Director Reema Kagti on how Dahaad came to be, her creative inspiration, and more
Patriarchy doesn’t exist only because men want to subjugate women. It also exists because a lot of women play into it, says Kagti. And this is the aspect that the director attempts to explore in her latest web series, Dahaad.
Friday May 26, 2023,
4 min Read
Amazon Prime Video’s crime-drama Dahaad, featuring Sonakshi Sinha as a tough police officer on the lookout for a psychopath killer (Vijay Verma), has been received well, both by the critics and the masses. It tells a difficult story with a gripping narrative, highlighting the consequences of a stratified patriarchal society dealing with crimes against women.
Co-creators Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti have woven a story around missing women from India’s semi-rural areas.
Statistics on missing women across the country present a worrisome picture. According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund, 46 million girls and women were missing in India in 2020.
“When we started looking at what was available in the public domain, what struck us, after some research, was that how could so many women go missing and nobody has properly looked into it?” Kagti, co-director of Dahaad tells YS Life.
“It (the story of Dahaad) came to us… It was not something that we were consciously trying to do,” she adds.
Akhtar and Kagti essentially wanted to engage in stories that fit the narrative of violence against women.
Missing girls are often not reported by their families. Given the burden of dowry and marriage expenses, women from the girls’ families prefer to let them just ‘vanish’. This aspect of women being indifferent to the plight of other women in their family stands out in Dahaad.
“Patriarchy doesn’t exist (only) because men want to subjugate women. It also exists because a lot of women play into it. I didn’t want to pass judgement on these women. They are also products of the same system,” explains the director.
Kagti has quietly and patiently carved a unique space for herself in mainstream Indian cinema. A native of Tinsukia district of Assam, with roots in Guwahati, she moved to Mumbai to work in films. She began her career as an assistant director and worked in movies such as Lagaan (2001), Lakshya (2004) and Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair (2004).
Akhtar and Kagti, who are creative partners today, became friends on the sets of Excel Entertainment movies.
Exploring new settings
As a director, Kagti has delivered engrossing stories with strong protagonists in genre-blending films. With OTT, opportunities for a voice like hers multiply. Her latest web series Dahaad is a good example of solid storytelling with a subtle social comment.
Strong women characters and the subject of gender bias have made it to Kagti’s cinematic work over time.
In her debut film, Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd (2007), an ensemble comedy, a woman, engaged to be married, runs away with her lover while other women—strangers—stand by her. Another character, a Bengali housewife, pummels goons with her kung-fu moves, shutting up her dominating husband.
In her next—the crime drama Talaash (2012)—a missing sex worker emerges as the centre of a complex case that baffles the police.
With Dahaad, Kagti and Akhtar–whose stories are often labelled as being urbane and metropolis-centric–consciously chose Rajasthan as the setting for their story.
“The story is believable in a small sleepy town. There is a Rajasthan that we wanted to get into; not the Rajasthan that is very exposed—palaces, tourism spots. But the small town, really dry, arid places. The geography cued our story very well,” she explains.
The most intriguing and dread-inducing part of Dahaad is its villain. Anand Swarnakar, played by Vijay Verma, comes across as a good Samaritan but much lies beneath the surface.
“We didn’t play him as a monster. We played him as a human being, and I think that’s what is really frightening,” says Kagti. "That you see a regular person who has gone horribly wrong… That is scarier than any kind of imagined monster."
Kagti has drawn creative inspiration from cult classics Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and The Bikini Murders by Farrukh Dhondy. In these works, the protagonists are evil beyond redemption, but they also come across as human, emotional and flawed.
“I found this approach (of humanising the serial killer) from these books very interesting and used that to build Anand Swarnakar,” says Kagti.
Dahaad has been co-produced by Kagti and Akhtar under their banner Tiger Baby Films. The duo is committed to creating a home for newer directors and writers who are in tune with their sensibilities. Ruchika Oberoi, one of the directors nurtured by them, has co-directed the web series.
Dahaad is their third OTT series after Made in Heaven (2019) and Eternally Confused and Eager to Love (2022).
Speaking of Made in Heaven, will there be another season of the drama series that explores the story of two wedding planners and the challenges they face in their profession?
“Season 2 is coming soon! Sooner than you think,” says Kagti.
Edited by Swetha Kannan