Trading in intrigue

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In conversation As “Bankerupt” finds takers, writer Ravi Subramanian talks about his craft with Anuj Kumar

The insiderRavi Subramanian
The insiderRavi Subramanian

Acoffee shop is an apt place to talk about books but when a best selling author uses it to market his latest title, you want to know the intentions. Ravi Subramanian has joined hands with Barista to create a game around his latest book “Bankerupt” (Penguin), so that when people have coffee they can indulge in a game, which draws its clues from the book and, according to Ravi, is essentially a take on snake and ladder. This is just one of the devices that Ravi has used this time to draw his reader to the bookstores. He uploaded an animated teaser on his website to introduce his characters and has also come up with a pack of cards created especially around the book.

Ravi, who is known for setting his thrillers in the banking sector, says it was important for him because he was treading a territory which was not his zone. “This book is largely based in the U.S. It deals with the gun control laws in the U.S., is largely set at MIT in Boston, talks of sordid details in a shoe manufacturing company which is inspired by the Reebok saga, then there is emu farming scam…bank is just a sub plot here. I wanted to communicate to the people at large that there are a number of characters who don’t belong to banking sector. . That is the only way I could have actually expanded my reader base,” he reasons, adding that the characterisation in the teaser was minimal. “It was not an attempt to spoon feed. I know people don’t like films made on books because they don’t allow them to think,” says Ravi, who has clinched a deal with a production house for turning Bankerupt into a film.

So is the title a misnomer or does he want to play safe? “I played safe because there were a lot of changes in the storyline and change in publisher. I wanted to convey to my core reader base that they are in familiar territory before giving them something fresh.”

After having five successful titles with Rupa, his shifting to Penguin makes one curious. Ravi says he wanted an international readership and Penguin can do it. “After having five books with Rupa I thought it’s time to evolve in terms of myself and the market.” He insists that the commercial aspect has nothing to do with it. “If Penguin offers me a certain amount and considering Rupa has my five titles and all of them have or are doing well it will like to match that amount. It was just the desire to go international,” he argues.

One wonders if it has something to do with the rise of Chetan Bhagat, one of the star writers of Rupa? Is it like a star leaving a production house for a bigger banner? Ravi counters, “Chetan and me belong to different segments. In a way I can say my segment starts where Chetan’s segment ends. It was not that Rupa was giving me less attention than Chetan. If I accept this analogy the other producer has got more and bigger stars. My relationship with Rupa is very cordial. I understand that there are only about three or four publishers worth a name in the Indian market. As a writer it is a matter of necessity as well.”

More the merrier

With “Bankster” just a year old, a book a year seems like a filmy idea but Ravi obviously feels differently. “I believe in thriller space if you have to sustain yourself in the top league you have to bring out a book every year. This is an international trend. People are starved for this kind of content in India. I think even if you bring out three-four books a year they will read. Also, if one book is doing well and you bring out a second book it will not eat into the readership of the second book. In fact, it probably adds to the readership of the first book because those who pick up the second might like to read the previous books of the author. Research shows that the sales pick up for the first three-four months and then they come to a moderate level. At this stage if you release the next book it helps both the books.”

However, it can also give an impression that the writer is in a hurry to meet a deadline. “If you are careful about the content and writing style, readers will not feel that you are in a hurry. Thriller is there to entertain but actually I am trying to educate the Indian reader on gun control laws in the US, on how financial scams happen. How companies increase their valuation to swindle the investors. These things are considered dry for fiction as not many understand them. I am bridging this gap. I read the FIR in Reebok case in detail and only then I weaved it into my story. When you write stories linking reality to a big storyline people relate to it better. The aisa bhi hota hai kya expression never crops up because they have heard that something like this has happened. I keep saying my books don’t have superheroes. They have ordinary people in extraordinary situations,” says Ravi, who liberally blends his working experience in the financial sector with his passion. Having worked with HSBC, this IIM Bangalore alumnus, is now with Shriram group and knows more than a thing or two about both the multinational and family-held business in banking. “Recently, I came across a news story where mobile telephone operatives are meeting women who have their profiles on a matrimonial site. They offer them a wonderful package and take Rs.300 cheque from them. Now the catch is that they fill the cheque themselves and give them only to sign. The truth is they use a magic ink that disappears and it becomes a blank cheque for them.” Another plot is ready to be paved!




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