Why these English authors write in India ink

Feb 01, 2013, 08:17 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Deborah Moggach and Rachel Dwyer have an India fixation. One believes that India will become the toast for the retired from the West, while the other continues her long association with Indian cinema. Fiona Fernandez met both British authors who participated at the just-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, to find out more

“Yash Chopra understood people’s fantasies”

Rachel Dwyer

How did your love affair with Hindi cinema begin?
In 1990, I was in Gujarat, to do my PhD, and I got hooked on to it. Sholay was one of the first films I recall having watched at the time. Those were the pre-Internet days, and we caught movies with friends in out spare time. I dabbled in fiction and also wrote for the film publication, Stardust. It had invented a new kind of English that was entertaining. It struck a chord also because it wrote about stars, and not just films.

Your work with the late Yash Chopra earned acclaim from all quarters. What do you believe separated him from the rest?
I recall having watched his Chandni and Lamhe in the 1990s. However, it was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge that propelled him into the mainstream imagination. There were several reasons that worked for his kind of cinema. He had this terrific understanding of people’s fantasies; they were glamourous, yet rooted. Secondly, he portrayed women as glamourous, sexy and appealing without being voyeuristic; his films gave us some of the best music. He was able to simplify complicated themes in his work. He had an astute understanding of people in small towns and villages as well as those from modern India. Yashji liked the past but looked to the future, always. He could bond with SRK as easily as he could with Lataji. It’s the end of an era.

Yash Chopra

You’ve chronicled our cinema for over two decades. Which were the movies that stood out for you in 2012?
I liked English Vinglish - Sridevi was terrific. Even Gangs of Wasseypur (I&II) stood out for its episodic moments, its music and its characters. I loved Dabangg. And, there were films like OMG, which was not really a big star production, but struck a chord for its core values.

Jodhaa Akbar: For its rich historic portrayal of Rajasthan
Pyaasa: For the universality of its subject
Sholay: For a departure from the archetypal Hindi film plot
Pakeezah: For its beauty and scale
Gangs of Wasseypur & Satya: For the ‘other’ India, its urban and rural milieu

Two of Rachel Dwyer’s titles on Indian cinema

Actors like Irrfan, Paresh Rawal, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Om Puri might not be the superstars of Hindi cinema but their versatility has made them popular in the West.”
Ranbir Kapoor is the most promising from the new crop of actors and actresses.”
People don’t have to orientalise Hindi cinema to make it appealing to the West.”
Indian audiences are very mobile and diverse in opinion. Nothing will surprise me about them.”

“Why not outsource the elderly to India?”

Deborah Moggach

What was the driving force to write These Foolish Things, and the screenplay for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?
In England, we treat old people very badly. I’d like to end my days spending it among people, in bazaars, streets. The older you get, you ought to be in the thick of life, which doesn’t happen in the West. That’s when India came to mind. Why not outsource the elderly to India, I thought, as I put pen to paper? We have a lot to offer we’ve seen life and its difficulties, we can baby sit, offer wisdom at the same time. India offers a warm, economical option. The connect between the UK and India is still there. I feel more at home here... many fellow English also do. The reason I wrote it is that there is no way one can continue to live a neglected, empty life in the West; life doesn’t have to end at 70. India offers a kind of vibrancy, respect, colour and warmth. After all, one is too old to go abseiling through life at this stage!

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Moggach wrote These Foolish Things, and later, the screenplay for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), which was based on it

Do you foresee this thought becoming a reality for older people in the West?
Indians respect their elders. They are comfortable with the English language. There is a certain familiarity with all things English, like a Raj hangover here - take the Ambassador car. Besides, England is full of people of Indian origin. I see this becoming a reality also because of the ease of travel; it’s more fluid and convenient now. I met a man in Udaipur, originally from Oxfordshire, who is realising this idea of leading a retired, comfortable life in India.

For The Best Exotic... what was it like to work with a stellar cast that included Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson?
None of them have an ego. At this stage in their lives, they take up such projects to have fun, with friends. We shot at Jaipur’s Diggi Palace, and in Udaipur. They enjoyed every minute, found it safe, and away from the madding crowds. They were relaxed, and comfortable to be their selves.

Heartbreak Hotel, Deborah Moggach, Random House, Rs 550.

So, what’s this fascination with hotels?
(Laughs) I love being in hotels. You are free to do as you please. There is no responsibility; nobody judges you, and there’s no family around, if travelling alone. I prefer hotels that are a bit scruffy, quirky and artistic too.

How different are literary festivals here as compared to those in the UK?
Festivals here are free, and relaxed, unlike anything back in the UK. It’s free, for starters. People are enthusiastic, there is a lot of energy and everyone is friendly. The sessions are of a high calibre, and the cafes, shops and other events add to its uniqueness.

Is there an rising interest in the UK for Indian literature?
We are rubbish. We are insular and not as outward looking as we should be. There are not enough of translations, from India for example, that are reaching the UK. Names like Rushdie and Rohinton Mistry are known but that’s it. We are an island, and it shows.

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