Whatever be your opinion, Chick Lit and its male equivalent, Lad Lit, seem here to stay. We caught up with two media personalities who have written popular books in these genres. In Mumbai, at a coffee shop, Madhuri Banerjee (columnist and author of Penguin bestseller Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas and Mistakes Like Love And Sex to be released in the next fortnight) and Manoj Bhavnani (journalist and author of Penguin’s Screwed), bond over hot coffee and iced tea. HARSHIKAA UDASI listens in…
Madhuri Banerjee: Initially I didn’t like the ‘Chick Lit’ term as I used to think I want to change the world with my Jamia (Milia University) background. That’s till I realised this genre had brought me substantial success, so I’d better be happy with the term. Now, I’m even doing a trilogy with my character Kaveri. So I’m pretty big on Sophie Kinsella, I want to be the next Danielle Steele or Shobha De or E. L. James. Even Nora Roberts. Actually, I am okay about being a Chick Lit as far as I am the best Chick Lit!
Manoj Bhavnani: I am okay too, if she is the best Chick Lit, I can be the best Lad Lit! But, honestly, the day a girl stops picking up my book, I will understand the Lad Lit tag. I mean women are picking up my books, so how do you define this as Chick Lit or that as Lad Lit? Doesn’t make a difference. I mean, I am reading E. L. James now.
Madhuri: The problem is the moment you say Chick Lit, men don’t want to pick up the book and there is a vast male population that loves to read it. I don’t want to keep them away. Okay, there is a female protagonist but I am trying to develop love and relationships. With my second book Mistakes Like Love And Sex, Kaveri goes on to have different types of relationships. So in a way it hinders my market and my saleability.
Manoj: It’s just been a month since my book released, so I don’t know yet who is picking it up. But a lot of my female friends have read it and loved it. In fact, my mom is reading it right now. So I don’t see what the problem is. It is merely a male perspective. Tomorrow I may write something from a female perspective.
Madhuri: I put across the fact to a couple of publishers that I understand relationships and could, therefore, write a Lad Lit, but their take is nobody would want to buy it because men won’t pick it up. Men would say, what do you know about guys? So I feel it’s easier for a Lad Lit author to write with a female perspective but it’s difficult vice versa.
Manoj: Take E. L. James, for instance. With Anastasia (central character, Fifty Shades Of Grey), she has gone intense. But with Christian Grey, she has described him in a way only a woman can. A guy wouldn’t describe him that way. I would have made him more macho. Talking about what publishers want, when I started writing, it was about what I wanted to pen. I just wanted to write a short book. I didn’t want it heavy. Chetan Bhagat’s books are small. You can read them on one flight. I had written a 400-pager and cut it down to 224. I could have elaborated but would people buy the book? Maybe my second book could be bigger.
Madhuri: Yes, my first book was a natural flow. But for my second, there were some expectations I sensed through my Facebook page, from Kaveri’s blogs and a Twitter handle that I maintain for her, besides my own. I realised that everybody now has some sort of a relationship problem. And every relationship is unique and complicated. So there is no standard solution to a situation. For instance, even being in a relationship with a married man as Kaveri was, situations and responses would differ with different people. So with my second book, I had to write the way Kaveri would react to a certain thing. I’d say I love my first book because it came from my heart but my second one has come a lot from my mind.
Manoj: Friends tell me they liked my book. What I want to know is what they didn’t like because I am working on my next and want to know what not to do. I am sure you will agree that the first was based largely on your life and people around you. Mine was. My character Karan is part me and part whom I wish I was. The premise might be — a girl falling in love with a married man in your case or a guy falling for two girls at the same time as in mine. The mother in my book is my mother, whom everybody can relate to.
Madhuri: When I finished my first book, the story ended for me there. But when people kept asking me on FB what happened after that, I felt the urge to write a second book and decided on a trilogy. But I didn’t want Kaveri to go through the same process of finding true love. So this book is more about evolving as a person, whether at work or in relationships. It is about how you think you have one dream and follow it but destiny has something else in store and that’s where your success lies. Kaveri moves from being a foreign language translator and an art connoisseur, to becoming a Hindi translator for a Bollywood heroine! The relationship angle, the sensual scenes, finding love through the social media network is part of the book but the crux is finding what you should be doing.
Manoj: My next is not going to be about Karan. Of course, the only thing I will keep repeating in my work is humour. I can keep people laughing. As writers, we observe. I have to write ads, you have to make shows. We get a chance to observe more.
Madhuri: Yes the more we observe, the more we write. In the past year, I have written a non-fiction book besides Mistakes Like Love And Sex. I have given ideas to my publishers about writing a book on Sita and I am writing a book on a serial killer. But they want me to be a brand for something. It’s like Nora Roberts could not write beyond You’ve Got Mail. I have got stereotyped so I can’t explore a lot of ideas I have in mind. With my film scripts, I should be able to do that.
Manoj: While I wouldn’t want to write a murder mystery or a depressing drama and comedy is what I want to, stereotyping happens in today’s age.
Madhuri: I have always wanted to be in the film industry. I even practised my Oscar speech when I was 10. So I definitely would love to see my books being made into films.
Manoj: If my book becomes a movie, I’ll take my friends to watch it to see how well it has been adapted. If it doesn’t, then too I am fine.