It’s “Game Over” For The Boys Club! Kaavya Ramkumar Talks About Co-Writing The Blockbuster Thriller Starring Tapsee Pannu

Life is funny! The kind of people I have met online and the way in which I have met them makes me define serendipity at a metaphysical level. Of course, not all acquaintances turn out to be worth remembering, but some, effortlessly stick on. Kaavya and I bonded over our shared trauma of abuse. An article I had written many years ago brought her to my inbox, and we’ve since been, dare I say, friends. A doctor by profession, an aspiring actor, a writer and a free spirit that she is, has a new feather to her hat – a screenwriter par excellence. Over the course of our acquaintance, we have shared ideas, stories, film recommendations, and pain remedy for period cramps! (Yep!) But the one thing striking about Kaavya is the ease with which one can pick up from where it was last left – albeit years.

She’s worked extremely hard to get where she is despite apprehensions, and I can’t be more proud of her work. Watching her name appear on screen gave me a visceral gratification – a deep-seated joy, a shared victory for the whole fraternity, that moment became a testimony to all the women daring to dream.

In this very personal interview, Kaavya talks about a lot of interesting things. Read on…

1 – Tell us a little bit about yourself – your childhood, education, did you grow up in an artsy family?

Being an only child to two supportive and loving parents, I should say that I’ve had a near perfect childhood. I was an all-rounder in school. Music, dance, drama, elocution, writing, sports (T.T) and of course studies. I’ve been in Pondicherry all my life barring a few years in England where my dad was finishing up his Ph.D. and Postdoctoral in Veterinary Extension. My dad is the Dean of the Veterinary College in Pondicherry and my mom is the chairperson of the District Complaints Local Committee for Sexual Harassment of Women at the workplace. I did my schooling in Pondicherry and my MBBS graduation in Kanyakumari, T.N. 

We as the family always watched films. Road trips to Kerala used to be filled with old songs and new ones. And dad used to love giving me trivia about old films and artists. He still does. I still remember mom and him making me watch The Sound of Music and Chemeem. As expected, The Sound of Music did come out as a winner because according to the 8-year-old me, everyone died in Chemeem. 

My dad was quite a star in his college days. Writing plays, performing them, playing the Tabla but as the years progressed, he lost touch with it all. So I think, the artsy part I should’ve got it from him. 

I’m very grateful for where I am today but there are days I miss being a doctor. And I believe you don’t stop being one just because you stop practicing. It’s just inherent. I do hope I can learn to balance passion and profession in a few years.

2 – When did the cinema bug bite you? From a profession that people chase relentlessly, you jumped to one that people attach all kinds of taboos – how did that happen – was it easy?

I would be lying if I said that ‘it’ just happened. I guess in some way, I’ve always wanted it to. Of course, telling your academic parents that you want to be in cinema was a bad decision but I did. They asked me to finish up my course first and then think of it. Cinema has always fascinated me. Mom and I used to catch every film that came in theatres. I loved sitting in those dark, cold theatres, filled with anticipation, waiting to be transported to a whole other world for 3 hours. But in those days, it was about being an actor, a star. Writing didn’t really cross my mind. I even auditioned for a role post-college but nothing came of it.

 I took up writing quite seriously towards the end of college and after it. Studying in an uber-strict college where nothing apart from studying was encouraged, I felt caged. My only escape was via writing. Then post-college, to get away from the work stress, I took up writing. By then I had written around 18 short stories which I used to send to friends to read up. And 1 of them ended up sending it to Ashwin – my director – and here I am now.

I should say I’ve been lucky. It all just happened so fast, people didn’t have time to stop me. I just needed my parent’s consent and since they were okay, not initially but later, I was fine. Ashwin has been my mentor and pretty much someone who’s always believed in me even when I didn’t.

I’m very grateful for where I am today but there are days I miss being a doctor. And I believe you don’t stop being one just because you stop practicing. It’s just inherent. I do hope I can learn to balance passion and profession in a few years.

3 – You must have had a lot of fears, outside of the things people say to dissuade women from pursuing cinema – how did you cope with it?

Again I think the most important person who made this happen was Ashwin. I’m very close to my family so it was important that they be okay with it. He spoke to my parents and convinced them, along with me. But the fear did last for a few months. My mother used to accompany me on every trip to Chennai and Mumbai. But slowly as we got to know the team and the producers, I started making those trips on my own. Also, I think Taapsee was a very good influence since the first meeting. She used to tell me how she had no one travelling with her since she was 18, since her first film and used to do stuff on her own. She pushed me to make trips on my own and basically ‘grow up’. A lot of growing up has happened over this past year. 

I particularly enjoyed writing the final iteration of Swapna where she gets back at them. It was cathartic on many levels.

4 – How was your experience writing ‘Game Over’? Have you written/ directed any films before? 

Short stories were my domain so going into screenplays was a whole different ball game. I used to read around 3 screenplays a day just to understand what it all meant. And since, Ashwin and I had worked on a script before Game Over that helped us a lot to find our frequency. He was working with someone for the first time and so was I. But he was two films old and I was none. So I wasn’t all too confident going in. But once Game Over started, I think we both understood each other better and it was much easier. There were a few fights over scenes but all in all it was a very good experience. Collaboration can work wonders if you do it with the right person. Ultimately, it was all for the film. We’ve axed quite a few scenes both his ideas and mine. I used to feel insecure when that happened initially. Maybe I’m not cut out for this, maybe my ideas are dumb but when I saw him doing the same to his that’s when I realized that it didn’t matter who’s idea it was; if it didn’t fit the film, it was going out. I haven’t directed any films. And I don’t intend to either. But I would love to write many many more.

5 – The film has a very powerful protagonist, and it is heartening to see that her character doesn’t get sidestepped by some male savior. How much of your own feminist views came in the process of writing this script?

 Thank you!

From the very beginning, Swapna (the protagonist) was going to fight her own battles. In no draft ever was there someone else doing it for her. Because that’s how real life works. I think it was a conscious decision from both our sides to make sure that was always going to be the case.  Swapna didn’t need a hero she just needed to realise that she was her own.

I particularly enjoyed writing the final iteration of Swapna where she gets back at them. It was cathartic on many levels.

6 – Were there differences and disagreements while co-writing? How do you work around it?

Anytime things got heated, we would take a break and come back to it. Since I was working from Pondy and he was from Chennai, it was much easier to take that break. I would usually write a scene and send it to him. He would rewrite and send it back. So it was a very back and forth process. That is until we got what we were both comfortable with.

7 – I am personally irked by stories stemming from the trauma that women face due to sexual violence. Do you think, if not due to the trauma, ‘Swapna’ from the film could have emerged a hero in any other way?

Hmm..that’s interesting. I’ve never really thought about that to be truthful. As of now, Swapna is Swapna because of her past, her present and her future.

8 – That is not to say that the writing wasn’t commendable – it was very crisp, minimal in terms of dialogue and devoid of fatiguing cliches. Were these very conscious decisions?

Extremely conscious, yes.

Ashwin’s idea as the director was always to make it a pan Indian film. So we tried our best to used minimal dialogues. A lot of ‘ Show, don’t tell’ was followed for this script, unlike our previous one. And there were some scenes which I actually wrote as short stories, just to get into the psyche of Swapna. I would then edit it, make it into the screenplay format. Being a doctor myself, it was important to show the real thing. I wanted it to be medically correct yes but also emotionally correct. There was a lot of research done just to get it right.

9 – How do you think the film has come out? A writer envisions a film vastly different from the director.

I was on set pretty much every day so I knew how the scenes would turn out then and there itself. It was surreal. Just being there watching those things which you wrote get filmed. It was one of the best experiences of my life. And we’ve had such amazing actors. Every single one of them was a delight to watch.

Because the film stays true to the script, I don’t think I was in for any surprises. We actually had to write and shoot a few more scenes but even that I think is near perfect. It’s a beautiful film and I’m proud to be associated with it. 

10 – Would you continue pursuing cinema, maybe even act/direct in the future?

I should hope so. I am getting offers but it’s the same kind of movies. Female protagonist, thrillers, Taapsee. I wouldn’t like to get stereotyped but I do love female protagonists. I am looking to collaborate with others too. But Ashwin would definitely be my first preference.

I think acting has taken the back seat after this film. Nothing is as easy as it seems. So no, apart from a few cameos in the films I write, i.e if they let me ..I’m very happy where I am now.

11 – Any unique, crucial experience that you had while writing this film, that would like to share?

Writing Swapna’s character was a very cathartic experience for me. There was an incident in school involving my Maths teacher, 12th std. Even after speaking out, I was the one who had to change schools. There were a lot of teachers and students who called and supported me citing similar instances but no one came out and spoke for me. It was just my parents who were there for me. Even my then-boyfriend didn’t ‘get’ it and asked me to ‘let it go’. So while I had to change school in the last 6 months of the most crucial year of my school life, avoid questions as to why I did and somehow pass 12th std with decent marks, that guy continued to teach after a few days of suspension and still does after 12 years in the very same school. It was a very trying time in my life and though I suppressed it for years, I never came to terms with it. Writing Swapna helped me with that. I would say we helped each other. There is some kind of closure that I’ve had writing and of course being played out so beautifully on screen. I’ll be eternally grateful for this experience. 

Thank you, Vaishnavi for these interesting questions. I genuinely enjoyed answering them.

Check out “Game Over” in theatres near you! Or soon on Netflix!