What started as an online hobby for the makers of The Unreal Times has now spilled over to the real world
In 2011, when policy researchers C.S. Krishna and Kartik Laxman decided to take a break from their “mind-numbing work”, they did so by writing a satirical piece on Direct Cash Transfers, suggesting the only way the controversial scheme would work is if cash were dropped from the skies.
That was the beginning of the website The Unreal Times, which attracts roughly 20,000 visitors every day. Its content ranges from fake news reports and comic strips to made-up Facebook and Twitter conversations. What started as an online hobby for the duo has now spilled over to the real world, with their novel Unreal Elections releasing this month.
Krishna says they were focused on the digital medium initially, and a book wasn’t on their mind. “But after three years of generating so much content and so much virality, the brand became very popular. So we thought ‘let’s take it to a new audience, let’s monetise it’.”
They started writing the book in October 2013, and finished by January 2014. The book was supposed to have been ready for publication at least a month before the elections, but “the legal team wanted to have a look at it”, owing to the nature of the content.
The novel “draws from real events and extrapolates satirically,” says Krishna. It retraces the key developments in the lives of its characters — Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi among others. The intention, he adds, is to “make a person laugh every fourth line, and never get ponderous or weighty.”
Although the website has led a defamation-free existence thus far, a video they produced depicting Manmohan Singh as a Bollywoodesque action hero fighting the evil forces of inflation and corruption didn’t go down too well. “It was classic satire, mocking someone by praising him. But some Party workers in Congress ruled States filed complaints in cyber cells. Nothing came of it thankfully.” The authors remain steadfast in their view that “political satire is a form of legitimate criticism.”
While the website publishes short articles for immediate consumption, they have had to adapt their brand of satire to the requirements of the form of the novel. “It was a bit like switching from T20 to a Test match,” says Krishna. “We had to get away from 300 words and concentrate on plotting. But we got the hang of it eventually.”
The book changes nothing as far as the website is concerned. “It is a brand unto itself. The book complements the website.”