Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: if I celebrate the fact that I had cancer, I am not celebrating the disease, but the way I fought against it
In 2018, filmmaker-writer Tahira Kashyap Khurrana's life encountered an obstacle when he was diagnosed with breast cancer. What followed were painful sessions of chemotherapy, medications, mastectomy and reconstruction, and although everything could have crushed his spirit, Tahira emerged from the experience, stronger, braver and more positive. About him World Cancer Day , today, he tells BT about his battle against carcinoma, moving forward as a filmmaker and why it is important to live every day of his life to the fullest. Excerpts ...
He was busy with the pre-production job of his Bollywood director debut, Sharmaji Ki Beti, when he was diagnosed with breast cancer. While he must have shaken him completely, he also stopped his career for a while ...
I have evolved in the last three years. If it had been before, I would have had anxiety and stress. I would have felt defeated and cursed my husband ( Ayushmann Khurrana ) because we tend to blame the spouse for everything that goes wrong. It is a common trend in people. But I changed when I discovered what I was suffering. It makes you feel bad, but you have to find the resistance to deal with it. Today, as a filmmaker, it's my turn to knock on doors until people listen to me. Now, I am more determined to make it happen than ever. I am working on a movie and with that I plan to recover lost time. I need to prove myself. If I get success on a plate, it's probably because of my husband. He has fought alone for years and has achieved what he has. This (his journey of making movies) is my struggle and it has to be completely mine. Glad to be on a trip of my own.
Now, when you interact or meet people, do you see them acting sympathetically, knowing what you've been through? And does that ever affect you?
I am not a bechari, and I have never played the victim's card. In all these years, I've never asked the question, why me, and I don't want to go there now. Probably the reason I suffered is to spread the word, make people more aware and normalize the conversation about breast cancer and its early detection. I am a science student, educated and still not paying attention to symptoms. In many cases, detection occurs at a much later stage.
In fact, you have been quite open about each stage of the treatment and the treatment you went through. What led you to do that?
If I celebrate the fact that I had cancer, I am not celebrating the disease, but the way I fought against it. While I was in treatment, I have even walked the ramp. If I had allowed myself to feel victim, I don't know what I would have done. We all have problems in our lives, but they don't label us as survivors of that. So why label one as a cancer survivor? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't know the result and I refused to insist on the type of pain one is experiencing. In fact, I did a lot of preproduction work while receiving chemotherapy. The day you stop blaming yourself or anyone else for what happens, people will stop seeing you through that prism. As a writer-director, when I enter a room today, people see me as a professional, not as a cancer survivor who plays the sympathy card.
When you started talking about your treatment in social networks, you were very controlled. Did you feel discouraged?
Some people trolled me because they thought that I was getting treated at some fancy hospital in the US. But I got myself treated in Mumbai. Having said that, even if I was getting treated abroad, why should I be judged for it? I was trolled for seeking publicity post my treatment, for being a trophy wife and a social climber. I’m not guilty of these things, so they didn’t affect me. I remember, I was trolled for going bald during chemo. That exposed me to insensitivity of another kind. But with all this came prayers, good wishes and love, too, and I chose not to hide behind walls. When I started growing my mane again, they called Ayushmann and me brothers and said, ‘do bande chale aa rahe hain’ on social media. I’d be lying if I said these things never affected me, but I’ve learnt the art of pulling up my spirit. Social media can also be a pleasant place. Someone wrote to me in the middle of chemo that I look hot with the bald look. Several women feel so conscious after undergoing mastectomy and reconstruction. When I went through it, I realised this is not what defines me or any woman. How does the size of the breast define who I am? Women are much more than that.
You have made three short films and you are preparing for your first feature film. With a successful spouse at home, does it get a little harder to find your own space, professionally?
Ayushmann and I went a long way together. We did theater together for 10 years, after which he became a radio jockey, television presenter and then an actor. I got attached to a corporate job, and wrote and directed plays because I didn't have the conviction to make a career with that. I come from a family of educators, and they teach us to make stability the premise of life. In our two families, no one had ventured into this business. Ayushmann broke through with his conviction and achieved what he dreamed. I had found his vocation while I ventured into jobs I was not happy with. I was full of doubts and insecurity about where I was going. When a partner succeeds, people know you through him. The responsibility is yours to change that. Today my name is Kashyap-Khurrana. I am evolved, confident and in agreement with who I am. It would have been easier for me to ask my husband to create a company for me or to help me work, but that won't make me happy. It's not me. I've been trying to do a function for a long time. Even when I made my first short film, Toffee, which was partly sponsored by Ayushmann, I was very restless until someone bought it and everyone got their money back. People take a long time to invest even 500 rupees in their work. Calm can be demotivating.
A few months ago, Ayushmann in his interview with BT had said that he wanted you to direct him in a movie. Are you ready for that?
At home, we are equal but professionally, he is my oldest now. You may want me to direct it, but I also have to be in a position to do so. I have to win it, and he must like my script. It doesn't seem right to start my role with him just because he is my husband.
As a couple, Ayushmann and you have been together since high school. What do you think has kept them both so strong and connected?
I respect my man and he also respects me. I want to give him the space to grow while I find my way and he wants to give me my share of that space. When two people in a relationship believe in giving, the relationship flourishes. It is not the marriage label that keeps us together with Ayushmann and me, we are partners. When I was pregnant and almost disconnected from the world around me, my partner did everything possible to keep me abreast of things. To date, he shares his music with me, and I tell him what books he should read. When struggles and success are shared, relationships shine.