Saturday, December 11, 2010
Samit Basu Interview
Every one on Flight BA 142 got off with a superpower that they subconsciously dreamt of having. Uzma wanted to be loved and to make it in Bollywood. Aman wanted to be well networked and so he can now control the Internet. Vir can fly. Television journalist Namrata apparently can sense news before it happens. Throughout the dizzying, scene shifting (London,above Pakistan’s nukes, Delhi, Carter Road Coffee Day) plot, these characters come together harnessing their good intentions to (well, try) save/change the world.
They all live in your India of IPL and Manmohan Singh bleating-condemning terror attacks. It is postmodern but there are singing aunties and blue babies and snide allusions to the going-out-alone-at-night dreams of Delhi women. So, everything urban India, except add super powers, chaos and the license to laugh.
Samit Basu has been given many labels and has dabbled in what is for the Indian writer exotic genres. He had decided, he says, as he settles with his cappuccino in a coffee shop in GK, that he didn’t want to do a “fancy novel” anymore. Samit has written The Simoquin Prophecies, The Manticore’s Secret and The Unwaba Revelations, part of the GameWorld Trilogy and has been thus far celebrated as ‘India’s first fantasy writer.' “You are supposed to write an India book right if you are an India writer and examine contemporary Indian reality, all this while I was writing books I wasn’t supposed to write,” he says
“When I started thinking of the checkboxes on contemporary India and what it means atleast through perception, I ended up with a really insane landscape. I wanted to write about urban 20 and 30 somethings which is also something you are supposed to write about.” Supposed, I ask? Samit grins and continues, “Ya ya, so I wanted to write a very good boy kind of book. Real people tend to be very self-involved but I wanted the story to have some societal relevance. I kept turning up the volume on these characters and they ended up with strange powers. See it’s not that I started off wanting to write a story that disobeyed the laws of physics at any point of time.” It’s like you begin reading and then you feel like your on edge in a gaming station, being chased by giants, or otherwise feeling love for comic book superheroes in shiny costumes.
He always knew though that he wanted to be a writer, “in the same way that (he) knew he wanted to be a rock star or an astronaut. “I have picked the least glamorous of these professions ya, also, the lowest paid.” Samit says that to work across media means that element of each comes into the other. He has co-written comics with X-men writer Mike Carey, written children’s books and screenplays.” You look at the different structures. The comic is the tightest structure- you have to be controlled. In a screenplay, there is a lot of room. I think that’s why my last two books have been shorter; you get across more in a shorter space. Also, in comics and screenplays, you learn escape routes through tight corners so that helps with the novel. But having said that there is nothing like writing a novel because the annoying things about other media is not present at all: (he lists in an almost wicked exasperation) budget, nature of artist, temperament of collaborators, evil businessmen associated with large scale entertainment companies you know.”
We are interrupted by a light eyed, dashing, whitewashed Hrithik Roshan sort of boy from the next table who says he relates to everything we are talking about. He plays video games, he wants to act and was writing a script for his audition to be a news anchor later that day. “See what I mean”, says Samit. “So much of all that is in the book is the lives of urban India. Your standard day, it will be fairly easy to sit back and laugh at most things in it.” He gets drawn into a conversation with the Bollywood aspirant telling him to skip the anchor audition and take the next flight to Bombay. “Look, I don’t want to suddenly come and crush your life plans and all but am telling you!”
Suddenly getting back on track, he continues, “And so ya, I wanted to look at some kind of encapsulation of the present generation and make it a book at the here and now. I mean you are in your twenties, and I have escaped mine and at the sage old age of 30, I am looking back on that distant period,” he says somewhat theatrically.
“The twenties are about figuring out what you can do with what you have. It is about making the compromises that you will come to terms with when you are in your thirties and forties. If you had powers, you might do things better right?” And so he gave his characters superpowers. “I figured that super heroes are completely mainstream I mean Dark Knight’s got an Oscar nomination and when you are writing, you kind of have to explain the context especially in India. In Turbulence, it’s not a standard costume -adventure thing. Which puts you on the same ground as someone writing a campus novel or a romance novel you know.” That things go beyond the normal, he says, is the “setting’s fault.” So, these well-intentioned heroes transfer money from drug lords to relief agencies and are ecstatic at this sudden sense of control they have to choose how to change the world. But then they are very much like the staff at the DNNTV where Namrata works, most people have the job because their dads knew the owners.A very important job done with very little skill. The chaos that ensues fuels the plot.
These characters hint at satire but they are etched out in bold uniform strokes, true to reality but more crayon drawing than impressionist painting. Although, its fun because everything is a snide target: security comparable to Hollywood stars scouting slums, a political party promising to ban women’s jeans, that this whole mess was predicted by some insane people on internet videos a long time ago etc.
Samit explains that it is a book with neat sections, very conducive to a film interpretation, apparently. The buzz is that the rights for Turbulence are being sold to Bollywood. “Selling the rights and having the film come out are very different things in Bollywood…there are three potential producers now but I need to find a director who can do something with it.” Samit “shuddered more”, so to speak, earlier, to think of what Bollywood will do to his book. Now, it is just a matter of shuddering a little less.
He interrupts me again to ask what sort of a book I’d want to write if ever. I am forced, of course, to aspire to some decent level of articulation till I manage.. “a really silly book about really serious things.”
“That’s my exact ambition too,” says he, the writer of the good boy book.