Censorship is a sign of a weak and scared society: Erotica writer Novoneel Chakraborty talks about books, and strong, flawed women
As a storyteller, there’s perhaps no greater joy than being appreciated by your loyal fandom. Incidentally, for Novoneel Chakraborty – touted one of India’s most prominent authors of erotica and psycho-sexual thrillers – it means accolades pouring in from every corner as two of his popular books are being adapted for the screen.
Ask him what makes him come back again and again to this genre and his answer is simple – this genre fascinates him and helps him flesh out relatable characters.
“I think sexuality and psychology are two of the most primal features which shape us up and to use them to tell my stories fascinates me as that’s when I’m able to draw out newer, fresher and relatable versions of people,” he tells YSWeekender in an exclusive chat.
Novoneel’s 2016 romantic thriller, Black Suits You, is the latest book to have received the on-screen adaptation treatment. Adapted into a web series for ALTBalaji, titled Bekaaboo, the show starring Rajeev Siddhartha as protagonist Kiyaan Roy (incidentally a best-selling erotica writer), is more or less based on the book. Although, as the author explains, there might be a few alterations owing to the nuances of the platform.
In conversation with YSWeekender, author Novoneel Chakraborty takes us behind the scenes, what goes into the adaptation of a book into a web show, his women characters, the archetypal debate between books versus cinema, and censorship in India.
Edited excerpts from the interview
YS Weekender: Bekaboo is earning rave reviews. As an author, what are your expectations from this adaptation?
Novoneel Chakraborty: I’m one of those people who takes neither success nor failure much seriously. I’m happy if people at large are liking it. And I’m told they are.
A scene from the web series, Bekaboo
YSW: For those who haven’t watched it yet, could you share a sneak-peek into the plot?
NC: Black Suits You is an erotic thriller about a bestselling author and a girl who says she is one of his diehard fans, enters his life and starts taking control of things until the author finds out she isn’t just a fan…
The show (Bekaboo) is completely based on the book except the book has a different structure than the web series. Both, I guess, maximises the viewer’s experience and expectation from the medium.
YSW: How have the Indian readers responded to your take on the genre?
NC: I was surprised the way it was lapped up by my readers. I have a separate fan base for Black Suits You. I was a little apprehensive since in India eroticism has never been accepted whole heartedly. But my readers really surprised me pleasantly. This book is also one of the few genuine erotic thrillers written in India where sexuality is a part of the narrative and not an add-on spice.
YSW: With the feedback, has your idea of the genre changed over time? Will you continue writing romantic thrillers and psycho-sexual thrillers in the future?
NC: On June 15, I’m coming out with another erotic thriller – it’s releasing on Wattpad. And I am also penning a psychological thriller simultaneously. More than the genre, it’s the elements that excite me and inherently suits my kind of storytelling. So, I’m looking forward to telling more such tales with engaging narratives.
YSW: Were you influenced by Fifty shades of Grey and other similar books?
NC: I’m yet to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Nor have I read much of erotica myself. As a reader, it’s not my pick. But as an author, the genre excites me. I think it’s more of my personality which makes me choose this genre rather than any other external influence or stimulus.
YSW: Tell us more about your women characters. Are they derivatives of any real-life women?
NC: My stories are known to have strong, flawed and aspiring women. The credit for this goes to my mother and sister and later the three women who were my soulmates. Without them, I don’t think I would have understood women. All my characters, are always a mix and match of my three soulmates, obviously fine-tuned to suit the story.
YSW: The themes of morality, loyalty, infidelity and sexuality are widely explored in many of your books – what made you take these up?
NC: Thinking, and then writing about things which are all around us, but not generally talked about, is something which excites me as a storyteller. I believe a mix of these elements also gives my readers the kind of relatability they talk about after reading my books.
YSW: What’s your take on censorship of content?
NC: I personally think censorship of any kind is a sign of a weak and scared society. The choice to view something should belong to the consumer. Whether the consumer watches it or not -- that’s the consumer’s prerogative. On one hand we call ourselves civilised, on the other hand, we need someone above us to filter things for us as if we live under a stone. I can never understand this.
YSW: At least two of your book series have been adapted for TV and OTT platforms – what is the process like, from ideation to sharing copyrights?
NC: That depends on if the producer wants to involve me for ideation during the adaptation or not. If they do, I try to share my thoughts and where I’m coming from as far as the characters and the story is concerned. So, when it’s adapted, the core sanctity of it is maintained since there’s a large segment of readers who would view it as audience. And they will compare if the sanctity is challenged. Rest I surrender to the vision of the producer-director.
YSW: There’s a classic debate – books or movies or TV? What’s your opinion on this?
NC: If you compare, then it’s very difficult to beat a book. Even internationally, we have very few examples. For example, I loved Jurassic Park the movie but when I read the book, I forgot the movie. Since the medium changed, comparison is pointless, though it is tempting to do so. As long as a book gets adapted in a way which has used the potential of the medium in which it is getting made to its maximum, it’s alright.
YSW: India is just warming up to the digital space. What kind of shows, content would you like to see from Indian content producers?
NC: I would love to see fresher narratives and not borrowed ones from other international platforms. The stories are more or less the same, it’s how we tell it that makes us either original or derivative. I think the digital space demands all of us content creators to play with narratives and thereby tell our stories for this new era.
YSW: Do you follow pop-culture trends – any books, TV shows that are your personal favourite?
NC: I only keep a track of it. I have never followed any pop culture. I haven’t even watched Game of Thrones (judge me, ha ha). Talking of personal favourite books, it would be The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand), The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho), The Outsider (Albert Camus). Among movies and TV shows, I love Breaking Bad, House of Cards and the recent 13 Reasons Why amongst many.
YSW: Who are your favourite authors? Anyone who has influenced your writing style?
NC: I don’t have favourite authors as such. There are so many authors, from Ayn Rand to Buddhadeb Basu who have influenced me. I don’t go by hype. I go by my instincts when it comes to picking up a book and I try to read new voices and translated Indian regional works.
YSW: What are you working on next, please share a sneak peek.
NC: Next is an erotic thriller for Wattpad release on 15th June. I will be writing with the pen name of Elizabeth Eli.
YSW: Any advice for the aspiring writers?
NC: Read. Read. Read. Observe, Observe, Observe. Think. Think. Write. Write. Write.
In that order.