I don't believe my work is sacrosanct and cannot be touched
By Anjali Muthanna, TNN | Feb 10, 2013, 12.00 AM IST
He describes himself as "a diplomat who writes, not a writer who masquerades as a diplomat". In a free-wheeling chat during a visit to Bangalore, author Vikas Swarup talks about everything from his obsession with Angry Birds to why he thinks authors should detach themselves from their works when they are being adapted for the big screen.
Four years ago at this time, Slumdog Millionaire was the toast of the awards season. How's your life changed since then?
I get invited to many more literary festivals than I used to because I'm associated with Slumdog Millionaire, the brand. Many more doors have opened up for me as a result of the global success of the film, although I believe that I'm the same person that existed before it.
How do you balance the writing, all the invitations and your day job?
I receive about 30 invitations a year, and I accept only three or four. For me, the day job comes first. That's why I call myself a diplomat who writes, not a writer who masquerades as a diplomat. If the day job demands it, I won't write at all. I write in what I call the crevices of my day job, and that comes only on weekends.
Film adaptations of Indian (and international) bestsellers are popular. But how important is it for the author to be involved in the scriptwriting process?
I'm the opposite of those writers who believe that my work is sacrosanct and cannot be touched. Work should be touched as long as you retain the soul of the original work. If the narrative structure of Q&A hadn't been replicated in the movie, I'd have walked out of the project. In the case of the film version of Six Suspects, it's a western production company that is doing an Indian book. They might not get the nuances right, as director Pablo Trapero is Argentinean, and the producers are British. Paul Raphael, the producer of the film, is keen to have me involved throughout, so every draft is shown to me. He knows I won't interfere beyond a point.
But key aspects of Q&A were changed for the film version — the name of the character, the title of the film, and the basic premise of luck (as opposed to destiny)...
Yes, I had issues with the communal scene and the shit scene. They told me that they wanted to do a love story, and a brothers story. I knew that you can't have brothers named Ram Mohammed Thomas and Amar Akbar Anthony! And when you want a love story, I knew the Q&A format I'd followed throughout my novel wouldn't be as paramount for them as it was for me. I believe that the maximum dramatic tension in the narrative of the film is when it is the Q&A format. And the moment you deviate from that, the film slackens a little bit. And the whole thing is, 'How does he know the answer to that particular question?' That can only come out through the Q&A he has with Irrfan Khan. In the second half of the film — as they started going into the Jamal and Latika story — the dramatic tension dissipated a bit, but they came back on track with the last question.
Would you ever turn scriptwriter?
I've been made several offers, most recently in Mumbai. It's something that interests me over a long term, and not immediately because I don't even have the time to write my novel. I don't have the craft of a screenplay writer, but then I didn't have the craft of a fiction writer either. I've read a lot of Hollywood scripts, but I've not read any Bollywood scripts. Once I get the hang of that, maybe I'll be bold enough to try my hand at it.
You're currently posted in Osaka, Japan. How much exposure do Japanese movie-goers have to Indian cinema?
Actually, Om Shanti Om, Don 2, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Ek Tha Tiger and 3 idiots will be released commercially in theatres in Japan. Kabir Khan is coming for (the release of) Ek Tha Tiger. I've also spoken with Kamal Haasan and asked him to consider shooting one of his films here. More Bollywood films are being shot abroad. So I thought, why leave out Japan? It has a mix of everything — we have fantastic mountains, we have great beaches, and an Indian community is also there, about 25,000 people.
Work apart, what are some of the fun things you like to do when on a new posting?
We love to explore the countries we are posted in. We always go with an open mind. I love to travel and listen to music. I became completely addicted to Angry Birds for a while. There's also movie-watching. I cannot read as much as I used to. The problem with reading is, especially a thick book, that it takes a long time, but now I have started reading on my tablet.