Durjoy Datta is an author and screenwriter, but it is his immediately apparent charm that endears him to millions of young readers in India. Part of a group of writers who have succeeded enormously in the genre of commercial fiction, Datta has penned stories that have captured the hearts of his audience, both on the screen and on the page. During our conversation, he was at his candid best: humorous and brutally honest by turns. Here’s what we spoke about:
It’s as big as the last time, so I’m looking forward to it. The last time, there were two other writers with me. I’m missing them, because that takes a lot of pressure off! I don’t do so well when they ask me about my childhood. It’s very hard to collate all that. Generally, you tend to expect the questions that will come at you, because they’re variations of questions you’ve been asked before. But today, there were so many different questions and I felt like saying, ‘I’ve not thought about those as deeply as you have!’
Kolkata has always been special. I see the most number of people come to visit in Kolkata. That’s very nice. The Boi Mela, as a rule, sells the most number of books across India, more than any book fair. And I appreciate that a lot. I get a little awkward when I meet fans one on one, in a crowd it’s slightly different. Of course, some questions aimed at me as a person can be a bit hard to answer. I’m generally a really shy person.
I think it’s because I’m finishing my next book. Last time, I was writing a thriller. This time, I’m writing a book which is part of a series. I’m nearly done with it, but I know there’s a lot of people waiting for it and that is making me a little jittery. Once I finish the book and mail the final copy, I’ll be fine!
My birthday is on the 7th of February and I have a tactic for handling it: whatever my wife does for my birthday, for Valentine’s Day I just have to match up to that! It’s a very lucky break, really.
There’s no specific rule book to celebrating Valentine’s Day. I think spending the entire day together is enough. And it’s always nice to give the other person something they love, something personal.
I once had an actual Tinder bio! I wanted to see what this foreign dating thing was like. I did it with the consent of my wife and it was hilarious.
I keep doing it in fits and starts and I want to be a more regular blogger. But I don’t think I’m up to it. Earlier, I was just a blogger, so I wasn’t that self-critical. But now, when you’ve turned into a writer and your books are out there for people to give criticism for, it becomes a little tough. Dealing with it once a year when your book is released is still okay, but dealing with criticism on every post you turn out is daunting.
Not at all. I would be happy if my blog had fifty hits in one day. That was huge. All this, even right now, is unbelievable, so I always think of it like it’s here today, it might be gone tomorrow. Who knows which commercial author will capture people’s hearts next? Although I do think that there’s huge space and potential for commercial fiction in India. But it’s still unbelievable because I had never seen this culture of people reading Indian fiction in English. Even since I started writing, we have had just four or five authors.
Definitely. They keep telling us that commercial fiction sells and literary fiction does not sell, but you can name scores of literary fiction writers, new writers, coming up, but you do not hear of new commercial fiction writers. In the past eight years, I think we’ve discovered like four or five, which is not that great.
I think no one should get published when they’re twenty one! You’ve not read enough books, you’re not sure of the craft of writing. Even now I think I should not get published, but my earlier books worked so it makes economic sense to keep writing and getting published. This is also why I had co-authors, because I would keep doubting myself, that this isn’t good enough and then the co-author would come in and write some stuff and then I would think, ‘Okay, this is a book.’ So I did not think that these books, that I was writing, should get published, but they were. You know when you look at old pictures of five years ago and you think, ‘These are so ugly?’ but if it’s ten years ago you tend to go, ‘So cute!’ I think I haven’t passed that ten year mark yet with Of Course I Love You..! Once I do, I’ll probably think, okay, this was okay, it was passable. Now, I think I’ve read a lot more, I know how to tell a story. Of course, learning never stops and five years down the line, I think I’ll probably hate these too, but hopefully not!
Oh, I read everything. Non-fiction, literary fiction, commercial fiction, you name it. When I was young, it started with Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton, and then as I grew up it went to John Grisham, Stephen King, Thomas Harris, I had this whole thrillers phase! Then I read a lot of Indian fiction writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie. I was obsessed with Salman Rushdie at one point, I didn’t even care about the stories, I was just enchanted with his prose. Then, as an adult, I started reading young adult novels by John Green, David Levithan. That fascinated me, because I couldn’t figure out why this genre does not exist in India.
I did try! The only criteria that really mattered for young adult novels was that the protagonists were under the age of eighteen. I wrote a book in which one protagonist is seventeen and the other is nineteen. I pitched it as young adult, but since the genre is not there here, it was just categorised as romance.
Three: Things to Leave Behind by Namita Gokhale, Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes and A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph, the one that he got sued for. I think whenever a book gets banned or censored, we need to buy a copy of it immediately just to make a point!
Eventually, everyone’s goal is to write a book that he or she will be remembered for fifty years down the line. That is the definition for literary fiction: the only definition. I will not stop writing until I write that perfect book, though. Every time I see an author whose book is getting reviewed left, right and centre, I check to see how old they are. ‘Oh, they’re forty two, then I have twelve years!’ So that is definitely the dream, to write something that endures the test of time.