When you have the conviction of doing something, even when all the forces are against you, keep moving forward, get inspired and inspire people as you move ahead. This is the life motto of Writer Mohan Deep. Catch him as he talks about everything from inspirations to impediments.
Highlights of the Episode
- Writing articles for magazines was a passing phase, to write books was his true calling.
- All the media and legal attention to Madhubala did not shake him, it made him even stronger.
- Inspiration lie at every corner, even an encounter in the lift can change your perceptions.
Quotes and Takeaways
- “Reading and writing, equally, became forms of escapism for me”.
- “Khushwant Singh called me the best gossip writer that India had ever produced”.
- “Some thought that ‘Eurekha!’ wouldn’t see the light of the day. But it was written, published and launched”
- “When you’re trying to write, a lot of bullshit happens to you, enough to make a film”.
- “You must have a large bank of life experiences to draw on and from”
Do you recall incidents from your childhood which inspired you to start writing?
Circa 1960. Mumbai’s western suburb Kandivali. My family had migrated. My mother was a book lover, and she had brought along all the books she had from Karachi. There were books a 12-year-old found easy to read. Aesop’s fables, children’s stories and biographies of revolutionaries.
Archie’s, Phantom, Mandrake. Somehow, the bylines always made me curious. I wondered about them. The earliest I can remember is an afternoon with Veronica, Betty, Archie and Reggie. I was drinking Coca Cola and reading American comics. This world was more exciting than the world around me. Escapism, for a child! I guess reading and writing, equally, became forms of escapism for me.
When did you take the decision of penning down your first book?
You take me back to mid-sixties when I wrote my first novel. I was already established as a short story writer in Sindhi and writing a novel was just the next step. I wrote a lot in Sindhi, but was frustrated as there were very few readers. Since I also had a good command on English, I wrote in English. However, after getting a few stories published in magazines like Debonair, Mirror and Caravan, I freelanced. My love for the sensational took me far. Everything was going well, but I had an uneasiness. I returned to writing books. I wanted my first book to have an impact. I settled for a biography of Madhubala. This genre was unheard of in India, but the reception I received was amazing. Everyone loved it. Khushwant Singh called me the best gossip writer that India had ever produced. I was compared with William Goodman and Kitty Kelly. Madhubala’s family was aghast but despite making even those stars (including Shammi Kapoor) who had given me interviews about her, join forces against me, they couldn’t do anything. My research was impeccable, and the quotes were from taped interviews. Shammi Kapoor became a laughing stock of the media. He abused me in an interview, and I exposed him in my columns, challenging him to hold a joint press conference where I’d play his taped interview. My stock rose.
You’ve written several biographies on Bollywood personalities. Do you have your favourite pick amongst them?
‘Eurekha!’ was the bestseller. It got translated into Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. It is my favourite because I’ve been able to show the truth about Rekha, to explain why Rekha is what she is, to corroborate the stories swept under the carpet by her and her hold on the media. It is world class. I have not been judgemental about her and yet, have let the readers into her mysterious existence. This was one of the most exciting projects I undertook. Rekha was not cooperative and tried to sabotage my attempts to interview her friends and lovers. Some thought that ‘Eurekha!’ wouldn’t see the light of the day. But it was written, published and launched with fanfare. TV channels widely covered the launch function, even in those days when news channels were picky about their stories. It was fun as the media would provoke Rekha to say something negative about her biography, or to sue me for defamation or play up what I’d written in my biography. So sure was I of my fact I issued an open letter to her challenging her to sue me. Rekha never went to court. The relationship between us was strained – to say the least – but my perception of her is that she respected me for my professionalism, my honesty, and boldness. Only a creative person understands another. We used no foul words against each other throughout the controversy that lasted over a year.
My respect for her went up when, recently, I went through dozens of her interviews where she had spoken about ‘Eurekha!’.
She was repeatedly asking: But what is his point of view about me.
Would you say it is necessary to make writing a routine?
Routine is a part of the game. If one takes a break, returning to writing becomes a little difficult and if one takes too many breaks, it invites too many blue Mondays. I don’t think there is a writer who doesn’t write as a routine.
If your writing process could be analogized into a movie, which one would it be? Also, can you tell us why?
Just watch Johnny Depp’s ‘Secret Window’. When you’re trying to write, a lot of bullshit happens to you, and that can always be turned into an interesting film.
Every artist must seek inspiration for their craftsmanship. Can you share your sources of inspiration with us?
I get my inspiration from the extremely creative people with a great drive, who devote months and years tirelessly working and reworking in search of excellence. No, I don’t accept the term ‘perfectionist’. The PR department creates these labels.
In your journey of more than 50 years as a writer, which have been the most memorable experiences?
I have two. One as a journalist and the other as a writer.
I once wrote an in-depth article about power situation in Mumbai and assessed what Tata Power had done. It was published in ‘Caravan’. Within a day of the issue being out, I received a call from the PR department of Tata Power. One Hemant Kenkre was on the other side. JRD Tata, the big man himself wanted to meet me. At Bombay House, I found him in the same lift queue with no fuss. This was such a contrast to my earlier experiences. In BMC, in Mumbai Police HQ, in Mantralaya the common tax paying citizens were shooed away from the Commissioners and the ministers. My respect for this man increased manifold.
The most memorable experience is holding the first copy of your book in your hand. It gives me a high today when I hold the copy of ‘Color Me Rich’ and it was a heady feeling to hold ‘Madhubala’ or ‘Simply Scandalous: Meena Kumari’.
What is your message for our readers who aspire to become writers?
Sometimes, when I read books by first-time authors, they come across as thinly veiled autobiographies. Since self-publishing has become easier, I think new writers take the leap prematurely sometimes. To become a writer, it’s essential that you must have a large bank of life experiences to draw on and from which you can seek inspiration. So, I would advise aspiring writers to live life, get new experiences and take risks. Also, read a lot, from classical literature to biographies and contemporary works of fiction. This will help you grow and it will show in your writing.