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'If the novel is my wife, the play is my mistress'

The loud cheer in the background to announce Rahul Dravid’s arrival at one of the events at the sixth edition of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival means we have to up the decibel levels for our Q&A session with the soft-spoken Anosh Irani. He enquires about the length of this chat; he’s got a reading of his just released book, The Cripple and the Talismans, in an hour’s time, after all. In our head, we thought, ten minutes.

Anosh Irani
Anosh Irani describes how writing for a movie was different from a book, and how interesting it was to channelise someone else’s story and making it his own. Pic/Ryan Matis

But as we eased into unravelling the wonderful success story of Irani, we realised the crisscrossing between continents would take a while. Here was a writer, playwright and now, screenplay writer whose The Song of Kahinsha was published in 13 countries, and turned bestseller in Canada and Italy. His play Bombay Black was a Dora Award winner for Outstanding New Play, while Irani was nominated for he Governor General’s Award for Drama, for his acclaimed anthology, The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black.

Bombay meri jaan
“I was born in Belassis Road; at seven, our family moved to Byculla’s Rustom Baug. I left Bombay when I was 24 to pursue a degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. I return every year to my family, my city,” he shares. Why the annual pilgrimage, we prod? “The city is in my blood; I don’t want to get it out of my system - I’ll probably need a blood transfusion for that to happen!” he chuckles.

Irani loves his roots: “It’s about being solid and secure, no matter where you go,” he says, matter-of-factly. He calls Bombay his muse because, “it is multi-layered; as a writer, one wants to explored these many layers. The landscape is a contrast - you don’t need to travel too far to experience it,” he agrees.

Talk veers to the effortless straddling between the novel and theatre worlds - “I alternate. Familiarisation is required. There is a certain limitation with the stage. I approach either, one at a time, never simultaneously. To borrow from Yukio Mishima, who likens the novel to his wife, and the play as his mistress!”

These days, Irani has shifted tracks, writing the screenplay for a film, called Diwali – directed by Irena Salina (Chocolat, Cider House Rules) and produced by Leslie Holleran. “It took me two years; writing for a film was different; one has to be open and collaborative, unlike writing a novel or play. It was interesting to channelise someone else’s story and make it your own,” he reveals. It’s set across Bombay and rural Maharashtra, and deals with family, emotions and choices, he reveals.

Desi boy
“Stories are universal like humour and pain. An alien landscape works to your advantage, in fact,” he believes, when we enquire of the literary and theatrical success of his Bombay themed works in Canada. We return to his recent release, The Cripple and its Talismans – “It’s about a man who wakes up one day in a hospital, without his left arm, with no recollection of how it happened.

His search to find the truth takes him through the underbelly of Bombay. This story chose me,” Irani summarises, letting us in of the emergence of this plot from the image of amputated arms and limbs in a dark dungeon; “…the visual refused to go away.” His earlier title, Dahanu Road, was well received, particularly by the Zoroastrian community; “though there were voices against it, which is good because literature should displace people; create a movement within.”  

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