She’s known as the daughter of a popular filmmaker and the sister and half-sister two famous actors. Her family’s connect with the entertainment world might have made it easier to be an assistant director for Bipasha Basu-starrer Raaz 3, and a writer for Ajay Devgn-starrer Son of Sardaar (both 2012). But, there’s more to the personality that’s Shaheen Bhatt — a writer. This gets proved as she explores her writing skills while exposing some of the deepest secrets of her life in her memoir titled I’ve Never Been (Un)happier, which talks about her encounter with depression. Excerpts from a tête-à-tête:
Q. What gave you the courage to let your personal life out in public?
A. My entire reasoning for wanting to talk about this is the fact is I honestly, truly believe that even if it’s not mental illness, everyone of us is struggling with some kind of pain. Pain is universal, and happiness is unfortunately not universal. And we have all got very used to not discussing things that are uncomfortable. That was very important for me to sort of let my guard down, to begin with, because I felt it was really holding me back… For me, it (writing the book) was a way of using it as a vehicle, to hopefully spur on the conversation [on mental health].
Q. Was there any fear that crept onto you about the negative reactions that this book might draw?
A. To be honest, it’s not something that I questioned or thought about. It didn’t occur to me; it was never a fear I had. The only time I have felt [why did I write this book] is in the least day or two that I have questioned it. And that’s only because in the process of talking about it, I had to talk about myself a lot, which is something I’m not used to doing. And that’s the difficult part for me — talking about it… For me, writing the book and putting it out was very easy. The problem arose when it came to have the conversation about myself, and consistently talking about it; that’s the thing that bothers me.
Q. Printing your diary entries was a bold move especially in a world where the private life is usually kept under wraps. Whose idea was it, and why did you go ahead with it?
A. It was my idea. The reason I did that is because when I’m writing a book, I’m writing in hindsight. The easiest way to show, and not tell, is to show you what I felt in that moment and not what I remember feeling in that moment. So, the diary entry is pretty much the easiest way to do that, which is why I chose to put them in the (book) because they are very accurate representation of when you are actually in the throes of feeling an emotion.
Dairy writing became a habit when we were kids; it was kind of a fashionable thing to do then. I started writing when I was 11, and that’s pretty much around the time where all these emotions [of depression] started coming to me. And it came as a sort of coping mechanism, because I wasn’t really talking to anyone about it (feeling depressed) at the time so it all went out of me into my diary.
Q. The title of the book talks about your state of being ‘unhappy’. Keeping that in mind, what’s your oldest memory of you being happy?
A. When my sister was born and I met her for the first time [that’s my oldest memory of being happy]. I was 5 then. I was truly ecstatic and overjoyed.
Q. Considering how close you are to your sister, Alia (Bhatt), did you anywhere feel that you should have spoken to her about what you were feeling while growing up?
A. My sister and I have a very large age gap: five-and-a-half years between us. She was too young for me to actually talk to. And I was not talking to anybody about it including my parents; I was not discussing it with anyone. These are all conversations that came later once I was sort of in the process to know.
Q. There’s no pretence in your writing. Who do you get this quality of being unabashed from?
A. It’s how I have always written. Even if you go back to my diary entries, that’s the only way I know of how to write. I am an avid reader since I was a child. My father is a prolific writer himself, and I wrote a lot with him when I was young. Whenever he wrote articles, I would sit with him and help him write his articles. He has a sort of honest quality in his writing as well, which I suppose I have imbibed while watching him.
Q. In fact, there’s an undercurrent of humour in your writing…
A. I’ve always believed that one of the reasons I have been able to get through this (depression) is because I have a sense of humour about it. It’s a sh***y thing to go through, but I also don’t take myself very seriously, and I have the ability to joke about it. I have the ability to see the lighter side of things and I really believe that they really help me. It’s very important to look at the lighter side of things even if it’s kind of sometimes a little off. I think it really helps… There’s a tendency to think that depressed people or people who have mental illness are negative people. But I know I’m not a negative person because if I was one, I would not get through it. I’m inherently a positive person and it’s the positivity I have is what helps me through it.
Q. Do you plan to pursue writing books or restrict yourself to film writing? What time of the day do you write?
A. I’m first and foremost a writer. I would definitely be exploring writing more books in the future. So, it’s definitely something that I will continue to pursue. I have written some scripts; that is the writing that I did initially, for a very long time. But, I took a step back from script writing because it was not exactly what I wanted to do, and I felt I was I was doing it for the wrong reasons. Until I feel that I have a story that I want to tell, very specific stories, I don’t think I would go back to script writing unnecessary stories, until I felt I want to explore…
On a normal day, working hours for me are 5am to noon. I wake up at 5’o clock in the morning and I write till 12’o clock in the afternoon. I write whatever I’m working on. Beyond that, my days are fairy uncomplicated; if there are events to attend it’s that otherwise it’s spending time with my family or friends.