Luck by Chance, The Dirty Picture, Fashion, and Heroine showed us how the shifty world of Bollywood works. Now, Indian authors are attempting to do the same, using the Indian film industry as a character, not just a setting, in their novels. They’re inviting readers into the filmi universe, spinning fiction out of real experiences and making Bollywood come alive on paper. And the results are a hit.
Neeta Shah’s Bollywood Striptease focuses on the hopefuls of tinseltown; Kanika Dhillon’s Bombay Duck is a Fish is a story of a struggling small-town actress; the protagonists in Aparna Pednekar’s Strike @36 are Bollywood insiders; Mahi Jay’s Mills & Boon series Falling for a Bollywood Legend does what it says in the title; and Bhaichand Patel’s recent Mothers, Lovers and Other Strangers is set in Bollywood. All three novels in Puneet Bhandal’s Bollywood series have protagonists who are popular stars; and Sujit Sanyal’s upcoming novel, tentatively titled The Actress, traces a popular star’s story. Many of these books are being adapted for film.
Scripting from reality
Neeta Shah’s Bollywood Striptease weaves in the struggles of the cast as well as the crew
Most of these are new writers who’ve worked with the film industry in some capacity. They draw from their own dealings and the experiences of their colleagues, but cloak it under fiction’s veil. The Actress takes no names, but you won’t have to be too long in the book before you realise who is being written about, his publisher says.
“Sleeping around for work is not wrong if you think it isn’t wrong,” says Shah, explaining how her book is a cautionary manual for Bollywood newcomers. “I wrote scripts and worked with a production house. So obviously, when I wanted to write a novel, I chose to write one that involved Bollywood.” Her book not only captures the story of an aspiring actress, but also the struggle of technicians, hair stylists, set designers and assistant directors. She claims that 90 per cent of the book is based on true stories. A similar story is shared in Bombay Duck is a Fish; and in Puneet Bhandal’s Stuntman too, the protagonist dishooms his way up.
Pednekar’s book, on the other hand, fiercely opposes the formula of ‘struggling actor in the big bad world of Bollywood’. “My story is more about ex-lovers,” she says. “The setting just happens to be Bollywood.” Her tales are spun from her time on the sidelines as a scriptwriter. “But it definitely is easier to sell Bollywood,” she admits.
Shah, though, believes Bollywood’s struggles are more compelling than others. “No one wants to know what happens behind closed doors in boardrooms,” she says. Jay, who grew up on a diet of local cinema, confesses to be enamoured by popular heroes and larger-than-life stunts. “I wanted a sneak peek into the life of that actual person,” she says. “My story merely touches upon industry details. My protagonist is a Bollywood star, so my focus was on the hero.”
Aparna Pednekar’s Strike@36 tells a universal tale of struggle. But it is set in Bollywood and has industrywallahs
Taking centre stage
Amrita Chowdhury, country head and publishing director at Harlequin India, has an interesting take on the Indian writer’s current interest in the film world. “Bollywood is the global face of India. Such novels appeal internationally,” she says. Arcopol Chaudhuri, commissioning editor at FingerPrint Publishing, adds that the audience has become more receptive to Bollywood’s inside stories. “It offers the author a great character curve to develop upon,” he believes. “Another possible motivation is that writers harbour secret aspirations of seeing their novels adapted into film!” Chowdhry also believes that as the industry keeps changing, its rumour mills keep running and its final products are so much in the public eye, there’s always room for the back story – even if it is quick fiction.
“People are devouring such books,” she says. Books, fiction especially, are much better at telling an original tale than a film set in Bollywood. They’re easier to release, for one, and there’s less pressure to stick to a single crowd-pleasing formula. “And today, everybody knows everything because of the media,” Shah says. So the way a novel is presented makes it an interesting read, even for a jaded tabloid reader.
But Anuja Chauhan, popular author of The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, and recently, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, has another theory. “I guess it’s because writers are looking for something that’s universally recognised and has plenty of masala,” she claims. “Both Bombay and Bollywood fit that bill. They’re a low-hanging fruit.”
It hasn’t stopped the writers from picking that fruit, though. Shah is busy working on her next novel, a sequel to Bollywood Striptease, in which she promises to reveal the hitherto unseen side of Bollywood. Clearly, you’re up for more!
From HT Brunch, July 7
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