Sunday, February 3, 2013

DNA Bangalore: Mistakes Like Love And Sex & why the chick lit label should die!

How do you respond to the implication from literary snobs that chick-lit label must be poorly written as your books aren't so?
It’s actually very sad that people classify books and then they dismiss them. When I wrote my book I didn’t think it would be a chick lit. But people immediately presumed it would be so because it had a female protagonist. Then they said “oh it will be like any other book” without even reading it. But Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas went on to sell 50,000 copies and Mistakes Like Love And Sex has already sold 20,000 copies. Still people won’t invite me to Literature festivals as my books are not “literary.” I’m trying to bring about different layers in my books – a sexually repressed society, a search for identity, a need for economic independence, empowering women about their bodies, strife in domestic households between an old era and a new age. If I put all that on the back cover, change the cover to an abstract painting and use a title like “whispering wind” maybe I might be taken seriously. The content will never change. But we live in a world where people still judge you for all those factors rather than the content.

Though there are several nicely written, warm, funny and insightful examples of chick-lit, the quality of the work mostly gets ignored. Does that trouble you?
Yes. Also my work cannot be just labeled as chick lit. It’s edgy and serious and insightful. No other contemporary author has written about bedroom scenes that are raw, sensuous, and real. I don’t make them erotic but it has a passionate touch to it. I explore women’s desires and men’s needs. In a society where everything is closed doors, I am trying to write about what is natural and beautiful. I would not like to be labeled as just another chick lit author and be ignored.

What is the social significance of chick lit?
Any piece of good writing is important. We must not all strive to be a Salman Rushdie. We need to have different voices in society and a nation that accepts those voices as well. Women’s stories are essential to give identification and empowerment to other women.

Is chicklit a fitting genre to approach issues of sexuality, feminism and self-identity?
No it is not. It is a horrible classification. We NEED another category for writers who want to write about sexuality, feminism and self-identity that I do with my novels. I sincerely hope the PUBLISHING world finds a new classification so I can be slotted into that rather than a chick lit writer.

Do you think that books aimed at women are becoming increasingly homogenised or girly?
Partly. But it’s a vicious cycle. If one book does well then publishers want authors to write the same genre to sell more copies. For example, with the success of 50 Shades series, all Indian publishers want to venture into the erotica genre. So then, the market is flooded with the same type of books. It has happened the same way with the “girly” books because one book sold well many years ago. That is why I’ve tried to stay clear of stale writing and usual topics. I may have a female protagonist but it doesn’t mean she needs to behave the same way as others.

Love is fine for a classic like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina but if the heroine is a modern girl juggling a job and a love life, many turn contemptuous. Why? Are we squeamish about love as a topic?
The bookstores are flooded with stories on love. Hence the overdose has created an over discerning, jaded buyer. As soon as they see “love” on the cover, they think that one book is as good as the next. I didn’t realize this till my book Mistakes Like Love And Sex came out. I thought it was a quirky title and it was apt with the book that had betrayals, bad boyfriends, and bedroom antics. However, since it has “love” the reader doesn’t know if it’s the same ol’ story seen on the shelf time after time. But when you go to read my book you will realize that it’s NOT A CHICK LIT. It will be a story you’ve never read before.

How did working on commercial Bollywood films influence your fiction?
Working as an Assistant Director to Subhash Ghai and Kaizad Gustad gave me access to a few Bollywood stars and behind the scenes news. I was even an Executive Producer at Zoom TV working on a reality show for Miss India. All this was churning in my head when I was writing both my books. Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas has Kaveri as a participant on a reality show. Mistakes Like Love And Sex has Kaveri becoming a tutor-assistant to a new actress Bela Bandhan who is an amalgamation of the actresses I’ve worked with. My fiction has to come from a real place otherwise it won’t be believable. I have actually visited Milan, Barcelona and New York that I write about in my books. Hence I can describe it well enough for readers to visualize it.

Who is the reader you have in mind while writing?
No one. I do not have a reader in mind. I only have a story and characters that go through scenes that I see clearly in my mind.

Is literature elitist?
Any writing beyond the last 30 years is elitist. Old is presumed gold.

Tell us a myth about Indian women.
It’s a myth that Indian women do not enjoy sex. With the right man, and enough foreplay they will always love it! 

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