Meet Atika Chohan, the screenwriter of Deepika Padukone-starrer Chhapaak


Meet Atika Chohan, the screenwriter of Deepika Padukone-starrer Chhapaak

Hers is a story of perseverance and powerful plots

By AYESHA VENKATARAMAN  May 8th, 2019

Atika Chohan was once a journalist, albeit with some reluctance. In her hometown of Delhi, she wrote for The Hindu before moving to CNN-IBN, all the while privately nursing her ambition to write fiction. In the wake of personal tragedies, she resolved to chart a new course, and moved to Pune in 2008 for a year-long screenwriting course at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

In 2009, when Chohan arrived in Mumbai, she began writing for television but struggled to eke out a living while keeping her idealism intact. “I kept refusing the regressive films that came my way. I preferred to write a daily soap to pay my bills than a film that was outright sexist or missed the point completely,” says Chohan, 38. The ones she did write largely went unmade, until the release of Margarita With A Straw (2014), which helped establish her in the industry, followed by Waiting (2015).

Her latest film, Chhapaak, to be released early next year, is the next of the progressive, inclusive and unflinching stories she’s become known for. It traces the life of acid attack survivor, Laxmi Agarwal and throws into focus the events that led to the amendment of India’s acid laws. “There is the crime and then there is the environment around it, which allows this crime to be committed with such brazenness,” says Chohan. She sought to capture the tumultuous period from 2012 and 2015, starting with the gang rape of Nirbhaya and the consequent report by the Justice Verma Committee.

With Deepika Padukone essaying the role of Agarwal, this film is poised to catapult Chohan into the big league. But she’s got no time to slow down and savour it, with two other movies already in production: Agra with director Kanu Behl, and Guilty, a Netflix original with filmmaker Ruchi Narain. “People tell me that I’m very successful based on my filmography,” says Chohan. “And I feel proud of it. But for every film that has been made, there are seven to eight that were not. It’s a heartbreaking and humbling process.”

FAVOURITE FILMS

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

“The most perfect film on the most imperfect human condition.”

Prisoners

“A compelling, Philosophical take on the idea of how all of us are prisoners of our judgement and our biases.”

Mahanagar

“It is way ahead of its time and it anticipates the man woman equation in a modern world. Its beauty? It makes a case as much for the man as it does for the woman.”

KEY INFLUENCES

Sudip Sharma

“He’s prolific and focused, and he really understands technicality. He’s the best writer in the business, according to me.”

Gillian Flynn

“I loved Sharp Objects. We live in a time with so much content that things rarely stay with you, but this had a strong impact on me.”

Shonda Rhimes

“For her rigor and authority over the beast of screenwriting, and the command and force she brings with her personality.”

Featured Photograph: Courtesy Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint