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Archive for November, 2009

I know promised to write this yesterday but then Man proposes and God disposes. Yesterday was a terribly hectic day and I got no time at all. Anyhow, here it is. Enjoy!

My next story is going to be about a vampire who’s in love with girl who’s human. The antagonist is going to be a Marathi Manoos werewolf who wants to kill the vampire because he’s a Bhayya. He wants to kill the girl because she called Mumbai Bombay to express solidarity with her lover.

How this helps:

Raj Thackeray takes affront and decides to express his outrage by vandalising bookstores and burning copies of your book in illustrative / intimidatory bonfires. Of course, this results in loss of revenue but it also guarantees publicity. Publicity that you can’t otherwise buy. Your book starts getting talked about and people who otherwise wouldn’t have bought it queue up to buy. It all works out.

Now, the flip side:

What if Raj Thackeray isn’t interested? What if the issue is not worth his time?

Enter the failsafe:

The vampire-girl duo are on the run and take shelter with some friendlies. Did I say friendlies? Not quite. You see, those friendlies are actually Jehadi Lychans who have an agenda of their own.  And their plan is to drill a hole all the way into the Earth’s core and plant a zillion megaton nuclear bomb there. Of course, you can’t drill a hole all the way to the Earth’s core but figure out a revolutionary new technology that does it anyway. For ideas, look up the film The Core.

Now, why would the Lychans shelter our protagonists? There can be two reasons. One, well, the werewolves with their heretic ideology are their enemies and any enemy of an enemy is a friend. Two, the journey to the centre of the Earth is fraught with peril and they need stooges to do it for them.

Meanwhile the Sun is flaring up out of control, and shooting tiny neutrinos into the Earth which is heating up the crust intolerably.

While our protagonists are with the Lychans, introduce a brilliant, sensitive Lychan painter who paints nude werewolf goddesses. 

Meanwhile, the werewolves catch up with the protagonists. While they are in Lychan territory, they stumble upon the painter’s works. Of course, once that happens, they do what comes naturally to them. They destroy the paintings. In the midst of the destruction, however, in a fit of petulance, the werewolf leader, an accomplished cartoonist, stops to draw some offensive sketches of the Lychan god.

How does it all end? How do I know? I haven’t thought of everything yet.

All I know is your book gets released. All castes and communities unite in calling for a universal ban on the book. Now join hands with a pirate on a revenue share basis. Now sit back and watch your bank balance grow.

Sigh. If only I could get someone to publish it. Sigh, maybe I’ll go to the Danish cartoon guys.

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I was watching the telly a couple of days ago and I happened to catch a 100 richest celebs kinda show on E!

Now, most of them have had to work for their supper but some, like Steven Spielberg get paid on just waking up! Royalties etc, you got it. And guess who was next on the list? JK Rowling. According to the show she’s worth a billion plus pounds. And the show was produced in 2007! Since then there’s been Stephanie Meyers, too.

Now, I was  filled with envy. Cross that. My new age guru will be horrified to hear that. *affirmation to self: Day after day I’m getting better and better and better. The world is filled with abundance and I live in this abundance. I deserve my good fortune and celebrate it*

Anyway, envy or motivation, call it what you will, but I decided to do something about my own, shall we say, considerably less salubrious pecuniary state. I called upon all my experience (and it is vast, spanning investment banking, adventure sports, publishing and writing) and arrived at a winning formula.

As you know, writing a novel is hard work and takes a lot out of you. Added to that is the uncertainty that it will be published. And even if it is, there’s no guarantee that it will sell, let alone be a best seller.

First things first. We have to begin the project by de-risking it. A good way to do that is to attempt a romance. According to the latest trends in fiction, romance still sells. In the wake of the Twilight series, a spate of vampire novels have hit the market but thre’s appetite for more. Well written conspiracies, spelling the doom of mankind, still work.

So, a good beginning premise would be a vampire romance set against the backdrop of an impending disaster.

Now that we’ve de-risked the model, we have to turn it into a multibagger. To do that you have to get attention. And not just the odd newspaper interview/review kinda thing. I’m talking serious, reams and reams of newsprint. The kind that’s devoted to the controversy of the day. Enter Raj Thakeray.

But. But, we can do one better. And that is, we can try and get the book banned. Based on all the above analysis, I’ve decided on what I’m going to write next. Watch out for it tomorrow. Meanwhile, do write in your thoughts on the subject.

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It’s been slow going on most fronts – the cover design (we’re taking all suggestions into account and taking our time over it, too), the third novel and the social scene. Which means I have a lot of time on my hands. Which means I’m looking for ways to fill that time, preferably by engaging in mindless activities. Like watching TV. Alas, that isn’t to be.

A friend of mine told me an interesting statistic. He said that that since the advent of the set top box, the number of hours people spend in watching TV had gone up dramatically. Well, duh! With 232 channels (if you live in Bombay you don’t have to subscribe to individual channels or bouquets. You pretty much get everything.) it stands to reason you’d spend at least a couple of hours surfing. So that straightway adds to your TV viewing time.

Apparently it isn’t so. According to him, people are actually watching more. Because they have more to watch. This made me wonder, what exactly are people watching? ’Cos I have a set top box with and I still can’t find anything to watch!

You see, the first problem with so many channels is incessant surfing. I can’t stick to one channel in case I’m missing out on something much more fun elsewhere. Like on Australia Network or Deustche News or Russia Today. Makes me kinda wish they’d given a Chinese Channel too while they were at it.

Anyway, coming back to the point about missing out exciting stuff, turns out, I’m not. When I first got it and saw what all was on offer I was mighty thrilled. I had two BBC entertainment channels! Wow, at last, I would be able to watch all those understated British comedies. Well, there aren’t many of those. Unless you want to see re-runs of Fawlty Towers and ’Allo ’Allo. P.S.: You can watch all the Weakest Link you want.

Then there are all these channels like MM2 and Mnet and Show Series and Show Comedy and keep advertising about all these great shows – Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Ladies No. 1 detective agency etc – but I haven’t yet figured out the time or the channel. I can’t figure out who or what Orbit Showtime is. Is it a bouquet of channels or just the one? Are Super Comedy and Show Comedy a part of Orbit Showtime? If so, which channel is what show on? It is too confusing (yeah, I know I’m slow). It’s easier to go back to Star World.

Also, there are no extra movie channels. At least not ones showing movies I want to watch. The one thing I can’t complain about is not getting enough sport. With some 15 sports channels I have the sporting universe pretty much covered (I especially like watching poker on Zee Sports. Awe.Some.). And then there these encrypted Data Channels whose purpose defeats my limited intellect.

At last we come to the point of this post. And the point is, that my life hasn’t changed at all post STB. I think I’m going to have to watch my nails grow for entertainment.

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Okay, so I’m ranting a lot these days. I have problems with the slum dwellers, I have problems with the middle-class, I have problems with the elite rich. I find myself quite alienated by everyone and everything. Now, I was never like this. So, out of curiosity I rang up a psych friend of mine and told her about this.

A momentary pause, and then she asks, “Do you have headaches and other body pains?” And I’m like, what kind of a question is that? Who doesn’t occasionally have headaches and body pains, especially when one is getting on in years? I reply in the affirmative.

“Distortion or loss of subjective time?”

Duh. I’m a writer. Once I start writing, I lose track of when I’m supposed to brush.

“Depersonalization?  Derealisation? Amnesia? Depression?” she asks, rapid fire.

Huh? I don’t even know what the first two terms mean. But I recognise my life-long companion, depression. So, yet again, I reply in the affirmative, albeit a little cautiously. I’m wondering where she is going with all these questions.

“Auditory hallucinations?” she asks.

“That’s it! What’s with all these questions? What is going on?”

A sharp in-drawn breath. Silence.

“Tell me already.  I’m having a panic attack!”

“Did you say panic attack?” she asks, anxiously.

“Y…yes,” I stammer, fearing the worst.

“Smita, I think you’re suffering from a….”

Brain tumour, brain tumour, brain tumour.

“… dissociative disorder.”

“Wait, did you say dissociative disorder?”

“Yes, what did you think?”

Gulp. “Never mind. Is it serious?” I’m beginning to enjoy this. Brian tumour may not be a walk in the park but a psych disorder? How cool is that? I can’t tell you how I’ve longed for these writer type afflictions, just to lend my life and writing a certain gravitas.

Of course, I’ve often fantasised about having a serious addiction. Like cocaine or something. But I’ve never seriously contemplated it. I’m sure I couldn’t afford it. And then where would I be? On the streets or in the slums, most likely, where admittedly, a lot of poverty-stricken writers and painters lived, but which, as you know from my last post, I’m not keen on doing.

In my mind I’m already a schizoid, writing under two, maybe more personalities. And what comes out is hailed as a cult classic like the Alexandria Quartet or something. I’m busy plotting my new multiple viewpoint novel when she interrupts my fantasies.

“Depends on what kind of a disorder we’re dealing with,” she replies breezily. “In your case I think it’s just urban stress. A lot of people experience this from time to time.”

Great. So I’m just normal. Where’s the cool in that?

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Yesterday I was reading William Dalrymple’s interview in which he said that he would never write a novel on Bombay because Suketu Mehta had done such an exhaustive job. That got me thinking, would I ever write a novel on Bombay? And I decided I would not either. But not for the reason mentioned above.

I wouldn’t write one because 90 per cent of Bombay is a slum and slums or slum dwellers don’t interest me. Excreta piled up waist high and people wading through it may excite Mehta and Boyle’s creative juices but it doesn’t do anything for me apart from conjure up a distasteful image.

I don’t identify with slum dwellers, have nothing in common with them and they are not my audience. So pray, why should I care? What if some day you have to live in slum, a friend asks me. This is, of course, accompanied with the usual deterrent to the evil eye of god forbid and crossing of fingers. To that I have to say, why would I ever have to live in a slum? I do my bit for society. I pay for my maid’s child’s education, I stop my car to let pedestrians cross the road and once in a while I treat a beggar child to whatever he/she wants to eat. So why, and where, would I pile up enough bad karma for such a thing to happen?

Another aspect of Bombay which finds prominent mention in all written works is the underworld. And I realise I’m too much of a coward to venture into those areas to do any research. Recently I had occasion to visit Dongri. For those who’re unfamiliar with the area, this is where Dawood Ibrahim and other big gangsters come from. Apparently, Ibrahim’s sister still goes around intimidating people and collecting hafta.

I was looking around apprehensively, expecting gunfire to erupt any moment. I was behaving much the way first timers to Bombay do when they ask, “Have you seen Shah Rukh Khan?” (And no, I haven’t. I’ve seen Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan, Sanjay Dutt and even Aamir Khan, but I haven’t seen SRK. Tip: the best place to spot these guys is the airport.) The high point of my visit? On the way back, I got to see some whores (oops, sex workers. Sorry.) on Falkland Road.

And that brings me to the point of this post. And that is, I’m too safely ensconced, too comfortably numb in my middle–class cocoon to attempt to step out of it. Not even to write a potentially seminal work.

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After I wrote my post yesterday, it occurred to me that I was being a tad unfair to producers. When you’re making a film, there are multiple risks at different stages involved.

The first is at the story level. Writing a story/screenplay is quite an art. Just because someone has a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to translate it into a good story. A good story is driven by characters and conflict. There are ebbs and flows of emotion in the narrative and a good story paces them out well. An intensely emotional or suspenseful sequence needs a comic relief or downer immediately afterwards. You cannot pile an emotionally charged sequence on top of another.

Then there’s the direction. Just because you have a good script doesn’t mean it will translate into a good film. The director’s vision can either lift the script to a subliminal level (Lucky # Slevin) or reduce it to trash (Richard Kelly’s Domino). It has to be said here, though, that the chances of a good script turning out to be a bad film are rare, no matter how bad the director. As a caveat, I have to add that judging something like this is highly subjective. What I may consider a good script badly executed may well be someone else’s bad script made better.

Assuming the director’s vision translates the screenplay into a gem of a film, the marketing and promotion of the film may fail. The communication may leave the audience cold or target the wrong consumer group altogether.

Assuming everything turns out well – the script is good, the direction exceptional and the publicity succeeds in tweaking the viewers’ interest – the film may still turn out to be a box office dud.

You see, a film is a commercial venture involving millions of rupees. So, perhaps, the producers are not wrong to back winning horses against untested ones.

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I have acquired a minor celebrity status in the film circles and, I must say, it is extremely agreeable. Right after I optioned Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions for film rights, at least two other producers/directors have expressed interest in the book. And since Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions has already been optioned, they are now they are now offering to buy the rights to the soon-to-be-released Piggies on the Railway, A Kasthuri Kumar Mystery.

Why am I talking about it? Aside from blowing my own trumpet, of course, it is an interesting Bollywood case study.

Dearth of ideas: Bollywood is suffering from a lack of good, original stories. It is a veritable drought. Producers demand and writers keep coming up with the same old same old. The result? All the best, Golmaal, Hungama etc.

Risk aversion: The second point springs, in part, from the first. You see, producers aren’t willing to back risky ideas. So even if writers do come up with interesting and unconventional ideas, producers will give it a miss. They would much rather someone else undertook the risk. And with a best-selling fiction title out in the market, they reckon it’s worth a shot.

Validation: Now, I mentioned that they are willing to buy rights for my second book, based solely on a sneak peek of the manuscript. They figure that a writer has scored with the first one, so chances are that she will with the second one as well. They would much rather keep working with someone who has already proved themselves rather than give a new comer a chance.

Conclusion: For all you Bollywood aspirants out there, write a book.

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