Her first book, The Zoya Factor, was a hit across the country, and since then, she's created four more worlds of light-hearted romance that put her on the list of India's top bestselling English-language authors.
But Anuja Chauhan was eager to spread her wings wider, and took on the challenge of writing a murder mystery for her sixth book " bang in the middle of last year's lockdown. Club You To Death, published by HarperCollins India, is set in the fictional world of the Delhi Turf Club and follows the lives of ex-lovers Bambi Todi and Akash 'Kashi' Dogra as they help ACP Bhavani Singh crack a murder case that takes place within the club premises. With Chauhan's signature witticisms and humour shining through as she keeps the reader guessing the identity of the killer with every new plot twist, Club You To Death is that unputdownable whodunnit that will keep readers entertained till the last page.
The author talks to Firstpost about her latest work, exploring a new genre, and dealing with labels.
You said that the lockdown made you want to murder people, so you've done so by means of this book. What were your inspirations?
Being cooped up in the house with kids, dogs, housework and the crazy dystopian news on TV was pretty maddening. The story of Bambi and Kashi had been slow-cooking for a long time in my head, and whenever I wanted to escape the lockdown blues, I would turn on my laptop and enter a pre-pandemic world of lazy lemonade lunches, tennis courts, and gardens full of flowers in Lutyens' Delhi.
I've always loved the club life. As a fauji kid it's a big part of your growing up years; a safe place where you can wear shorts and strike up conversations with people you haven't even been formally introduced to. I wanted to capture the dynamics between members and administrative staff, dependent members, non-members who watch jealously from the outside, and all the despots who guard their fiefdom so fiercely. There was lots of scope to uncover hypocrisies, politics and double standards in such a setting " something that's beautiful on the surface but tainted at the core.
Did you decide who the killer would be from the beginning, or did the culprit keep changing as you wrote?
I'd decided upon my killer even before starting to write! But as I continued, I got so fond of my killer that at times I would be tempted to change the culprit so that I could give this person a happy ending. But I didn't!
This was your first time attempting a murder mystery " what was the hardest part of entering a new genre? Did you look to any other works for inspiration?
Agatha Christie is the empress of the genre, and I have read all her books multiple times. We have all her titles at home, so my children discovered her when they hit their teens. We'd end up discussing the books a lot, so I encountered her again through this. It was the family's idea that I should attempt a whodunnit, and I liked that suggestion as I was in the mood for something different after having written five love stories successively. The challenge of producing a killer out of a hat appealed to me. It was super tricky, and I still don't know if I've done it well!
The roster of characters includes personalities everyone has encountered in their lives " are they moulded from people around you?
Every character I write is moulded from someone I know. ACP Bhavani and his assistant Padam Kumar were the most fun people to write. I wanted a sort of genial uncle vibe for Bhavani " a father of daughters and a soldierly man with an English teacher for a wife " so I used one of my cousins as inspiration. Padam is drawn on a handsome and rather prissy driver who used to work for my husband. I was fond of Urvashi Khurana too, and her husband Mukesh " and the 'Zumba aunties', and Randy Rax (also drawn from life). Actually, everybody!
Letting your creative juices flow during a global pandemic can be hard " what was it like to be creating a novel during such a time?
It was actually a beautiful escape from the realities of the pandemic! My writing process remained more or less the same.
From the surgical strikes to political game play and media controversies, a lot of real-life scenarios find a place in the plotline " what was the intention behind including such events within the world of the story?
The task was to capture life as authentically as possible, and all the issues mentioned are those that prominent clubs face. The cast of members are the sort one would find in a posh club in any city " a mix of military people, bureaucrats, and the business community. Including them was essential and fun too, because it gave me a meaty roster of suspects to work with!
Many of your works have been adapted for cinema " what is your take on books being turned to movies?
As a reader, I've never been satisfied with the movies that have been made on my favourite books " the most recent example being A Suitable Boy. But I recognise and respect the much wider reach of cinema, and I'm all for writers finding a wider audience for their work. The money's good too, and we writers need that!
Whether a murder mystery or a tale of romance, all your books are written with a dash of humour " is your writing style a reflection of how you see life? Would you ever attempt a heavy subject?
I write serious topics all the time! Superstition, political corruption, state-sponsored propaganda, family politics, muscular patriotism, and the entitlement that comes with privilege are the themes of my books so far. I just don't believe that one must write about a serious topic in a serious manner. I feel a point made lightly is much more effective than a point pontifically, ponderously made.
What pushed you to quit a successful corporate job and take the risk of writing books for a living?
It was all about creative control. I was holding bright, sparkly crayons in my hands while working in advertising " great brands, big money, superstars, and amazing directors " but I was being told exactly what to draw with those crayons and not to colour out of the box. I didn't like being told what to draw.
Do comments like "best Indian chick-lit author", "India's Jane Austen" and "only fiction writer worth buying" affect your mindset when you sit to write?
As I grow older, I've learnt not to quibble with compliments. I just accept them gratefully. I know how fleeting praise is and how quickly it dates, so I never take it seriously. I've always had a strong work ethic, and it's the thing I respect the most in other people. I'm actually happiest when working hard " my family says I'm insufferable when I'm not working!
What's next " any new works in the pipeline?
The Disney-Hotstar adaptation of Those Pricey Thakur Girls should be out this summer, as well as the film Sardar & Grandson starring Neena Gupta, Arjun Kapoor and John Abraham, for which I co-wrote the screenplay with director Kashvie Nair. I've also been commissioned to write a new movie screenplay.
Listen to Anuja Chauhan read from her latest book, Club You To Death: