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Interview with Sukriti YJ

Sukriti is a screenwriter and author based in Mumbai. She's the founder of Unibrow Stories, a creative team that creates edgy, funny, modern Indian stories for page and screen. 

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
I write books, films, and webcomics under my brand Unibrow Stories, a name suggested by my spouse.

I’d been explaining to him that my stories are neither high-brow (smugly intellectual) nor low-brow (stupid) but hopefully somewhere in between. Fun and smart.

“Unibrow” was his tongue-in-cheek suggestion, and it stuck.

Q.2 When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?
My next book is a sci-fi novella about a boy from Dharavi with a genius for architecture who enters a virtual-reality version of Mumbai and transforms the city. It will be out in a few months.

Q.3 What inspired you to write Gold Digger: Treasure of Son Bhandar?
Gold Digger was a screenplay before it was a book. I wanted to see an action heroine on our screens, someone like Lara Croft. However, I wanted her to be figuring out a real-life historical mystery of India. When I happened to read about the Son Bhandar caves of Rajgir, the rest fell into place.

Q.4 Why did you choose Bihar, and specifically Rajgir, as the setting for your adventure?
In its day, Rajgir would’ve been as famous as Rome or Athens. It was the seat of successive empires, including the Magadha and Mauryan dynasties. (“Raj Grih” = Place of Kings.)

When I started researching the town, my jaw dropped. Next to the famed Son Bhandar caves of Rajgir was the ancient university of Nalanda, and next to that the final resting place of the Buddha… so many historical treasures, all packed into one town!

Q.5 Can you tell us about the research process you undertook for this novel, especially regarding the historical aspects of the Son Bhandar caves?
I read books and websites, watched videos of the caves and the town, and spoke to the elders in my family about stories that might have been passed down through history; part of my family comes from the neighbouring state of U.P.

Q.6 Were any of the characters inspired by real people in your life?
Many of them. Chauhan’s Dadi is a lot like my own Nani: a feisty guardian of our history.

I relate a lot to Aunum Pal, our heroine, and her drive to rediscover Indian history.

I too spent some years living abroad, visiting world museums, and--oddly--that’s when my real fascination with Indian history began. I realised what a legacy, what a wealth of stories we’ve inherited. It became my goal to make them known.

Q.7 How do you handle writer’s block or creative challenges when they arise?
I watch a bad movie or read a bad book. It enrages me, floods me with confidence that I’m better (ha), and spurs me on. Bad art and rage can be very healing.

Q.8 What is your writing routine like? Do you have any specific habits or rituals that help you write?
I ambitiously create lots of routines, but things keep delaying my time to write--emails, messages, chores--and I get more and more anxious, more and more guilty. So when I finally sit down to write, I’m off like a rocket, burning through my guilt like it’s hydrogen.

Q.9 How do you balance the blend of genres—action, romance, and comedy—in your writing?
What I write straddles all these genres because that’s what I watch or read too: books like The Da Vinci Code and films like The Mummy series. Unconsciously, I’m mimicking them.

Q.10 Is there a particular message you hope readers take away from the story?
I hope they will visit Rajgir! (And tag me on Instagram if they do.)

Q.11 What were the most challenging aspects of writing this book?
Couldn’t really say; I had a great deal of fun writing this story.

Q.12 What part of the writing process did you find most rewarding?
I love the riddle at the heart of the novel. It took a lot of dictionary-snooping and hunting around to find Sanskrit words that could act like geo-clues but also fit into a rhyme. That was a joy to crack!

Q.13 Who are some of your literary influences, and how have they shaped your writing?
French essayist Montaigne for his determination to be truthful and down-to-earth while writing (he wrote about his cat, about his fraught relationship with his wife, even about having kidney stones).

Anuja Chauhan and Twinkle Khanna for their sense of fun.

K. M. Munshi for recording Indian histories in books like Patan Ni Prabhuta and Jai Somnath.

Q.14 What advice would you give to aspiring writers, especially those looking to write in the adventure genre?
I tend not to give advice, since I rarely listen to it. We find our own winding paths to whatever we want to do.

Q.15 How long, on average, does it take you to write this book?
This novel was adapted from my screenplay, which had received a lot of feedback and notes already. So when the time came to write the story as a novel, it took only a month or two.

Q.16 If Gold Digger were to be adapted into a film, who would be your dream cast for Aunum and Prateek?
Such a good question! Katrina Kaif and Vicky Kaushal. Or Tamannah and Dhanush. With Ravi Kishan as Constable Chauhan.

Q.17 How did you select the names of your characters?
I know someone called “Aunum.” I was looking for a name that reminded me of gold, and since “Au” is the symbol for gold (from the Latin “aurum”), Aunum made sense to me.

Q.18 How do your family or friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
They’re hugely supportive. They are the financial and emotional platform that allows me to write.

Q.19 Looking back, is there anything you would change about Gold Digger?
No, but hopefully there will be a few more books in this series, which allow me to explore some other interesting pockets of India.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far.
It’s been an ATV ride: expensive, bumpy, and damn good fun. It’s also a delight to have someone else along for the ride, like you, Books Chharming. Thanks for featuring Gold Digger on your blog, and for your fantastic questions!

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