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Tanuja Shankar

Monday, August 25, 2014



Tanuja Shankar Khan, an ace filmmaker, television producer and now an author grew up within a household submerged in literature and art. After completing her education from Patna, she started out as an academician at a local college but found her true calling in the television industry. Since then she has scripted and directed many hard-hitting documentaries on various social and political issues from Naxal movement to silk farming in India. Published by Ocean Books, Flames of Paradise is Tanuja’s first full-length novel. Set in the backdrop of militancy hit Kashmir, this adventure romance depicts a feisty woman cinematographer Snigdha falling in love with an investigative journalist, Roshan Khan. The book laced is with finger-biting moments, twists and turns to keep you hooked till the end.
We welcome Tanuja Shankar Khan on M&J to talk about her early life, career and her book Flames of Paradise.
  1. M& J: From an academician to a television producer and director, tell us more about this amazing journey.
    TK: I have been brought up in a very academic & literary environment, where I was encouraged to write, perform, do theater, read stories on AIR and later teach media education back home in a college in Patna from 1994-96 . With the boom in television, the natural evolution was to join the TV industry. I started my career in television in 1997, when I came to Delhi and joined one of the leading production houses. I was made in-charge of a well known food and travel show, “Zaike Ka Safar” for Zee TV. I realized that my forte was writing. From writing all my shows’ and documentaries scripts, to penning down my thoughts in my little diary, and finally to write scripts for all my films, it felt very natural for me to start my first novel in 1997. The way Wordsworth has said, “Poetry is indeed an overflow of powerful emotion, recollected in tranquility“, for me the journey of writing started like that. I wrote Flames of Paradise in 6 months flat and stashed it away, and got immersed in my television career for the next decade or more. In 2012, while I was doing my first feature length film in Mumbai, I revisited the book and completed it, with the added years of experiences as a film maker, making my novel enriched with many nuances that only experience can give.
  2. You’ve scripted and directed some very inspiring and hard-hitting documentaries, what inspired you to pen a fiction novel?
    As I said earlier, writing has been my passion and forte. Being the daughter of an award winning fiction writer, and a very sensitive one, I have imbibed from my mother’s writings, and have always been eager to grow old like my mother, writing and writing….even today when I see her waking up at the crack of dawn, sitting with her big cup of leaf tea, and writing her latest novel, I get more and more inspired to get into her shoes! Making developmental films and documentaries add to your sensitivity as a writer as you try to understand the issues that are troubling people at different levels. You never know when a real character can become the inspiration for your story.
  3. The natural progression for many television writers/directors is commercial cinema, you chose to be an author. Why?
    I definitely have finished my first feature length commercial film in 2013. So like many writers, even I got an opportunity to write and direct my first film in 2012. Though it is yet to be released, during the writing of the five drafts of the screenplay of my first feature film, “Music Meri Jaan’ in 2011, I could feel empowered by my ability to express through words, the pictorial and vivid way my televisionary expressions turned into dialogues and scenes, and then I realized, that my long experience of being in television and documentary film making has definitely helped me reach this stage, where without any formal education, I was writing my first film. So I did make my debut film before my book got released.
  4. Flames of Paradise is set in Kashmir, an adventure romance, tell us a little more about the book.
    I visited Kashmir a couple of times, during the making of a documentary in 2010 called ‘Azad Desh Ke Ghulam Log‘. Initially when I had started writing the book, it was set in Darjeeling. But as I visited Kashmir a few times, met the men and women, who have suffered after partition and under the hands of terrorists as well as the local forces, the final shape of my story took its form. As a film maker, whatever experiences I have gained, I wanted to put that into the writing to make it authentic. Hence it was very natural for me to make the protagonist a film maker who visits Kashmir to interview militants and gets embroiled in an intriguing situation. It is a story about a young, dynamic and strong woman, who doesn’t fear to talk to hard liner terrorists, and who has the guts to run away from the camp when she has been taken a hostage by the same terrorists. The story unfolded naturally for me, when I decided to choose Kashmir as the backdrop, figuratively and geographically. After all,which place would be more beautiful than Kashmir to fall in love in the midst of intrigue and adventure?
  5. You have etched a feisty female protagonist Snigdha in your book, do you see yourself in her ?
    To some extent, yes. Snigdha is a quintessentially modern woman, who has learnt from her past, and is ready for her future. She is strong, independent and sensitive. And a film maker. Hence, I do see shades of myself in her. But she is also a character who faces the challenges that as a writer I have placed before her. As the heroine and a protagonist, she is brave and feisty. I guess if I were put in her place, I would love to face those challenges that she handles so beautifully.
  6. Do you follow any author? Is there anyone in particular who has an influence on your work?
    Well I have been inspired by two great writers in my lifetime, Jane Austen and D.H Lawrence. Two diametrically opposite styles of writing, but both focusing on man and woman relationship, that has always fascinated me, as it is the most unpredictable relationship in the world. I have been tickled by the way Austen used to weave romance in her novels through characters like Liz and Darcy. I was always mesmerized by the way Lawrence dealt with mature and complicated feelings and emotions in books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons & Lovers. I am an avid romance reader. Probably I have read more romances than any of my contemporaries. And in Hindi literature too, I was fascinated by Sharatchandra’s translated Hindi novels, Shivani’s best sellers and Amrita Pritam’s sensitive books. And last but not the least how can I forget those short stories written by my mother, Dr. Usha Kiran Khan, that I’ve read while growing up? I feel that a story gets a wider and more exquisite dimension, when the pen is dipped in a bit of romance to weave the characters and their relationships. My most recent book has been a romance again, by a popular Japanese American writer called Sylvia Day.
  7. If you were transported back in time to live the life of an author and re-write his or her work. Who would that be and why? 
    I would want to be transported to the world of Victorian age when Jane Austen wrote those amazing characters. But I would not like to be there to change anything, but to relive those moments, the revelry of those balls, the fascinating encounters with the dukes and duchesses, the naughty romance between the maids and valets, the growing attraction between the lady and the lord, the haughtiness of the beautiful maiden and the arrogance of the Count who finally succumbs to the charm of his lady love! To see all that with my own eyes! Definitely it would be dream come true to be in the shoes of Jane Austen and write historical romances all over again with a modern passionate touch!
  8. Who is/are your favorite author/s in recent times? 
    In recent times, I’ve appreciated writers like Khaled Hosseini, Chimamanda Adichie and of course Sylvia Day who is a connoisseur of romance novels.
  9. Who are you reading currently?
    I am reading Pride & Pleasure by Sylvia Day.
  10. What are your upcoming projects?
    My upcoming project in writing is my next book which I’ve started writing. The title is “Will You Marry Me” which is a funny romcom fiction on the online dating scene. The book has extremely contemporary characters experiencing the most amazing and weird moments trying to find the ideal man online! Besides this, I am also involved in a short film project which has been shot and is being edited at the moment. It is called “Jhini Jhini Bini Chadariya” on the subject of how silk farming has benefited the tribals and villagers in central India in more than a 50 villages.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Day has Dawned...

The day has dawned...with a soft, sleepy morning, beckoning me to wake up and get ready for the day I had been waiting for...
A regular Thursday....with piles of work waiting to be done at my office...with meetings lined up...and a series phone calls to between meeting my mom and sis who have come to join me in the far...the most momentous day of my life!
The release of my first book...FLAMES OF PARADISE. The story of Snigdha and Roshan, that was conjured up in my mind, ages ago...the story that unfolded to its present shape in the last many years...the story that has started the journey of a Writer...

"Panting, her chest heaving with pressure, her limbs aching and her shoulder twitching with the load of her backpack, Snigdha kept running, without breaking the speed. Even in the chilling coldness of the weather, the whipping wind, and the dampness of the mist, she could feel sweat trailing behind her back, making her feel hot and stuffy in her warm Phiran. As her eyes adjusted to the foggy snowy jungle, she could see that she was caught in the midst of thick tall trees, not finding a clear track to follow. She stood still just for a second contemplating which direction to take, when she heard a crackling sound, as if someone was around. Then she heard running footfall coming from behind her, distant but clear in the stillness of the early morning. She gasped for breath, her heart quickening with panic and fear and she turned towards her left where she could see less trees, as if animals or people have walked through them. She dashed carefully and started running with her whole life, blindly, madly, not stopping even to take a small breath. She was taking quick panting breaths, gasping to take air into her constricted lungs, running her tongue on her parched lips, feeling her body sweating heavily, drops dripping from her brow into her eyes which she dashed quickly. She could feel someone behind her. She could feel the hair on the nape rising with alarm. Her mouth went dry, but she continued her sprinting, her chest hurting by now, buzzing in her ears, her thigh muscles straining with the pressure. She had never run so much in her entire life. A sharp outgrowth from a tree, dipping low hit her on her forehead, but she dashed it away, wincing with pain, nonetheless running with all her might. Suddenly, she heard a gunshot somewhere behind her and then a shout. Shocked and in panic, she stumbled and fell down. But instead of looking back, she scrambled on her haunches, ignoring the biting pain in her palm where she had hit it on the ground, and started running again. But she was thrown back, by the pressure of the strap of her bag that had got caught on the root of a dead tree at her feet. She pulled at it vehemently, her breath coming in short, gasps, more like sobs. Breaking the strap, she ran for her life again. But not before seeing a dark, shadowy figure looming large some distance away. She ran with all her speed, saying a prayer to her favourite God Hanuman to save her this last time. Suddenly, a hand emerged from behind and clasped her mouth, stifling her scream, and dragging her towards a clump of bushes, pushing her down into a dark pit which she had missed seeing. She tried to look at the man, but couldn’t as he was behind her. She kicked with her feet at his shin, and felt a wave of satisfaction at the grunt of pain uttered by the man. The man recovered fast and dragged her close to him, from her waist and dragged her bodily into the pit that was truly dark and hidden from the dirt track she had been running on. Snigdha moaned and tried to bite his hand covering her now frozen lips, hurting him."

Friday, July 25, 2014

Flames Of Paradise....Inception

The book...Flames Of Paradise...another milestone in my life..a journey that started its first hesitant steps in 1997... When a mega metamorphosis was taking place in my life...and the idea to write a novel flowered and took shape in a few I sat on the open verandah of my elder sister's sprawling bungalow in the foggy I walked on the damp serpentine roads with her, procrastinating about my future course of life...each character formed in my be reproduced on fingers getting tired by holding the pen...yet the words flowing out of mind onto the crackling loose sheets...sometimes watching the fine drizzle dampening the layered garden, sometimes breathing in the crisp cool air...sometimes the pen stopping it's journey when a soft, cottony cloud came kissing the doorsteps...that was the usual wintry day in Pachmari where I started writing my novel Flames Of Paradise....
It took me 6 months to finish my first draft...but the papers were pushed inside the suitcase that was getting packed for my onward journey of life...from Pachmari to New Delhi...
An unknown unknown job...and a whole lot of unknown experiences...the next 17 years was a roller coaster ride of new opportunities, new friends, new assignments, new lessons, and a new road. A road to live free as I wanted...if not wished....and once again the crackling pages, now yellowed with time, lay there at the back of my rented flat's cupboard...a number of times my hands reached for the pages....a number of times I read and re read the story of Snigdha...and a number of times, with a sigh I pushed it back...
To take it out once again in 2012... When another new chapter opened...when another journey was taken....when another milestone was touched. During the post production of my first feature film, Music Meri one of my Mumbai to Delhi trips...I grabbed the crackling sheets of my novel...and started my second draft. And third...and the final.
Thus was born a redrafted story of Flames Of Paradise...a love story of a woman who had seen it all..and was ready to write her future...