Durjoy Datta, Ravinder Singh and Sudeep Nagarkar have established themselves as one of the most widely read commercial fiction authors in the country. Their books have become a rage with teenagers and college-goers alike with their stories often revolving around college-life, romances and heartbreaks. Durjoy Datta’s Of Course I Love You turned into an instant bestseller with many saying that it evoked a reservoir of emotions of the reader’s romantic side. Ravinder Singh’s I Too Had A Love Story and Can Love Happen Twice? flew off the shelves with readers connecting to the author’s emotional stories. Sudeep Nagarkar writes stories that are contemporary with trendy titles like Sorry you’re not my type and She swiped right into my heart.
At Penguin Fever, Sudeep, Ravinder and Durjoy talked to us about what distinguished them from other writers, the Chetan Bhagat phenomenon and what were the best and worst things they heard/read about themselves.
What does young India want to read in their books?
Sudeep: In today’s busy world if you get something light to read, something which can act as a dessert after the heavy bombardment you get in school, colleges or offices and something that is relatable, that is what I feel connects more.
Ravinder: They want a mixture of so many things and this is what I’m actually struggling with. For example, to make readers read about something like youth politics (which not many people read about), I sugarcoat it with a romance story and then serve it. That way I think the envelope needs a push.
Durjoy: I think Indian commercial fiction, even now, is dominated by mystery novels. Although those stories are equally engaging, we need more stories to come out of our own families.
Do you think careers of several young writers in India have catapulted on the phenomenon of Chetan Bhagat?
Ravinder: Depends. If somebody lands up being the first, people tend to remember their name. But the works are very different.
Sudeep: I can say that it is a post-Chetan Bhagat era but with the advent of social media, everybody is expressing themselves on Facebook etc, and once we get appreciation from the virtual world we feel that we’re on the right track and then we start writing.
Durjoy: More than readers, Chetan Bhagat changed the mindset of publishers making them think as to what any young person should read in their first book. Chetan Bhagat proved that a book can sell many copies and writing can prove to be a viable career option. Of course, the writers and publishers have benefitted from that but I don’t think much has changed. After him, there have been only five or six commercial fiction writers who have been successful in India as opposed to the West where 20 come out in a single year.
How would you distinguish yourself from other writers writing pop-fiction?
Durjoy: When I started writing I did not know that I was writing romance because I did not grow up reading romance. What I have always concentrated on is having drama in my stories.
Ravinder: I’m a very emotional person and my books have been autobiographical in nature and they have things that I observe around me and things that move me. There is an element of pain. I can differentiate myself in terms that my books have sad endings. It’s only when my readers come back to me and tell me I’m the only one that makes them cry. Perhaps that’s my USP.
Sudeep: There are people out there who write about dark romance or humour but I personally prefer writing about true stories. All my books are inspired by real-life incidents and that’s why I think my readers can connect with them.
One of Chetan Bhagat’s books was included in Delhi University’s curriculum earlier this year which created a bit of an uproar. What do you think about that?
Ravinder: I believe that every creative work out there which is sold in millions of copies, irrespective of the genre it falls under, there is definitely something incredible about that book. It is creating value in sense of business. And his book was included in the syllabus under the category of popular fiction and not literature per se, so it makes sense to bring the book in. And I would honestly prefer that an Indian author rather than a foreign author be taught in Delhi University.
Sudeep: For all those who crib about Chetan Bhagat, I’m sure there must be a corner in their room where there is a Chetan Bhagat book lying. And it’s also about acceptance. The people who selected the book must be intellectuals and professionals who took the decision with a lot of thinking behind it and I feel we should respect that.
What do you think about the new grammar that has millennials hooked onto every word of pop-fiction novels? Is it detrimental to literature or does it provide a new vocabulary?
Ravinder: When the current grammar, which we consider is the right grammar, was introduced decades and centuries back, perhaps it was new for certain section of the population and through the then ‘millennials’, the language gradually found acceptance. If we today we are looking at it through the prism of being a critic, tomorrow we’ll be okay with this.
Durjoy: The new grammar is more colloquial and that is not detrimental. But when someone starts using acronyms, that’s a little irritating to me as well. But no writer intentionally dumbs down his/her language, it’s just that at that point in time they can only write like that.
What do you think are the challenges for discoverability of a new writer?
Sudeep: The biggest challenge is to find good publishers and to make your script work with the right people. There are people out there who may take advantage of your vulnerability.
Durjoy: I’ve always believed that word of mouth is the only way a book can sell. All of the top 20 bestselling writers started with print runs of 3,000-4,000 and back in the day, there was no marketing.
Ravinder: Today there are very few challenges as compared to in the pre-internet era. In my time, I was submitting a manuscript to publishing houses holding the physical copy and the synopsis and sample chapters. Today, if you face rejections you have the option of self-publishing and can go on social media to create your own audience. The media and publishers are taking notice.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever heard/read about your books?
Durjoy: Every time someone tells me I’m a better writer than I was before.
Ravinder: I’m able to touch the eternal cord to connect with their hearts. I could churn those emotions in them. Unknowingly connecting with somebody in their space and leaving such a deep impact is what I cherish the most.
Sudeep: I have a WhatsApp group of readers and there were these two readers who got connected through my books and now they’re in a relationship and getting engaged. That’s the sweetest thing.
And what’s the worst?
Durjoy: That I’m cancerous for the publishing industry and that I’m the worst writer they ever read.
Ravinder: That I break their heart and they’re weeping because of me. They send me pictures at dawn of the last few pages of their copies stained with tears.
Sudeep: Nasty comments like give me Rs 100 back for buying the book. But if there is some criticism which is constructive then I go ahead and try to implement it in my next book.