Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
To me writing is a medium for telling stories. Even though a lot of my writing is in the non-fiction space, every piece that I write tells my reader something about the subject that I have written about. It’s the subject’s story that I try to bring to life, to notice through my writing.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
My most recent book or my forthcoming book is about the cinema of yesteryear writer-film-maker, Nasir Husain. Husain is the man behind some of Hindi cinema’s biggest commercial entertainers such as Teesri Manzil (1966), Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) and Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977). He also launched his nephew Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988). Despite helming such significant films, Husain has not been given his due. His cinema has often been dismissed as froth. But froth is not facile. His cinema had a very modern aesthetic to it. His dialogue-writing had a distinct contemporary spark and he was among the best in picturizing song sequences. With this book, I am hoping to contextualize the significance of Husain’s work and open a conversation in regard to the seriousness with which his cinema must be examined.
Over the years, I have learned that good writing need not be slotted or boxed into any one kind of style or form. Some writers can do some really good analytical pieces without quoting another source/s. For me, personally, I have always felt that my best work comes from hard research. I leave no stone unturned while undertaking my research. It’s only through an exhaustive research exercise that I feel that I am able to do most justice to my writing.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have no one favourite author since I read all kinds of literature whether it is fiction or non-fiction. I really admire the Australian cricket-writer Gideon Haigh, but am also a fan of Manu Joseph, who writes fiction. Jerry Pinto is another favourite of mine and he has written both fiction and non-fiction. I would also list J.K. Rowling and Mukul Kesavan among my favourite authors, although there is little the two have in common.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
My forthcoming book on Nasir Husain, which I mentioned above, has been very challenging. To begin with, this is not a chronological biography, which discusses Husain’s work film by film. Also, this is the first time I have actually written or examined the work of a director whereas most of my earlier work in Hindi cinema has been on writers or actors. So I had to come out of my comfort zone in that sense. Additionally, I had to familiarize myself with film craft while studying the various themes and tropes in Husain’s films. Consequently, I grappled with the structure of this book for the longest time before I managed to put it in place.
What’s your idea of bliss?
The idea of bliss varies. It can sometimes just be a good afternoon nap or going on vacation with family. The only thing common in both these situations is that the mind should be at peace.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
I am extremely critical of people or work, which comes from a casual place. When people don’t put in the required effort to do their best, and this can often cost other people, it can be extremely infuriating.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
I would take R.K. Narayan’s The Mahabharata, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gideon Haigh’s On Warne and Michael Jordan’s For The Love of the Game.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
I’m paranoid about my work and research data. So I would say my laptop is the first thing that I would take care of in such a situation.
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
To be content with what I have.
Akshay Manwani turned to freelance writing in 2009. He has since written on Hindi cinema and popular culture for a variety of publications such as The Caravan, The Indian Quarterly, Scroll.in, Mint, Business Standard and Mumbai Mirror. Akshay’s first book, Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet, was published in 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers India. In 2014, Akshay won RedInk award for Best Lifestyle and Entertainment Story given out by Press Club, Mumbai, for his detailed feature on B.R. Chopra’s television series Mahabharat. Akshay lives with his daughter and wife in Mumbai.