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After the release of her latest book, Club You To Death a spine-tingling thriller, Anuja Chauhan talks about the switch in genres and more!
It was during a Lit Fest last year, before the pandemic hit, that I heard of Anuja Chauhan’s new book. The title wasn’t disclosed yet and all we knew was that it was a thriller – a murder mystery!
Well, obviously, the first question in my mind was – ‘Ooh! Will he have the sinewy, veiny arms that all Anuja Chauhan men have?’ He did – yes, I asked! And then I had to wait an entire year before the book was released. When it finally did, needless to say, I was excited to read it and meet the new Anuja Chauhan guy.
In her latest book ‘Club You To Death,’ Anuja Chauhan talks about the death of a hunky gorgeous trainer and keeps you guessing till the last page. Set in the swanky and oh-so-fancy Delhi Turf Club (DTC) the book has characters you’d love or hate or simply find in your own neighbourhood!
The lush green gardens of the Delhi Turf Club, in a posh Delhi neighbourhood, is the last place you’d expect to be a crime scene. Members of the DTC are still reeling from their colonial hangover and want the club only to themselves. ‘No outsiders allowed!’
You, obviously, need to have a certain status, you know, to be a part of the DTC? Every member has been given the membership by their father who got it from their father and so on. And now it’s election time, will the club get its first-ever female president or will it succumb to its patriarchal ways?
Well, before we even get to the elections, the club’s hunky trainer, Leo, is found dead with a barbell on his throat. What looks like an accident is soon understood to be a crime. But who could have killed Leo? Was it the jealous husband of one of the 50-something women who flirted with Leo? Or was it someone in the club?
On a quest to solve the mystery, we meet ACP Bhavani Singh (who somehow reminds me of Amitabh Bachchan of Lakshya). ACP Bhavani may be close to retirement but his grey cells sure aren’t!
Bhavani recruits Akash (Kashi) Dogra, who has been a part of the club all his life and despises all that it stands for. And he also gets Bambi Todi, a ‘typical’ South Delhi girl who treats the club like her own home, to help him. Kashi – a gorgeous lawyer and a crusader for human rights -is also Bambi’s ex. They seem to have never gotten over each other. (More on that later!)
Throughout the book, we don’t move away much from the DTC. However, it is one roller coaster ride full of laughter, suspense and some Anuja Chauhan moments I live for! The crime may seem simple but as we dig deeper and deeper, you find that certain secrets just can’t be hidden!
Now that I’ve intrigued you enough about the book, let me tell you a bit more about my conversation with the author.
The first and most obvious question was about her switch from the usual toe-curling Anuja Chauhan romances to a spine-tingling crime thriller! To which she said, “I was starting to feel a little bit trapped in the classic romance format. And I wanted to write about older, riper or rawer equations between people. But at the same time, I love the propulsive thrust a romance gives to a novel.
“You can tackle family serious themes like, say, superstition (The Zoya Factor), toxic patriotism (Baaz), corruption in politics (Battle for Bittora). And you still don’t lose a restless reader because they’re hanging in there to see the couple get together. A murder provides a similar propulsive thrust – the reader hangs in there to find out whodunnit – so it seemed like a good structure to attempt. Also, I was really excited to see if I could successfully pull a killer out of a hat!”
And pull out a killer, she did! The moment the killer was revealed, I kid you not, my jaw dropped – it was four AM and I was sitting there re-reading that one bit over and over.
Switching from romance to crime hasn’t been that big a deal. However, Anuja does say she felt like she was nearing ‘unfamiliar territory’ by the time she reached the book’s climax.
‘In a romance, I would be aiming to get my readers’ toes to tingle, but in a whodunnit, I was aiming to send shivers down their spines.’ The toes did tingle and the spine did shiver at the climax, for sure!
Toes especially tingled whenever Kashi Dogra was in the scene. His chemistry with Bambi Todi was something else! Former lovers and best friends, they are a couple we can all somehow relate to – their teenage romance and pining for one another.
They are ex-lovers with a toxic past and a lot of unresolved issues between them. As opposed to Shaanu and Tehmina of Baaz whose romance is set in the ‘70s or Dylan and Dabbu (Those Pricey Thakur Girls) whose romance is in 1988, they are a modern couple.
“This is a very modern couple – their shit is current shit, and so naturally, their dynamics are very different,” she said while speaking about the difference in writing about the couple.
Speaking of differences, the narrative in this book was also a little different than the usual books – we saw most things from Kashi or ACP Bhavani’s perspective. While she has written stories from the male perspective earlier, it usually had multiple voices as opposed to the two here.
Pricey Thakur Girls was her first foray into writing in the third person. She says she found it incredibly liberating to be able to write from Dylan’s point of view or from Dabbu’s mom’s or even old chachiji’s point of view!
‘It was tremendously liberating, and I soon realized that writing the male voice isn’t very different from writing the female voice actually. A person is a person, once you are inside their heads and you know what they’re thinking, their gender isn’t an issue at all. I wrote Baaz entirely from Shaanu’s perspective, that of a twenty-five-year-old fighter pilot from rural Haryana, and it was no trouble to write,’ Anuja said.
Another thing that comes up in all of her books is underlying themes that have the potential to keep you up at night and make you think. The books may be tagged ‘chick-lit’ and may be looked at as the ‘froo-froo’ works (yes, someone has said that to me). But they touch upon such topics that you find yourself wondering about them.
For example, Zoya Factor is about blind faith and the repercussions of fame on people. Meanwhile, Battle for Bittora deals with corruption and nepotism in politics and Pricey Thakur Girls is all about state-sponsored propaganda versus fearless journalism. Like I said, issues to make you think about.
“I write about themes that intrigue me and keep me up at night. Club You To Death is a book about privilege and what it does to people. I pick these themes because they are pit various kinds of India’s against one another. You know, a sort of Bharat-versus-Hindustan clash, and when these clashes happen, sparks fly. And in these sparks, there is tremendous scope for drama, and tragedy, and romance, and of course, humour.”
Club You To Death’s central theme, after the murder, is hinged on the privilege and elitism that people have. I wondered if the author saw this changing in the near future with people like Kashi!
“Unfortunately, no. We seem to be getting more and more polarised as a society – the rich are getting more desensitised and entitled by the minute, and the poor are getting more and more marginalised. Things seem set to get much worse before they get better,” she tells me.
Though I have, clearly, been fangirling over Kashi, ACP Bhavani too was a character, I really enjoyed reading. He’s precisely the kind of police officer you’d want to investigate your murder along with his junior Inspector Padam Kumar! And if Club You To Death does well, Anuja says, ‘You’ll certainly see more of ACP Bhavani, his wife Shalini and Inspector Padam Kumar.’
Side note: Shalini reminded me quite a lot of Mamata Thakur of Pricey Thakur Girls, or maybe it was just because that is one book I’ve read far too often!
Now if all of you are intrigued enough to meet Kashi and ACP Brownie erm… Bhavani and Bambi Todi, you can get your copy of the book right here! And let me know your views!
Picture credits: Provided by HarperCollins
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