Mohan Deep is back in the news with his latest novel Color Me Rich. This is his tenth book, the third book of fiction. His graph as a writer has been colorful and full of twists and turns. His trilogy of the biographies of the Bollywood legends (Madhubala, MeenaKumari and Rekha) created controversies but also set a trend. Today you see scores of Bollywood biographies on the bookshelves, but Mohan’s books were the first.
His play ‘Nehru & the Tantrik Woman’ too created another controversy as the government of Maharashtra didn’t allow it to be performed. After a sabbatical of over 10 years, during which he emerged as a painter and a Feng Shui Master of repute, the author returned with ‘The Five Foolish Virgins’. Two years after that, he has come up with ‘Color Me Rich’.
We talk to him to find out what makes him tick-
- Tell us something about your book “Color Me Rich“:
‘Color Me Rich’ was supposed to be just a sensitive love story, but as I completed it, almost unnoticed by me, it turned into a love story with surprises.
- What is the purpose of your writing?
I enjoy telling a story, creating characters and introducing them to my readers. Maybe a character would inspire someone, would make someone happy, and may even change his life. I have been influenced by different characters at different stages in my life.
Irving Wallace’s ‘R Document’ made me more aware of the rights we have and value them. The main reason I hated Indira Gandhi’s emergency was because her government snatched our freedom of expression just because she wanted to cling to power.
Arthur Hailey’s ‘In High Places’ gave me a vision about how the politicians play with the common man for their ambition. Harold Robbins introduced me to the naked ambition of people. Bhagwati Charan Varma’s ‘Chitralekha’ helped me reject the concept of good and bad, paap and punya.
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s ‘Shreekant’ and ‘Charitraheen’ taught me to respect women and to question the credibility of social ostracism. I want my characters to influence the readers, give him a view.
- What inspired you to bring forth this idea as Color Me Rich?
At some level ‘Color Me Rich’ goes back to the days of my own struggle in the seventies and eighties. My struggle as a writer and as a person. But it is also about every struggler. I wanted to examine how the life of a struggler changes if he doesn’t have to worry about his next meal when he becomes rich; rather when he becomes filthy rich without any effort on his part. This also gave me an opportunity to view the role of money in the success of an artist; for that matter anyone in any creative field.
- What have been your experiences regarding the role of money in literature and art?
Money plays a role. So do the power and glamour. Sometimes it helps and the other times it hinders. It has happened in the past, and it is happening today. To go into the past Meena Kumari could overshadow the poets in mushairas. Her poems were good but just think of a non-actor reciting the same poems!
Film stars and politicians who have nothing to do with literature are able to dominate the shows in lit-fest at the cost of the real writers. Promotion, whether of books and authors or paintings and artists need money. It would be difficult for a struggling writer or painter to shell out that kind of money. Some of the writers and artist in India are more famous because of the money power. I have touched upon this in ‘Color Me Rich’.
But to be fair, money and power also work against the struggling writer or painter. There is an inherent bias against the rich and successful in India. Do we take the poetry and paintings of the former Prime Minister V P Singh seriously? Or the poem of Atal Behari Vajpayee? Does anyone take the paintings of Dimple Kapadia or for that matter Deepti Naval seriously?
- Is the story of ‘Color Me Rich’ fiction or inspired by real life?
It is pure fiction but based on my observations of the art scene in Mumbai. This perhaps is the reason that my story found an echo in the real life murder of famous artist Hema Upadhyay and eerie similarities between her murder and the ‘mysterious death’ of Zenobia Taraporevala, the artist wife of my ‘Color Me Rich. ‘Zenobia’s painter husband, the protagonist Akash Saigal, is accused of killing his wife. And here Hema’s artist husband Chintan too has been charged with the murder of his wife. My novel was already in press when Hema’s murder figured in the newspapers. It only indicates how close to reality my novel is.
- Unlike regular novels, ‘Color Me Rich’ is a small novel.
That is out of choice. My last book ‘The Five Foolish Virgins’ was nearly 400 pages and had dozens of memorable characters but ‘Color Me Rich’ is less than half of that in length.
Besides my loyal readers, I am reaching for a different segment of readers, the readers who don’t have the time or patience for big books, the reader whose attention span is small, who has been brought up on 140 characters of Twitter and brief posts on the Facebook. ‘Color Me Rich’ is clutter free and, as a result, fast moving. Remember dynamite comes in small packages.
- Yeah. It seems ideal as movie material. Do you see a movie based on ‘Color Me Rich’, being made?
Yes, any filmmaker would look at it as a script for a film. It is tough for a filmmaker to adapt a novel into a film. These are two different mediums. A novel, besides being about a theme, is about the inner thoughts and conflicts of the characters, but the film is an audio-visual experience. ‘Color Me Rich’ can easily lend itself to a film. I visualize ‘Color Me Rich’ as a small budget romantic film.
- Tell us about your other books?
My first published book is the biography of Madhubala. NariHira of Magna publishers, who publish ‘Stardust’, was starting his books division. I freelanced for his group and offered him the concept. Unauthorized biographies was an alien concept in India. He liked the idea. This was the first contract I signed. Magna also published my novel ‘Its My Life’. But I didn’t offer them more books. Other books too were published by people who were either in the media or the trade.
My last two books, however, have been self-published. Quest Mercury Intermedia Pvt Ltd is our home company. It has also produced a short film ‘Screwdriver’. The publishers or the literary agents are welcome to approach me. My books – Simply Scandalous: MeenaKumari, Eurekha! An unauthorized biography of Rekha, and The Five Foolish Virgins are available for second editions or translations in other languages.
However, I don’t want the hassles of approaching a publisher and waiting for his response for months.
- What comes to your mind when you hear the word “color”?
Color to me is life, excitement and energy. An absence of color is drabness, boredom, blandness and inactivity. I, being a Feng Shui Master, I am aware of the impacts of each color. It is a part of Feng Shui. Red for hunger and passion, pink for romance… Being a painter, I use color to create. Color to me is a noun, adjective and also a verb… Of late, it has mostly been a verb.
- And what comes to your mind when you hear the word “rich”?
Champagne. Limousines. Grandeur. Palaces. Smiling, gracious, graceful and kind people. Walls with oils of ancestors in expensive looking costumes. Walls with large canvases painted by Amrita Sher-Gil, K H Ara, F N Souza, and M F Husain. Ironically, these artists, except for Amrita, belong to the progressive group. In a way, I see colors in the RICH too.
- How did you end up combining the two to form the title of your book?
(Smiles) Good, catchy title, isn’t it?
- Which approach is better according to you – self-publishing or going the traditional route of regular publishers? And why?
Success and loyal readership are more important. If you’ve that you don’t need to worry in either case. You’re free from the production hassles if a professional publisher publishes your book but you also lose control. Today the publishers expect you to launch and promote your book, by using your contacts and even money.
I know of a former actress, a divorcee, who got her book published by one of the top publishers, launched it, promoted the book and ended up with a cheque for less than Rs 500. She still had no complaint. Two other actresses came out with books on Yoga and Motherhood. They don’t care whether they make money from the books or not. They want these books for their image. The big money would really come from the endorsements. Things are difficult for the beginners.
- What should the beginners do today?
Self-publish as a Kindle version and promote it on the ‘net. The ‘net is an equalizer. There is no need to fall into the trap of the small time publishers who exploit you.
- What is your take on book publishing as you see the current scenario?
More and more books are being written, but I think the writers mustn’t be in a hurry to write and be published. Reading and experiencing the life is more important. Initially, one may get into journalism and providing content.
- What are your forthcoming writings?
Another book of fiction. Seeing the initial, tremendous response to ‘Color Me Rich’, I plan to repeat the experience as far as the size and the style is concerned. But the next book will be very different from this one. I don’t want to repeat myself.
- What are the four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
Four top most things… well. Here are they.
- Delete button — I write like a reader. If I don’t like what I write, I simply delete it. It is important not to have any attachment with one’s writing.
- Keeping notes — When I am writing, I am writing all the time. Sometimes a part of the story happens in my head as I drive or under a shower. These ideas need to be noted lest they are forgotten.
- Publicity angle — The newspaper would not write about a book or an author unless there was an angle. They need a hook to hang your story. I try to find it. It is easier if you’re writing about famous people and difficult if it is about a book of fiction.
- Write Daily — The more you write, the better you get.
- That was very elaborate. I am sure the beginners would have a lot to take away from this interview. What is your favorite genre and why?
Earlier it was biographies. I loved bringing out the true personae behind the image. Three books later, I wrote a historical fictional play that revolved around the love child of the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. But I realized that we, as a country, are not ready for this genre. So, after taking a sabbatical, I shifted to writing fiction.
Today my favorite genre is fiction. It is more challenging to create believable characters who pulsate with life. It is very interesting to write a story with twists and turns and to surprise the readers.
- What / Who is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
Creative people. Even watching a creative person work is inspiring, invigorating. Viewing or reading the work of the others, whether writers, actors or filmmakers stimulates me.
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced and how did you overcome it?
Writing the kind of books others don’t write has always been a challenge for me. I wrote unauthorized biographies in a country known only for hagiography and faced brickbats again and again. A constant refrain of the journalists who would interview me was, ‘But Rekha doesn’t endorse your book!’. They failed to understand that an official biography can never be an honest account of any public figure’s life. It was more difficult because the western media has always understood and respected this genre but the Indian media prefers to play safe.
Writing fiction is the new challenge. As the writers of fiction, one is competing with 25.000 books (in English alone) published in a year, 200 odd films that are released every year, 1200 odd TV channels, music, theatre, stand-up shows, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. To survive and stand out against all this is a real challenge.
- If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personalities, who would it be and why?
Can’t think of any. I’ve seen many so-called ‘fascinating’ figures from close quarters with all the flaws and warts. I would like to remain me even for that one day.
- And finally, any message for our readers?
Some theaters insist that you switch the mobiles when the play begins. I’ve a similar suggestion. Have a leisurely read, like we did in the pre-internet era. Try it once with ‘Color Me Rich’ and then with all the books; even Kindle books. Your enjoyment will be more.
So that was Mohan for you, author of Color Me Rich.
You can get in touch with Mohan directly at: email@example.com
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