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Interview with Mukul Ranjan

Originally from Bihar’s Madhubani district, Mukul Ranjan finished his school and college education at Bhagalpur. He took his Master’s degree in Journalism from Mumbai University. But he didn’t pursue journalism. Since the early 90’s he is based in Mumbai, working as a director and screenwriter in the Hindi movie and television industry. 

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
A. I am a good singer.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new projects you’re working on?
Yes, definitely. I’m ideating right now on some stories. Lots of Cold Cock fans have written to me that they are waiting for its sequel. I respect my publisher (Evincepub Publishing) a lot for the belief, commitment, and time that they invested in my novel. I am in no hurry. Let the dust settle first and then I’ll make up my mind about my second book.

Q.3 What inspired you to write Cold Cock?
From my childhood days, I’ve remembered an image of a man, sitting on the branch of a tree while holding an ax and trying to dismember the same branch from the tree. This was the germinating point. I had written for almost all formats except for a novel. I had several stories ready with me which I’ve developed myself. When I had to choose any one story from my stock of stories, the image of this man with an ax started haunting me more. So, I formed a group of manipulative, shameless, and greedy owners who willingly wished to destroy their best creation, brick by brick. I placed this idea during the phase of recession when stock markets had crashed and jobs had become scarce.

My initial idea was to set it up inside a big STD booth (if you could recall, from the early ’90s) with 5-6 people handling 8-10 telephones. I changed the setting to a nursery with lots of withering plants. Something was not working for me. The setting was changed to a coaching institute for spoken English. Fantastic, I thought this was it. But, after some days, I changed it to a plastic bucket manufacturing factory in Vasai. I stopped writing the pointers for the novel. This was no fun. Something was seriously wrong with my settings. There was no mounting. Finally, I decided on a TV channel. Unpredictable characters, colorful language, and inhuman fights against deadlines. This is how this novel started taking shape.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
By nature women are so intelligent and God has made them so beautiful. But I’ll be honest with you, here. It is really difficult, especially for a male writer. As for myself, I’ve studied in an all-boys school. During my college years, there was no interaction with my female batch mates. During classes in the college, they used to occupy the first four benches out of fifty benches. I was a shy boy then, I still am. When any girl asked me anything, I was tongue-tied due to an unknown fear. So, you see, I was a man who was not aware of women’s world, their dreams, their fears, their joy. I had practically zero interaction with women. I could not understand women through movies either. 

That time Kumar Gaurav’s debut movie, Love Story had released. All my classmates in my school had seen it except me. One day, I sought permission from Mom to see this movie. Mom asked the name of the movie. I said, Love Story. Mom was aghast. She said a movie with a title like Love Story can be for adults only. I didn’t see it. After some months, another blockbuster opened in the theatres - Ek Duje Ke Liye. All my classmates saw it. Again, I asked Mom for permission. Again, she said, no. A movie with this kind of a title is not meant for kids, she replied. Look at my misery. 

I could not observe or adore women through movies also. It was not like I didn’t see any movies. When Mom was in a cheerful mood, she and other women of her group took me to see Sati Anusuya, Bhakt Prahlad, and Baalak Shravan Kumar! While working on this manuscript, I got saved due to years of working with women in movies and tv shows. Writing about female characters is a tricky area for most of us.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I maintain a habit of writing plots and scenarios. Some get used in TV shows, some in movies and some of them will make it into my upcoming books. My whole effort while writing this novel, was to keep it on the actual timeline, office issues, dog eat dog competition, sometimes ego while some other times real fights, exploitation of hapless juniors by superiors. 

The pace was deliberately kept fast to create a messy, chaotic world under the dark clouds of financial depression. I have deliberately created some weird characters, some of whom are not in control of themselves. Frankly, for Cold Cock, it was meant to be an unstoppable experience, so no set formula for me, here.

Q.6 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
I have never experienced it, honestly, not once. So, I don’t know about it. But I tell my author buddies that writer’s block is, in reality, an acceptable excuse to rest and push the writing for another day!

Q.7 What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Aakanksha, if I were to tell you that Cold Cock is ‘real’, how would you react? Trust my words, several incidents and characters are real in my novel. I would say that this book is 75 percent facts and 25 percent fiction. I believe, ‘characters’ from Cold Cock like Dakshina Shetty, Vipul Das, Swapan Sen, Mynah Khan, Imran Sheikh, Sanjay Prabhu, Vipul Das, Swapan Sen, Lolup Dilhara, Sartaj Singh Sekhon have already read this book or are planning to read it, one of these days!

This book took a year plus some months to write. My problem was a pleasant one. I had a problem of plenty. I had whole lot of written material with me. After, I finished the manuscript, the word count was 100,000 words plus. You know very well that first time authors are rigid and greedy about each word that they have written in their manuscript. Again, I got saved with my years of experience as a director. I sat for months on this manuscript trimming it like a professional surgeon. I removed lots of descriptive, technical, verbose and boring sentences, paragraphs and for once, chapters also. Now it stands lean and taut at 178 pages.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Well, this looks kinda scary. But, hey, no issues here. I will read, read, and then read some more books!

Q.9 Among all the supporting characters from your book, who is dearest to you, and why?
Sartaj Singh Sekhon. I would ask him how does he get high - after drinking Lassi or milk? Seriously, he is a cute character. I wish I could have explored a little more about his life in my novel.

Q.10 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
Now, each and everything matters for the book. Thinking about your target readership is good. But thinking too much about it is not good. Rather, the author should invest more time in writing and re-writing her or his draft. More than me, you know this better. Each minute detail about the book is discussed by the people. The title, title design, cover design, font, color palette, back cover blurb content, page quality, everything.

Frankly, I started on a clean slate. This is my first book. I had no marketing campaign plan as such. Old-timers of the publishing industry and my author friends told me, books sell by word of mouth publicity. But, I have gradually started understanding that this is a different game altogether. Look, I might be wrong but somewhere, deep in my heart, I still believe that the content of the book matters most to the readers.

Q.11 Do you have any quirky or unique writing habits?
Only one - after writing the dialogues I speak them aloud, just to be sure! My format of writing has changed with time. Earlier, it was longhand then, typewriters, personal computers, and laptops. I wrote this book on a computer and a laptop.

Q.12 What’s the best part of being an author?
Several, you are in control of things, characters and their destinies. With your characters, you are a creator, designer, coach, competitor, magician, musician, director, everything that you could imagine. Like your characters, you also get to play several roles. And later, you need to wear surgical gloves to cut the flab, wounds, and outer shells!

Q.13 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Come on Aakanksha, I’m still quite young! On a serious note, I would tell him, Mukul dude, stop worrying about how life will unfold. Writing has chosen you out of many eligible candidates so make the most of it - write some more!

Q.14 How did you select the title of this book?
Aakanksha, I’m sure you are not going to believe me. But the fact of the matter is that my manuscript was without a title for more than a year! Look, when I was writing it, I had a title. But, after some months, I started looking for another title. A new title came to my mind. This title was a superb one but then again... I believe, if you have an appropriate title for your book, you’ve got most of the distance covered. So, I was stuck with a beautiful title that I didn’t wish to use. I was constantly on the lookout for a fabulous title but had no success. Some months passed. I was done with both, the trimming and working on the nth draft, still, there was no title, insight. In this manner, one full year passed. I had completely forgotten about my ready manuscript by then.

After a hard day’s work, I reached home late. It was 3.30 am when I was having my dinner. Out of curiosity, I switched on the TV. A boxing match was going on in some tournament. The final round was about to begin. Both the heavyset boxers were desperate for a win. Punches were flying from both the sides like whistles. I stopped eating as I got engrossed, watching the flesh and blood spectacle, on the big screen. It was difficult to predict who would win. The thrilling boxing matches go down the wire. Suddenly, the boxer punched his opponent, just above his right ear. Before anybody could understand anything, the other boxer fell on the mat. The 1-10 count started and the commentator went berserk with his commentary, ‘oh dear, oh dear, look what we’ve got here, my, my, Gregory has coldcocked him.’ Gregory earned his gold medal and my manuscript, its title - COLD COCK!

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How did you select him/her?
The doyen of calligraphy, Achyut Palav has designed the title, COLD COCK. And I’m seriously grateful to Achyut. Both of us have worked together in the past. Lots of my readers and critics have liked the title and the title design. 

The rest of the book cover has been designed by the young design team of Evincepub Publishing. My only concern was that I wanted to have minimal elements on the front cover besides the book title and author name. They delivered as promised.

Q.16 How do you select the name of the characters?
This is going to be interesting. Before beginning my movie scripts, I copy the list of male and female players from national hockey, volleyball, cricket, football, and other group sports teams. And then, I randomly mix up one player’s name with another player’s surname. I did the same with my book. I had lots of fun doing this exercise.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
Each one of them. Good ones, I read once only, to find out what resonated with the readers. To find out, if there were any takers for something new that I tried in my book. Aakanksha, I’ll be honest with you. It's the bad ones which I wait for, in anticipation of new discoveries. And, I read them once every month, to keep myself in check. I believe in the saying, failures are the pillars to success. It is the critic’s job to point out anomalies, jumps, inconsistency in narration, or talk about missing links. I salute you, and every critic who is doing her/his job with honesty, integrity, and without any fear or malice.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Swami Vivekanand. He is an amazing, inspiring and towering personality that this whole world is proud of.
I want to find out the wrongs with our world and this universe, which I’m sure, he was aware of. I would also ask him about the several unknown secrets about Indian philosophy and Yoga. And, finally, I would ask him, how he kept his composure amidst the grave dangers to his body, killing financial woes and serious health issues during his short life span.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
Actually, there are several but I’ll stick to the three only.

Bhagavadgita - To me this is not a book. It is a compilation of God Krishna’s universal philosophy which can change meaning every other day for each individual.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand - This book, besides being a book, is an experience in itself. Once you step into this world, you get pulled in by its power and a strong idea of an idealistic world.

The Godfather by Mario Puzo - Bibliophiles are going to kill me for this. But I have to say this, loud and clear. For once, it is difficult to say, which one of the two is better - the book or the film?

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
I’ve been an avid reader since childhood. The first book that I read was Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography. I still draw courage from it and love it for what it is. In my childhood, I read a whole lot of spiritual books, translated works of foreign authors, books by Premchand, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, and all volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica. I also read lots of magazines like Span, Science Today, Amar Chitra Katha, Archie comics, Bahadur comics. Most of my playing time was spent, reading, in various libraries in my hometown. The books that had the most impact on me then were about real freedom fighters and revolutionaries like Bagha Jatin, Rani Chelamma, Subhash Chandra Bose, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Shachindra Nath Sanyal, and several others.

During my school days, I was a popular storyteller. If the teacher in my class didn’t feel like teaching because he was unwell or something, he would call me near the blackboard. And, I would impromptu narrate a story, made then and there. During my plus two years, my stories and articles started getting published in newspapers and magazines. On top of it, I also used to write stories and articles for the local radio station. And, I would record my articles and stories in my own voice, which would get broadcast later. My dad was a university professor, but letters written to me as to fan mail outnumbered the letters for him. He was quite amused with this development. Dad suggested that I take up journalism which, for some unknown reason, I was not too keen on. I belong to that now, an extinct generation that believed in words given and promises made. I gave my word to Dad that I would study journalism.

I took a Master’s degree in journalism but I didn’t become a journalist. I wanted to tell my stories to this world. A career in movies was waiting. I started working as a screenwriter, in Mumbai’s Hindi movies and television industry. Later on, my directors and producers started telling me, to take up direction. And that is how I became a director. But I never stopped writing. It will always remain my only love!

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