RomCom, or should we say “RomCrom”, author Anuja Chauhan has just come out with her new book titled The Fast and The Dead, another romance-crime-comedy murder mystery to follow up her first murder mystery, Club You to Death. Kunzum Review caught up with her at a book signing at Kunzum book store for a candid chat. Here’s what she told us:
BSA: You started off from the advertising world and gave us the slogan ‘yeh dil maange more’ and now you’re writing RomComs and murder mysteries. Where is all this inspiration coming from?
Anuja: I like writing. It’s my creative thing. It’s how I relate to and make sense of the world and I love to read. I think most writers begin by reading. So, I read a lot and I really enjoy it. I love all the creative outlets that you can get. I’m not very good, but I’m very enthusiastic. Whether it’s reading or writing or dancing or singing all that. It’s a very, what is that thing in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai?, “Aapko pata hai mere ko singing aur dancing ka kitna shauq hai (Do you know how fond I am of singing and dancing?)”, I’m that kind of person. That’s why I joined advertising. I studied economics. I thought this is a good mixing of creativity and marketing. That’s how I started and I left it also Though there is writing in advertisements, it’s very restricted writing. In books, you are the master of your destiny. You control everything. So that’s why.
BSA: When you sit down and write is there something going on in your mind? I spoke to a couple of other authors, they said there’s always something or the other going on in their mind even when they aren’t writing. Does that happen with you also?
Anuja: Yes, everything, there’s something or the other always going on in your head. You’re filing it away constantly in your head and you don’t know when that thing will emerge and it will come out and then when you open your laptop and sit, then things just come and you write.
BSA: On an average, how many hours do you spend writing in a day?
Anuja: You know when you are between books, you don’t know what you’ll write next and you don’t have a theme. But when I’ve started a book after figuring it all out, and am in that zone, then I write about 1000 words a day.
BSA: ACP Bhavani Singh, where has he come from?
Anuja: We had an uncle called Rohtash mama. He was in the Meerut police and my grandfather was also a policeman, very gentle, very sweet kind of a policeman. We lived next to the police chowki there and everything in Begum Bagh. I think the kind of policeman that you see on the shows and on TV and in popular culture and even the people you meet seem to be very hard boiled. There’s a certain persona around them. But I have a memory of a nice amiable sort of policeman, a friendly neighbourhood kind of policeman, the kind who used to be in your life earlier and still are, but are not depicted much, you know. So, Bhavani Singh came from there for me. He keeps saying, “If you hit somebody, then you can unlock his tongue with physical violence, but if you listen to someone then you will unlock his heart. And you get the real inside story. Then people really talk to you.” So that is his school of sleuthing and his clue of solving crime.
BSA: When we talk about book adaptations to movies and OTT plays, your work has also been converted into movies and other plays. Do you think they’ve done justice to your work?
Anuja: I’ve just come back from Bombay after seeing the first cut edit of Club You to Death, in which ACP Bhavani is being played by Pankaj Tripathi and the movie is directed by Homi Adajania, who’s a brilliant director. They’ve got a lovely cast with Sara Ali Khan, Vijay Varma, Dimple Kapadia, Karisma Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, and Tisca Chopra and they’ve done the whole thing of that Dilliwala club, you know like, Gymkhana Club, Golf Club, Yeah, Rotary Club, Roshanara Club. It’s beautifully done. So I’m really happy with this new one.
BSA: After The Fast and the Dead, what next?
Anuja: I don’t know. It’s very exciting. I have two or three ideas cooking. And I think if Murder Mubarak, the name of the movie based on Club You To Death – it’s coming on Netflix, if that does well then hopefully they’ll make the sequel with The Fast and the Dead. Then maybe I’ll write one more ACP Bhavani book. But as I go around the city meeting people, meeting readers, I’m getting a lot of pushback saying “Anuja, why aren’t you writing more romance?” So, I’m not very sure what I’ll write next.
BSA: OK. So maybe we’ll have another romance novel and then come back to a third outing of ACP Bhavani.
Anuja: I’m very excited about the genre, for which I have coined a new term “RomCrom”, which is romance, crime and comedy. So, I’m saying I am writing RomCroms, what’s the problem? But today only, I met a bunch of girls who were like, “What is this”? Yes, yes, I know you put romance and the romance is good, but we want more romance.”
BSA: Do you see yourself writing Mills and Boon kind of stuff?
Anuja: No, I write funny books. For me, humor is the most important thing. You know, I like writing dialogue, which cracks me up and then hopefully it will crack up other people. I am very fond of writing social commentary, especially the masala one gets in Indian society to write. All our little, petty hypocrisies and our politics and insecurities and our gossip. And more and more creators are sharing that kind of content on Instagram reels, and I’m so amused by all those people that I follow a lot of them. I love writing stuff like that, like social commentary, little little idiosyncrasies of very typical Indian behaviour. And sometimes when it’s so typical India, it becomes very universal somehow. So, in that milieu I put in romance, murder, anything. I just love the settings.
BSA: In terms of your books that you’ve written, how does your family feel about them?
Anuja: My family is quite happy with my books. I mean, they like my books, yeah.
BSA: Do they want you to write something different?
Anuja: I don’t know. In the middle, my publisher actually gave me a very lucrative offer to write a book on parenting, to which I said my children will kill me if I pretend to be an expert. I’m no expert, I will definitely never write a parenting book, that’s the only thing I can say.
BSA: And which one of your books has been their favorite?
Anuja: They all have different favorites.
BSA: Which is your favourite?
Anuja: I don’t have a favourite.
BSA: How come?
Anuja: It’s like having a favourite child. I don’t have a favorite book.
BSA: So how was the COVID-19 lockdown? I believe you kept yourself very busy during that time?
Anuja: I wrote Club You To Death in the lockdown.
BSA: And then you also took in a bunch of pups.
Anuja: Yes, lots of pups. There are lots of puppies in The Fast and The Dead. The Fast and The Dead is all about puppies. As you can see there’s a stray dog on the cover. And it’s about this lady who hates stray dogs. You know, it’s there in every colony that some people love the stray dogs and others hate the stray dogs. In the book, what happens is that this lady, she has an estate, like a coffee estate, is very old and very drunk and she has a gun, and she pulls out her gun and shoots at the strays. And a man gets shot, by mistake. And then later on, you realize that it’s a murder. So, yes, the dogs affected me during the lockdown and now I’ve put them into my books, also.
BSA: When you are writing and you’ve written a fantastic dialogue, a hilarious dialogue, do you end up laughing at your own writing?
Anuja: Yeah, yeah I’m very amused. I’m like my favorite one. I find my own jokes very funny. I’m like, yeah, yeah, damn good one.
BSA: You write books and a lot of people, a lot of youngsters are not reading books. Instead, they’re spending their time on Instagram reels and Facebook videos. What do you think? How can we bring the readers, you know, these teenagers or youngsters back to books?
Anuja: Hey, I’m also spending my time watching reels and videos so I can hardly say anything to the people who are not reading. Essentially, I think that people are interested in stories and that there are certain things… a longer book is more rewarding. The thing with the shorter formats is that it’s a 3-minute in and out, a reel interaction. A book is a slightly longer-term relationship. These days nobody is doing long-term relationships, but books are long-term relationships. There’s a certain amount of time that you have to put in to get into it, but then it’s more rewarding and you go back again and again to it. I’m not concerned because I feel that essentially, it’s about the stories you tell. A good story will find its readership.
BSA: Have you ever thought of writing short stories.
Anuja: I’ve thought of it, but I’ve never done it.
BSA: Can we expect maybe one book of short stories?
Anuja: I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t think so. I’ve never done it. I write a column, so I’m used to a 600-word kind of format. And of course, I’ve written advertising for so long, so I’m comfortable with the short format and maybe I could do it.
BSA: You don’t miss the advertising world?
Anuja: I don’t miss it because I still have all my friends and all the fun without any of the work.
BSA: When you read, what kind of books do you read? Do you have a particularly favourite author?
Anuja: Yeah, of course. Everyone has favorite authors. In romance, my favorite authors are Georgette Heyer and Meg Cabot. I love these two. And then I have old favorites. I love Joseph Heller. A lot of people say his books are dark, but I find him very funny. I just love the characters he writes and the settings. I can just read those books again and again. I love Vikram Seth, if you talk about Indian writers. Recently there’s this writer who no one reads any more called Susan Howatch. I used to love her books when I was in boarding school. Recently, I judged the Tata Lit Live. So I read 30 books in 30 days and that was great fun. I read some lovely books. There’s a book I really liked. It’s by Sonora Jha and it’s called The Laughter. And then there is The Secret of More by Tejaswini Apte-Rahm, which was a lovely book that just won that prize. And so, yeah, I read lots of people.
BSA: If you if I were to ask you to suggest five books that every Indian should read apart from your books.
Anuja: They should read A Suitable Boy for sure. That’s a book I really like. Then they should all read Animal Farm again. You know it works for India today.
That would be nice to read for Indians. Catch 22, and then I would pick a couple of nice romances. I really like Aruna Nambiar. You know, she writes really well. I like all her books. I like all of Devapriya Roy’s books as well.
BSA: Any message that you want to give out to the readers?
And don’t just read, buy and read. Please don’t borrow from libraries or your friends.
Buy it, we we need it. I think people should read more, it’s lovely. And there are all these studies that show that if you read a book, then you’ll remember it, versus if you read on Kindle or if you watch something. There’s something about reading that just hardwires ideas and thoughts into your head. I just want to say that.
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