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‘Our film scripts are so clumsy'

His first novel was likened to that of Salman Rushdie's. Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi in conversation with Shaikh Ayaz.

books Updated: Sep 03, 2007 13:47 IST
Shaikh Ayaz

The magical, intricately brewed prose of his first novel, The Last Song of Dusk, was likened to that of Salman Rushdie's. Instantly he became the Pretty Young Thing on the city's social scene.. and the Hot New Thing on the literary firmament.

Three years after the topseller, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is in the throes of penning another novel. Meanwhile, disillusioned with the Bombay films, he is keen to roll out scripts.. any takers?

Here's SDS unedited:

As reported, your second novel will be a rapping blow, a sort of a critique of today's media-driven world.
Let's put it this way.. an older woman's seduction - and her cruel betrayal - of a young photographer is at the core of my new novel which confronts political corruption in India, its devastating impact on individuals.

Political machinations often seem abstract violations, too huge to be located and articulated. So, I chose to send a character through the disgrace of one such fraud to show how public violations rake intensely private wounds.

Did you read and reread The Last Song of Dusk.. to find follies and faults and rectify the problem areas?
The Last Song of Dusk had the rawness of youth, its attendant exuberance and gangly charm. Although I am grateful for its voltage, I shy from it now: I'm at a different place, with different stories to tell, a different approach to my craft. The first book opened many doors for me, allowing for friendships with artists I admire and blessings of readers I'd have never known otherwise.<b1>

Today to rectify flaws of the first book would steal time from working on resisting a repeat of those very mistakes in my second one.

You have quite a female fan following. Does it pay to be an eye-candy author?
Ask anyone in publishing and they'll assure you a photo-friendly author arrests a publisher's interest. But then do a reality check – if looks were a means to enter the industry, then any mindless model could write a bestseller. A book does its own business.. hype or an eye-candy author or scandal is just not going to shift the product.

You have been knighted as the Next Big Thing.. and yes, please say something other than "I'm grateful".
(Laughs) I'm grateful for the space to write, but I resist the praise and censure that attends to my work.

The media has compared your writing style to that of Salman Rushdie's. How seriously do you take that?
This comparison is completely reductionist and slightly racist: just because two men are Indian doesn't mean they ought to write similarly. Our critics need to look around, read variously, study widely, analyse correctly. There's a dearth of serious literary critics who can chart an author's craft astutely.

An MA in International Journalism, why not a compulsive career in newspaper writing?
I've written on several occasions for Hindustan Times. I wrote about the Jessica Lal case. As I was raised in privilege, I understand the mechanics of power and its manipulations in such a set-up. <b2>

The fashion fraternity of Delhi has a lot to answer– why were no witnesses prepared to come forward? Was Shayan Munshi the recipient of a politician's kickback? He provoked my ire because he milked publicity from Jessica.

Another example is the Salman Khan case.. my wrath against the obscenities of our celebrity culture powers my new book.

Do you believe Arundhati Roy's success as an author made an impact on those who followed her in India.. like you?
Certainly her book was ravishing, .. illuminated with wisdom and sorrow, full of mercurial pleasures.

Do you have a companion.. a girlfriend?
Let's keep that private.. and yeah, I am grateful for this privacy.

But you were in a reportedly "traumatic" relationship.
The relationship was charmed but ended violently, its sadness inspiring me to publish The Last Song of Dusk, a ruse of distraction at the time that helped me fight off the blues.

Ever thought of scriptwriting? Several authors are into it.. from Farrukh Dhody to Chetan Bhagat.
If I turn to scripts, it'd be to flex an unexploited muscle in my storytelling. I'm keen to write for cinema so I can visualise better and, most crucially, do sharper dialogue. But I'd write a script only to extract its lessons for writing novel.. which is like breathing to me.

Our scripts sound clumsy, forced; the humour is stilted, garish.. pathos is conveyed in hyperbole. I like scripts with edge, with room for silence, the long gaze, lingual ellipsis points, which is also a language unto itself, the sort Harold Pinter mastered in his plays. My favourite screenwriter is Sooni Taraporevala, who understands silence as perfectly as she does words.

Some of our new wave cinema taps into the toxicity of modern India - like Page 3 - but their characters are stereotypes that reaffirm popular notions instead of contradicting them. Cinema must challenge the imagination not feed it so simply, so slavishly.