to advocate for causes, her upcoming projects and having the support of her husband, actor Ayushmann Khurrana.
HELLO!: Be it your writing or speech, your way of putting things into perspective for women is liberating. Does your upbringing have a part to play in this?
Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: “My parents have a huge role to play in how I express myself. I had a very progressive upbringing. It’s sad to say that when women work, it’s dubbed ‘progressive’. I’ve always seen my mother juggle work and home, and that liberation of feelings comes from a personal space. My father is the one with the funny bone, and I get my sense of humour from him. I’ve mixed the two worlds, and that reflects in my writing.”
H!: The title 7 Sins of Being A Mother is intriguing. At any point, did you fear ‘sins’ would invite unfavourable reactions?
TKK: “I wrote 7 Sins because all mothers are stereotyped. All meant to save their children, bear any amount of pain, have their hearts bleed... But that’s not real life! The idea was to have a spin along these lines and call it a ‘sin’ because that’s how people perceive it to be. It’s what makes us human. Every mother is unique. Some want to work; some don’t. Some prefer taking a sabbatical, while others jump back to work. Who are we to judge? ‘Sins’ just ridicules these notions.”
H!: You promote the fight against patriarchal notions with an element of quirk. Why humour, though?
TKK: “Humour is a big part of who I am. I come from a household where there’s a lot of self-deprecatory humour. My father loves to joke about everything, and I think I attracted a similar partner in Ayushmann. I’m attached to people with a sense of humour, and there’s a goofy side to me. That’s how I express myself.”
H!: Onto your cinema collective... There’s a wide gender gap when it comes to women in the film industry worldwide. How does Indian Women Rising help in this regard?
TKK: “When (producer) Guneet Monga shared some statistics with me of 2016 to 2020, I realised women had directed only 4 to 6 percent of movies globally. Those numbers shocked us. When we shared these figures with Ekta Kapoor, she was on board. We are all aligned that this disheartening number has to significantly change. We started Indian Women Rising to motivate women, especially the ones behind the camera. The basic idea is to look out for each other.”
H!: Do you see a difference in the way women are presented when it’s a man behind the writing?
TKK: “We can actually make out a lot of differences between how women are portrayed by male filmmakers, who feel they are privileged enough to know how we feel — there’d be no backstory, a disparity and nothing besides some sort of face value, which I find obnoxious. When I can’t decipher whether the filmmaker is a man or a woman, I believe those men are sensitive filmmakers who are mindful of the nuances they use in their craft. For female filmmakers, the protagonist need not necessarily be a woman, though they do have a big role to play in their films and can’t be replaced by a piece of furniture. I really wish this disparity wasn’t as glaring. However, things are changing. There’s greater acceptance but it’s more or less limited to OTT. People are accepting female-led content, whether it’s Delhi Crime, Four More Shots Please! or The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Such confidence in women-centric films is lacking for theatrical releases, but Gangubai proved them all wrong. More power to women and stories around them and led by them!”
H!: ‘Tahira Kashyap loves to tell simple stories of hope with a lot of heart’ — do you agree?
TKK: “The current phase I’m in, that’s exactly my space. I’m really attracted towards human drama, people and their complexities rather than their twisted tales. We are so twisted within; we don’t need any more clots in our lives.”
H!: How excited are you about your directorial debut, Sharmaji Ki Beti?
TKK: “I’m extremely excited about it! It’s my directorial debut for a feature film and has been an eminent part of my life for a long time, given that I had written it in 2017. A lot of obstacles got in the way, but I’m extremely proud of this project and the people who rooted for me. Audiences can look forward to a simple story with a lot of heart and hope. The film will evoke a warm, fuzzy feeling — and perhaps a tear or two.”
H!: In a number of reports on Sharmaji, the articles began with ‘Actor Ayushmann Khurrana’s wife and writer...’ Why do you think media houses continue to use such patriarchal identifiers for women?
TKK: “Earlier, I’d get agitated by this and question them about why they can’t see me as an individual. But I’ve given up now and realise that I need to keep working on my craft for people to start seeing me as an individual. Today, there’s so much talk around women and their individuality that it’s made the media realise we’re flesh and blood and need to have our names associated with ourselves.”
H!: Speaking of Ayushmann, what did he have to say about your two best-sellers?
TKK: “There were mixed emotions. He was very happy about my books, though he was a little sceptical about the fact that my books reflect a lot of my personal life. So he’s also been a little wary. He’s still extremely proud of my journey as he knows the battles I’ve fought, up and close.”
H!: What kind of a husband is he?
TKK: “He’s an amazing person. He’s my friend, my husband, and an artist I really admire. He’s surely as supportive as I am towards his work.”
H!: Tell us what a day in the life of the Khurranas looks like.
TKK: “A day in the life of the Khurranas and Kashyaps is fun! Everyone has an agenda on weekdays. My kids (eight and 10) are in school, and Ayushmann’s busy shooting. If I’m not shooting, then I’m writing. You’ll find me in funny corners around the house — sometimes under the dining table! On weekends, or when Ayushmann’s not shooting, we’re all homebirds who love to cuddle, watch a film together, and have a meal together. There’s a lot of conversation, but the day always starts with someone playing music.”
H!: The two of you went through an arduous ordeal following your diagnosis. How did you come out stronger?
TKK: “If I’m allowed to say, shit happens. And this was unexpected. (At the time,) we could actually hear each other’s thoughts, which were, “OK, we are going to see this through together. It’s going to be a long but joyous road because a sense of humour always helps through unfortunate times.”
H!: What’d you advise women who find it tough to handle societal pressures?
TKK: “Hold on and never give up. Take baby steps towards success, but do it with a kind heart. You can only win wars with love. Anger is never the solution; it only evokes more anger. At the same time, I wish our society would be more compassionate, empathetic and believe in equality.”
H!: What’s next?
TKK: “I’m a storyteller. I love to tell stories in any medium. Currently, I’m enjoying the direction it’s taking me in. I’m also writing a couple of scripts. Something might come up in that space soon...”
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s January 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!