Saurav Dutt is an Author, Political Columnist and Human Rights Campaigner. A columnist in three continents, his acclaimed debut novel ‘The Butterfly Room’ explored issues of domestic violence and homophobia within South Asian communities and has been showcased alongside leading political figures and human rights campaigners. His work for human rights and charity campaign work has taken Dutt to speaking engagements at the WEF, IKWRO, IWN, Houses of Parliament and TEDx. His work has been featured on the BBC, Sky News, VICE, and TIME magazine.
He speaks to News World Inc about the inspiration behind Dear Mr Bachchan, and his writing career, and much more.
NWI: Why did you choose Mr Bachchan for your novel? You could have taken any other famous Bollywood personality?
Amitabh Bachchan transcends all other Bollywood personalities due to his place in the history of the Indian film industry, and the personalisation of celebrity to the world outside it. He occupies his own particular place in the history of India, its personification through a media lens, and how he positions film acting in the Asian subcontinent. His poise, humility, humanity, and stance towards his art has been a source of inspiration to many around the world-especially Indians-and in the way he galvanized the motion picture industry in India in a way no other actor had ever before. All these elementsmade him so uniquely compelling and interesting a subject to write about.
NWI: How was writing Dear Mr Bachchan special to you? How is it different from your other novels?
This is a real departure for me in terms of subject matter yet also immensely challenging. It was a special creative effort for me to tell a story about poverty, Bollywood, glamour, personal ambition, and the trappings of a modern India, all through the viewpoint of a twelve year old boy from the slums. It tallies with my previous work in that this is a book that is much more than about just celebrity and one famous man; it is about caste, societal discrimination, farmer suicides, literacy, and a cautionary tale about the price of fame.
NWI: Did you live in Mumbai at some point of time to write this novel? Or how did you manage?
I was born in Kolkata and I visited there many times, having been to different parts of India too. India is in my blood, the tastes, the colours, the temperaments, the attitudes, the sociopolitical challenges, all that combined with a genuine love of ‘Masala’ cinema and the films of Amitabh Bachchan, allowed me to compose this story in the most faithful way I could.
NWI: How do you see your career as an author of novels? Any aspirations…
I see myself as a commentator on the human condition, and the format of a novel allows a writer to address socio and geopolitical issues through the gifts of word, character, moral ambivalence, and often conflicting moral standpoints. As far as I am concerned, as an Author there is a duty to write about material and stories that matters, that is the legacy we leave behind. I will leave writing about wizards, zombies, and science fiction to others, what matters is how writers can empower, change, or lead to discourse, deliberation, debate and discussion. Everything else to me is moving wallpaper. Aspirations? To continue to tell truth, to broaden minds, and to address what is real and vital in this world. That is why this is a book less about a mere actor or one-man industry, but about the place of celebrity in a world of inequality, poverty, and human dissension; and how some corridors of society believe locking doors to others is the only way to get ahead.
NWI: What books or authors has been your greatest influence?
In no particular order, the works of writers such as Salman Rushdie, Khalid Hosseini, Bruce Chatwin, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene have mattered, all the way to Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Philip Roth, and Harry Crews, for instance.
NWI: In your opinion, what makes a novel successful?
The ability to go beyond verbal jousting, literary posturing, and to delve deep into character, moral duplicity, to craft a story, characters and dialogue that stay with you long after you’ve completed the book; also to say something about the world and the human condition that encourages you to question yourself. A good novel will inspire you to read more, and widely, to question your own habits, attitudes, and moral stances. I should say that a successful novel, per se, does not mean it is a good one. Some of the greatest works remain relatively unknown, while utter rubbish has often sold the most copies.
NWI: How do you manage shuttling between journalism and writing books and other hobbies like Ted Talk?
I find an idle mind an incredibly frustrating thing to live with, moving along with different mediums allows you to remain inspired, open to ideas, and to absorb the elements that burn the fire inside. Any creative person will tell you that is what ultimately drives them to go on, to paint with different brushes, to question yourself and the world around you at all times; in stillness, in silence, lies death.
NWI: What are you working on next?
I’ve finished work on a very important project chronicling the life and death of a young lady called Meera Dalal who committed suicide after experiencing years of horrible domestic abuse in the United Kingdom; it’s a book written with her mother Daksha Dalal to address issues of domestic violence, mental wellness, and suicide prevention. Hopefully we can help just one person come to term with actions they must take to escape further abuse, or to seek help if they are battling with depression.
I’m also releasing a novel called ‘A Winter Song’ just before Christmas set in Shimla and there’s another book in the works called ‘The Man from Nowhere’ which is specifically around mental wellness.
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