It’s her first year at the Jaipur Literature Festival, but I wouldn’t have been able to guess so from the comfortable cross-legged position Anuja Chauhan has parked herself atop the chair on the stage.
I later met her at the press enclosure where she was giving interviews. I thrust my copy of her recently published Those Pricey Thakur Girls under her nose for an autograph. She looks amused and asks me how I had managed to get a copy as she had heard they had run out of them. I want to tell her a courageous tale of how I fought with two other people for that copy but settle with, “Errrm…”
She smiles, asks for my name by which time I have managed to get my tongue in working order again and spell it out for her. She signs with a flourish and hands me back the copy and goes back to chirpily giving replies to questions. That’s when I decide that I too want to interview her and come running back to her table with notebook and pencil and park myself there.
She’s talking about how her mother-in-law’s experiences helped her in writing Battle with Bittora, her second book. “People come up to her with the strangest of requests like wanting their 5 foot 2 inches son to get into the army which has a strict requirement of 6 feet. How is my mother-in-law supposed to make a short person tall?”
But it’s not like Chauhan is a person who runs away from her social responsibilities. Far from it. All her protagonists are females who show great strength of character (but not when it comes to shopping), are (mostly always) loyal, honest (unless, it means extra sleeping time) and feed street dogs.
As she herself confesses, “I like making serious points. But I don’t make them seriously. Because then you put people to sleep. I do moral science but I disguise moral science as sexy fun.”
I ask her why her characters always have some feature which they are ashamed of? Zoya, in The Zoya Factor, had chubby cheeks, Sarojni, in Battle for Bittora, had a huge toothy smile and now, in Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Debjani has a mole on her chin. She laughs out loud. “These things are in these girls’ heads. I feel like most girls have some things which they are unhappy about. Something absurd. Everyone has some insecurity. My daughter has a mole on her chin. So these are just ‘flaws’ I take off from my siblings, my friends and the people around me.”
When asked if she wanted to write more, pat came her reply, “I can’t stop! I really like writing! I’m compulsively spinning stories, especially romances. I’m shamelessly romantic!”
She had early training in story-telling. As a convent educated boarding school girl, her recreation was limited to storytelling and fantasizing. “I would make up romances for each one of my friends. I made some for myself as well. I was always going to meet the head boy or the head of the debating team.”
Her future Bollywood releases include a Nikhil Advani film, Gappi, for which she wrote the screenplay last year, with the tagline ‘Main liar nai, shayar hoon!’ (I’am a poet, not a liar) She is currently working on an Anil Kapoor Film Company (AKFC) movie which has a complicated love triangle and an action-adventure film for UTV.
“The nice thing about screenwriting is that you have a couple of shiny crayons in the screenwriting box. You have sound effects and cinematography, things which one doesn’t have access to when writing a novel.”
Continuing with her love for writing she said, “A novel is the purest thing I write. There, I have complete control. In advertising you have no control. When writing for a movie, you are somewhere in the middle.”
She says she intentionally wouldn’t be writing the screenplays for either of her two novels which have been sold for movies. “I am done and dusted with those characters. Whatever I wanted to say, I’ve already said in the novels.”
During the course of the interview, there arises a discussion on how bestsellers are defined in India. Chauhan says she finds it weird how a book that has sold only thousands of copies is declared a bestseller in a country like India which is inhabited by billions. Especially considering that Indians are the kind that believe in borrowing copies rather than buying them.
Reminiscing about her experience with advertising, she says, “Advertising makes you open to feedback, making you better as a screenwriter because otherwise screenwriters are such delicate flowers. Advertisements teach you not to bore people. “
A formula which she even uses in her novel writing: “I try and put something sparkling in every page.”
The interview is done. Cards, numbers and email ids are exchanged. Time to get back to reading Those Pricey Thakur Girls and hoping someone likes my chubby cheeks too.