Bollywood Bookshelf: Reading the fine print with Rajkumar Hirani
The Munna Bhai maker refuses to reveal the book he think would make for a good film in case someone steals the idea!
It’s a busy Saturday morning and I’m off to interview Raju Hirani for the Bollywood Bookshelf. I travel to what feels like the other side of the world to reach his office, knowing it’ll all be worth it. He’s the director of the acclaimed Hindi films 3 Idiots (2009), PK (2014) and Sanju (2018), and has spent over 20 years making movies. He also happens to be an avid reader of both Hindi and English literature. When I arrive, he looks a little busy. All right, extremely busy. I almost feel bad pulling him out of his daily grind to shoot him random questions about books. But he’s eager to share some of his favourites – so we begin!
Do you remember the first book that shaped your identity?
Rajkumar: I guess that would be the alphabet book! [laughs]. I grew up in Nagpur, and I first started enjoying the author Harishankar Parsai. He wrote mostly satire, essays on the current situation and social issues. He wrote many books and I think he was my first influence. I struggled all my life to find his life’s work, but Hindi literature was hardly available even then. I even tried to meet him, but unfortunately he passed away before I got the chance. Much later I found his life’s work at Prithvi Bookshop. It’s still in my office! I always wanted to make something out of his work, but realised that it’s not anything you can really base a movie on. Stunning work, though.
If your house was on fire and you had to save three books, which three would you choose?
Rajkumar: I think I would save my laptop – which I have done in the past! I lived in Bandra East, on the 12th floor. There was a small earthquake; I could feel the building shaking. I was halfway down the stairs when I realised I’d forgotten my laptop, and all my scripts were on it. If I lost the laptop, I’d lose all my work. I ran back up to get it! I looked ridiculous, standing outside the building in shorts, clutching only my laptop! I guess that means I would save my own work before other people’s; you can always buy another copy of someone else’s book.
What fictional character do you most identify with?
Rajkumar: Charlie Chaplin as the tramp!
What’s a classic you haven’t read?
Rajkumar: Mahabharata. Aamir [Khan] has been telling me to read it for a very long time.
Name your top three favourite authors.
Rajkumar: Harishankar Parsai. In non-fiction, I like Wayne Dyer. I have a compilation of his best quotes near my bed! To me he’s one of the finest authors. His book, Your Erroneous Zones, was really striking. Lastly, Roald Dahl.
What non-fiction book would you recommend?
Rajkumar: Your Erroneous Zones.
What book that hasn’t been made into a film would you want to see a film adaptation of?
Rajkumar: I don’t think I should say it, or someone else will make it!
Do you judge people on the basis of their book choices?
Rajkumar: No, not really.
What’s the most underrated book or book series?
Rajkumar: Asterix, I guess – though it’s not that underrated!
What’s your favourite reading spot?
Rajkumar: Usually, I like to read just before sleeping, so my bed! I read till I fall asleep. Daytime actually I feel guilty reading – I always feel I should be doing something else! I also read on flights.
Kindle or hard copy?
Rajkumar: Nowadays Kindle, because it’s easier to acquire and travel with your books.
Which fictional character would you like to cosplay as, if you could?
Rajkumar: Superman, maybe!
What’s your favourite book-to-screen adaptation?
Rajkumar: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.
Which movie of yours would make the best book?
Rajkumar: I guess PK, because there’s actually so much to say that wasn’t in the film. There’s so much more a book could capture about religion, which in cinema might have got boring so we left it out.
(The author is a 17-year-old girl from Mumbai who has written the novels The House That Spoke and The Island Of The Day Before. She is a regular contributor to HT Brunch)
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From HT Brunch, November 25, 2018
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