The writer’s portrayal in Gehraiyaan and Bestseller is both hilarious and the dreamland most writers are dying to enter. Either way, the joke is on them.
Dhairya Karwa in Gehraiyaan
Devil’s Advocate is a rolling column that sees the world differently and champions the unpopular opinions of the day. This column, the writer acknowledges, can also be seen as a race to get you canceled. But like pineapple on pizza, he’s ready to see the lighter side of it.
The past month has been difficult for authors. Westland Books, a leading Amazon-backed publishing house, has predictably shut down without the rest of the country noticing. And now a movie and a series – both on Amazon Prime Video India – are doing well by teasing a world where people want to read what authors write.
Both Gehraiyaan and Bestseller paint flattering images of being an author who, if not ironic – this is certainly the case with this last one – must humble a small coterie of people who continue to believe and maintain that the writing of books can and should be a career. It’s a ridiculous and luxurious way to disconnect from the rest of the country. To what effect these depictions are both hilarious and the fantasy land that most writers are dying to enter. Either way, the joke’s on them [and maybe on me too].
A few months ago, a friend was shortlisted for a prestigious national literature award. When I texted him to congratulate him, he told me his book hadn’t sold a hundred copies yet. I admire him for his open-mindedness, a trait uncommon in these precious beings. If you hear about the royalties most writers earn on their books, you’ll shudder, like me, at the stupidity of it all. There are exceptions, of course: the only book that crosses oceans to lands where people actually read, and writers are more than just names that might feature in the decor of the house. But this country is not this one.
It is a truth that we, who work closest to this field, and who are often tempted to quote one, have learned the easy way. Many people make things difficult because they refuse to accept obvious realities. Everyone thinks they have the book in mind. Writing it down is of course the hardest part. Getting it published, trust me, is actually easier. And most people still won’t.
In the recent Gehraiyaan, Karan, an aspiring author, thinks a book will prepare him for life. In the inept comedy Bestsellerthere is a novelist who has six packs, bares his ideas, suffers from writer’s block for a decade and is still relevant [phew]. In ALTBalaji’s semi-erotic show Bekabou, a male novelist is stalked and ogled from left to right and center by pretty women. Luckily, the guy himself writes erotica so at least you can fool yourself into thinking “only if.”
The authors occupy a curious place in our cinema.
From a poignant memoir like that of Nandita Das Manto to the rise of pulp fiction with films like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Haseen Dillruba, the writer has become a center of attention but in the real world he [it is mostly a he] is misunderstood and very annoyed to be so.
Nowhere is the deception of cinema more evident than in a film like Udaan. Hailed as a rare coming-of-age story in its time, this film about a teenager wanting to write poetry didn’t solve the one problem that even publishers and their marketing teams don’t have the answer to: who will buy it? Other than academics or writers themselves, no one is really interested in reading something so inaccessible and sophisticated that it might as well rival ITR’s annual returns for lack of clarity.
Indians are talkative anarchists who, by default, do not believe in the beautifying powers of vanity and self-will. Yes, we listen to songs and hum commercials, but then again, all roads lead to the Bollywood tree, right? No one, and it has been admitted by moderately successful writers like the forgettable Durjoy Dutta, can really be a full-time novelist. That’s why the hilarity of shows like Bestseller, the undeserved sensuality of the writer’s personality seems insincere, bordering on crazy. But it’s enviously, and most writers won’t admit it, where they want to be.
Readers, stalkers, buyers, followers, literally anything will do – no matter what. But even these eternal fighters and hoarders of existentialism – including myself perhaps – have egos of a size that no publisher, reader or buyer can put in their place. Maybe the cinema will do better! I’m sure there are plenty of books that don’t sell even double-digit copies. For a change, let’s release “this” list, call it “The Worst Sellers” and celebrate them for being ahead of their time?
In reality, the only people who can afford to write books in this country are people who don’t depend on it for their livelihood. It’s legitimacy they’re looking for, not sales. Most of these books aren’t even written by them, but by ghostwriters who may have the talent but neither the means nor the market. [sadly] write for. It’s a lose-lose situation, and yet the writers are some of the most arrogant and delusional people around. They believe that their books, articles and blog posts are eagerly read, that everyone should leave whatever they are doing and read, and that there is no better gift than reading – in fact, there are about a million.
Ironically, Bollywood has found a way to milk a dying business that could itself be using cynical hacks to survive because it, rather tellingly, remains elusive to both – those who care and those who don’t. .
Manik Sharma writes about art and culture, film, books and everything in between.