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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.

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