Anuja Chauhan is as witty and vivacious as the characters she spins out. As her fourth book, The House That BJ Built, hits the stands, Chauhan is a tad nervous as she feels 'protective' toward it 'like a newborn' but excited as sales are picking up momentum. This, from a lately removed advertising professional who coined the 'Yeh Dil Maange More' tagline!
The House That BJ Built is a sequel to the best-seller, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, which was released two years ago. One of the most sought-after writers on fiction in India, Chauhan also has work likeZoya Factorand Battle For Bittorato her credit.
Asked which book is close to her heart, pat came the reply, "I feel protective towards my new book like a new born."
A sequel was not on her mind when she sat down to write. "I wanted to pen a family saga which started in the 1980's where I talk about a house, its members and a property dispute. When I started writing, I was hitting some 800 pages. It would have become a fat, unwieldy book. So I decided to cut it off and write a second half," Chauhan said.
Readers are treated to a family drama also involving pushy aunts and family bickering. The plot is a slice of life of any Indian household. Chauhan is emotionally close to the central character Bonu, aka Bonita Singh, a sorted out, cranky girl, who has many a chip on her shoulder. Bonu runs a fashion store, she is ballsy and bullshit-intolerant.
"There are certain members of the family who are not considered to be cool. Later they shine and shake the family. Bonita is one of those characters, brave and beautiful," Chauhan said with a sparkle in her eyes. However, she would like to describe her male character, the brilliant Bollywood director Samar, as a 'decent guy'.
The book entertains the reader every moment with Chauhan's unlimited dose of trademark wit. Whether it is the Hinglish spitting chaachiji or the ever-scheming auntijis, Chauhan is in total control of her characters.
"In real life situations, one may not be able to be very funny. When you write a book, you can always go back and add a joke when you remember one," she smiled.
Known as the Queen of Romcoms, Chauhan is at ease combining humour and romance. Like her previous books, she is at her best tugging at the heartstrings with the pulse-quickening romance between Bonu and Samar. The plot thickens with shady builders, wily politicians, spies and lies.
"I love potpuri. It's nice if there is little romance, politics and Bollywood as the backdrop," she chuckled.
Chauhan and her contemporaries like Chetan Bhagat often face barbs for their liberal use of Hinglish. Many believe that it deprives readers of literary quality but Chauhan shrugged off such criticism.
"I have never directly heard of such criticism. I never took it seriously. It's an influence of my advertising background," Chauhan pointed out.
Often called a 'chick lit' writer, she frowns at any attempt to label women authors so. "It is an uninformed and lazy criticism. It is not different even in the West. The other day, Wikipedia introduced a special category of women writers. Such division is not there for male writers," she quipped.
She may be the icon for young readers, but Chauhan wondered whether it makes her popular by selling 100,000 books in a country of one billion. "We are ready to shell out Rs 350 for a movie, but not on books. We have to think more about how to woo youngsters," said Chauhan.
After spending 20 years in advertising, the shift to writing was freedom for her. With an iconic tagline, 'Yeh Dil Maange More!' for Pepsi to her credit, she finds the shift an easy one.
"As a writer, there are no limitations of budget and celebrity tantrums. Moreover, it is the best profession for a married woman with kids," she laughed. As Those Pricey Thakur Girls has already been adapted for TV, rights of Battle For Bittora have been bought by Bollywood producer Anil Kapoor's production company.
While Vikram Seth, her all time favourite author, never ceases to inspire here, Chauhan has no qualms in admitting that Salman Rushdie is too hard to understand, except his children's books.
So, what is she up to next? "I am writing a book on the Indian Air Force and will start work on it in July," she revealed.