Tahira Kashyap Khurrana: If I celebrate the fact that I had cancer, I’m not celebrating the disease, but the way I fought it – Times of India

In 2018, filmmaker-writer Tahira Kashyap Khurrana’s life met with a roadblock when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. What followed was painful sessions of chemotherapy, medication, mastectomy and reconstruction, and while all of it could have crushed her spirit, Tahira emerged from the experience, stronger, braver and more positive. On the World Cancer Day, today, she speaks to BT about her battle with carcinoma, surging ahead as a filmmaker and why it’s important to live every day of your life to the fullest. Excerpts…

You were busy with the pre-production work of your Bollywood directorial debut, Sharmaji Ki Beti, when you were diagnosed with breast cancer. While it must have shaken you up completely, it also stalled your career for a while…
I’ve evolved over the last three years. Had it been the earlier me, 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’s a common tendency in people. But I changed when I discovered what I was suffering from. It makes you feel bad, but you have to find the resilience to deal with it. Today, as a filmmaker, I’m game to knock on doors till people hear me. Now, I am more determined to make it happen than I ever was. There’s a feature film I am working on and with that, I plan to make up for lost time. I need to prove myself. If I get success on a platter, it will probably be because of my husband. He has struggled on his own for years and achieved what he has. This (her journey of making films) is my struggle and it has to be mine, entirely. I’m glad that I’m on a journey of my own.

Now, when you interact or meet with people, do you see them acting sympathetically, knowing what you have been through? And, does that ever get to you?
I’m not a bechari, and I have never played the victim 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 normalise the conversation around breast cancer and its early detection. I’m a science student, educated and I still didn’t pay heed to the symptoms. In many cases, the detection happens at a much later stage.

You’ve actually been fairly open about every stage of treatment and treatment that you went through. What drove you to do that?
If I celebrate the fact that I had cancer, I’m not celebrating the disease, but the way I fought it. While undergoing treatment, I’ve even walked the ramp. If I had allowed myself to feel like a victim, I don’t know what I would have done. We all have problems in our lives, but we don’t get labelled as survivors of that. Then, why label one as a cancer survivor? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t know the outcome, and I refused to harp on the kind of pain one goes through. In fact, I did a lot of pre-production work while I was undergoing 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 walk into a room today, people see me as a professional, not a cancer survivor playing the sympathy card.

When you started speaking about your treatment on social media, you were heavily trolled. Were you put off with the insensitivity out there?
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 are gearing up for your first feature. With a successful spouse at home, does it get a tad bit harder to find your own space, professionally?
Ayushmann and I go a long way together. We did theatre together for 10 years, after which he became a radio jockey, a TV host and then an actor. I stuck to a corporate job, and wrote and directed plays on the side because I didn’t have the conviction to make a career out of it. I come from a family of educationists, and we’re taught to make stability the premise of life. In both our families, no one had ventured into this business. Ayushmann made his way with his conviction and achieved what he dreamt of. He had found his calling while I dabbled in jobs that I wasn’t happy with. I was full of doubt and insecurity about where I was headed. When a partner becomes successful, people know you through him. The onus is yours to change that. Today, my name goes as Kashyap-Khurrana. I’m evolved, confident and in agreement with who I am. It would have been the easiest for me to ask my husband to start a company for me or to get me work but that won’t make me happy. It’s not me. I’ve been trying to make a feature for long. Even when I made my first short, Toffee, which was partly sponsored by Ayushmann, I was very restless till someone bought it over and everyone got their money back. People take a long time to invest even Rs 500 in your work. The lull can be demotivating.

A few months ago, Ayushmann in his interview to BT had said that he wants you to direct him in a feature film. Are you ready for that?
At home, we’re equals but professionally, he’s my senior now. He may want me to direct him, but I also have to be in a position to do that. I have to earn it, and he has to like my script. It doesn’t seem right to start my feature with him in it just because he’s my husband.

As a couple, Ayushmann and you have been together since high school. What do you think has kept the two of you so strong and connected?
I respect my man and he respects me, too. 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 blossoms. It’s not the tag of marriage that holds Ayushmann and me together, we’re companions. When I was pregnant and almost disconnected from the world around me, my partner did everything to keep me abreast with things. Till date, he shares his music with me, and I tell him which books he should read. When struggles and success are shared, relationships shine.

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