Atelier Diva: Work, Play, Love
May 11, 2022
Oye Bubbly!
April 11, 2022 COMMENT comment
Oye Bubbly!
By Purva Bhatia
Smart, playful and (unbelievably) a mother of three, top advertising honcho Anuja Chauhan gave up a blooming career to go in another creative direction – that of authoring funny, romantic bestsellers. Now with yet another hand (where does she get them all from?) in the pie of Bollywood film scripting, she pauses for breath, sits us down on her rug, and shares her notes.
It's a cold wintry morning and snuggled under a blanket, Anuja Chauhan is sitting comfortably on a rug in her living room where she's working on her laptop. It has been a while that she has given up her job as the executive creative director and VP at JWT, one of India's leading advertising agencies. The 42-year-old's focus these days is on writing books; her novels – The Zoya Factor and Battle for Bittora – have been widely acclaimed and are slated for movie production. She shows us the cover of her third novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls (which was released at the Jaipur Literary Festival this January), evidently quite at ease with her 'nonroutine' lifestyle.

Affable and easy-going, Chauhan makes an instant connect with almost everybody. She laughs easily and seems to look at life with rose-tinted glasses. Her bubbly and vivacious personality leaves no room for pretence and even before you realise it, you are engaged in an animated conversation, sitting next to her on the rug. And that's exactly how her books are: Conversational, relatable and engrossing. While talking to her, you realise that the stories in her books are just an extension to her vibrant personality – belonging to a happy world, spirited, full of life…
If her books aren't proof enough, Chauhan's home certainly testifies to the fact that she's a happy, fun-loving and zestful person. Creativity flows in every corner of the house, what with miniature trucks as showpieces, eclectic photos, painted cylinders as stools beside a quirky bar, and books neatly stacked almost everywhere in the house, suggesting that perhaps all the members of her family are fond of reading. She has three young kids (aged 18, 15 and 12) and her husband is Niret Alva, who co-founded Miditech, one of India's largest production companies in India. When everyone leaves home, Chauhan spends time writing her book, columns for magazines, or screenplays for movies.
A catchy and riveting writing style may just be the gift her 17-year long stint in advertising gave her. "In advertising, all you have is 30 seconds to catch the attention of the audience and make them like the concept. Moreover, they need to be appealing enough to not bore the viewers even as they are watched again and again. So the pressure is tremendous. It's like a high-heeled shoe a fat woman is wearing… thinner the heel, more the pressure; shorter the ad, greater the pressure," explains Chauhan, the brain behind several memorable slogans that took the nation by storm (think Oye Bubbly, Yeh Dil Maange More, Nothing Official About It, Teda Hai Par Mera Hai, Darr Ke Aage Jeet Hai).
Another lesson she picked up from the ad world was to be open to any kind of feedback. "Advertising prepares you for criticism. You have to be thick-skinned and not take the comments about your work to heart. You can't be like a delicate flower if you are in advertising," she comments.
Her clutter-breaking ideas brought her several accolades and led her to become one of the youngest vice presidents in JWT at 33. She has been a regular to feature in the list of top creative directors by coveted business papers. Unsurprisingly then, the news of her quitting the job created ripples in the industry in 2010.
Chauhan had donned on a writer's hat by then, penning down her first book. "Advertising is an applied art. You have to follow the client's brief… so essentially you're telling someone else's story, that too under a lot of pressure. I now wanted to tell my story with all the creative freedom. I was like bohot ho gaya (enough is enough) applied art. Books give you the freedom of writing your story, your way," says Chauhan explaining her decision to follow her heart and pursue a literary career.
Having worked on Pepsi's account for 13 years, cricket advertising became an obvious choice for the setting of her first novel The Zoya Factor, the story of Zoya Singh Solanki, an advertising professional who ends up becoming the lucky mascot of the Indian cricket team. A rom-com, the book was highly appreciated for her witty style of writing. Written in everyday chatty Hinglish, it made for a fun read. "I think I write good dialogues because I try to keep it as natural as possible even if it means using Hindi. I like making a point but in a fun way, just as people want to hear it. You can make a heavy point in a light-hearted way. That is what I feel about everything in life. That's how I talk to my kids and how I used to talk to people at JWT," she says. It's obvious that her novels are meant for only Indian readers since Hindi words are not translated into English and references are very local.
Chauhan unabashedly picks up incidents and anecdotes from real life in her fiction stories. The plot of her second book Battle for Bittora was inspired by her motherin- law's (senior Congress leader Margaret Alva) political world. Tracing the entire course of a Lok Sabha election, the story combines political rivalry with history and romanticism – all in an entertaining and jocular plot. In both her novels, protagonists are females with great strength of character. The third one, again, is the story of one of five sisters named in alphabetical order. "It is a tribute to my sisters," says Chauhan, the youngest of four sisters herself.
Her previous two novels are on the way to becoming movies. Shahrukh Khan's Red Chillies Productions has bought the movie adaptation rights for her first book. But the rights have now been acquired by producer, Pooja Shetty (who has produced successful films like Prakash Jha's Rajneeti and Abhishek Sharma's Tere Bin Laden).
"In Bollywood, sab bhagwaan ke haath mein hai (everything is in God's hands)! It's all very dicey. The rights have been bought but I can't say how much time it will take," informs Chauhan. Her books might take some time to be adapted as movies, but she is busy writing original screenplay for movies herself, including Nikhil Advani's Gappi, another for an AKFC movie and one for UTV. If ads were about telling someone else's story in defined boundaries and books an open platform with freedom to mould her thoughts her way, screenwriting, she says, falls somewhere in between. "What's different about writing a screenplay from writing a book is that you have a couple of shiny crayons like the sounds effects and cinematography, things that just add to the plot," she says.
When not writing, Chauhan loves going to the gym and spending time with her kids. She says she does not get too much time to read these days but she loves re-reading portions of her favourites like Catcher in the Rye, A Suitable Boy, Georgette Heyer romances, Princess Diaries, among others. "Re-readability is the ultimate compliment to the author. If you can enjoy reading a book again and again that means it's a good book," she opines.
Speaking of compliments, there are several awards the stunning mother of three has won besides those for her work in advertising. She was among Femina's 50 Most Beautiful Women and MSN's The Influential and Most Stylish Women. She is the only Indian to feature on the jury of the most prestigious and coveted advertising awards in the world, The One Show Awards for the year 2011 and has been recently nominated for L'Oreal Paris Femina Awards 2013. Which one does she cherish most? "My kids make fun of my dressing sense so when I got the 'stylish woman' award I teased them," she says with playful laughter. "The award is flattering but it's good to get an award for something you do – like being on the bestsellers' list," she adds.
Making the most of whatever she does, Chauhan believes in living life hundred per cent. "Whatever you do, do it with all your heart. If you want to write, write because you love writing not because you want to become famous or get rich," she concludes.
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