Bollywood Bookshelf: Reading the fine print with Rajkumar Hirani

Updated on Nov 24, 2018 10:19 PM IST

The Munna Bhai maker refuses to reveal the book he think would make for a good film in case someone steals the idea!

Rajkumar Hirani claims that in case of a calamity if he could save just one thing, that would be his laptop!(Getty Images)
Rajkumar Hirani claims that in case of a calamity if he could save just one thing, that would be his laptop!(Getty Images)
Hindustan Times | ByZuni Chopra

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.

Books that are on Rajkumar Hirani’s mind
Books that are on Rajkumar Hirani’s mind

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.

“I grew up enjoying the author Harishankar Parsai. He wrote mostly satire, essays on the current situation and social issues ”

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!

“Of my movies, PK, would make the best book. There’s so much to say that wasn’t in the film!”

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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