Fans have waited a long time for a sequel to Kiran Nagarkar ’s Ravan and Eddie . Nominated for The Hindu Literary Prize 2012, The Extras brings back the endearing, lovable and driven protagonists and plunges them back into a whirlwind of adventure, obstacles and humour. Nagarkar talks to us about Ravan, Eddie and his third protagonist, Mumbai.
Tell us a little about creating Ravan and Eddie?
Around 1977 or 78, somebody asked me to write a screenplay, and I wrote one about Ravan and Eddie. Nothing came of it, and I didn’t hear back from him; but by then, the plot was like my child. I wanted my child to survive, and so I wrote on. If the book had died instead, it would have felt like a family tragedy.
Tell us a little about The Extras and the period it is set in.
The Extras takes place in the late 1970s/80s Bombay. I could have set it in contemporary Bollywood, but I chose to write about the Bombay I knew well. The idea of the chawl is very close to me, and now, the chawl s are disappearing. In fact, I’d say that the chawl for me is another protagonist in the book. Another thing I’d say about the book is that hopefully, anyone who reads it will realise this; while the book is funny, there is also an underlying sadness and darkness to it.
How much of your own experience in Bombay has seeped into the book?
I think the book makes one thing clear, however obliquely, and that is my anger towards the powers that be. Today, I see the utter disregard for the poor, the way there is no place left for them, the way chawl s and slums are disappearing, and the money for the land is not coming back to the poor. I think it is the government’s responsibility to realise that essential human dignity is also linked with the place a person calls home. I wanted to write about this Bombay. But I had a choice. I could either be polemical and write article after article about something that really irked and enraged me, or I could tell a story. So I chose the latter and filled it with asides. While essentially The Extras is a fictional, somewhat farcical story, there are asides on the suburban life in Bombay, the water wars of the poor, and so much more.
Not much has been written about the extras in Bollywood. What was your reason to turn the spotlight on them?
An extra is at once a part of Bollywood and separate from it. Almost nothing is written about them, no one talks about them, but they are human too! I could see that my protagonists, Ravan and Eddie, given the fact they came from impoverished backgrounds, would find it almost impossible to get a break in Bollywood. What could they become except extras? Today, hardly any actor or actress has made it big without having a godfather in the industry, apart from someone like Shahrukh Khan. There is a particular area in Andheri that if you go to, you’ll realise that there are thousands of men and women living there just waiting to get their break.
What’s your take on being shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize?
I’m on the shortlist with some very fine authors. The idea that any panel takes a book like The Extras — overtly funny and humorous — and treats it seriously enough to nominate it, delights me no end. I have seen how very few fiction awards have comedies in the reckoning, and that The Hindu Literary Prize has even nominated me for it is lovely.