Tease of the Month: Samit Basu

When at the age of 22 this young man dropped out of IIMA, most of his world called him downright mad. Come 2013, we are glad that this man did what he did. For the world of modern Indian fantasy would not be the same without him. All set to launch his new graphic novel, “Local Monsters”, all about, well… living with monsters, here’s a quick chat with Samit Basu, the brains behind the Gameworld Trilogy and more recently, Turbulence.  

ST: From novels to comics. Was this transition planned?
SB: You will possibly be horrified to know that I did not read a single comic when I was a kid. In the Bengali household I was growing up with, comics were thought to be crude and uncouth. So what could poor little me do? I first encountered comics properly in 2002, but needless to say I was a broke student then so I spent all my time in bookstores trying to read as many as I could in a day! I fell in love with comics and when Virgin Comics asked me to write with them, I was thrilled! Who wouldn’t be? And then one thing led to the other and look now, I am working on a new novel and a new graphic novel. Three books and five comics since my first comic and I say life has been kind so far!

ST: Your last novel ‘Turbulence’ established a breed of superheroes and was incredibly popular overseas. So what made you think of these postmodern superheroes?
SB: The idea as such is not really new. If you take a look at most of the television series that have anything to do with superheroes, you’ll realize that they are trying to break free from the heroes that rose out of adolescent ST: What according to you are three graphic novels every comic book fan should read?
SB: Planetary by Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series and Watchmen!
wishful thinking and trying  to establish a league of people who are more grown up and in some ways, more real. And when we do step away from this age old idea, you have the characters you meet in Turbulence. You never see them do things a hero would do, on the contrary, they do things which a regular villain would. And that is because they want the change.

In the Western countries superheroes exist to protect the system, maintain a status quo. But in India, what system will you protect? Change is the least you can demand for and my superheroes are doing exactly the same. I am currently writing a sequel to ‘Turbulence’, ‘Resistance’ and it is about human reactions to superheroes. What ‘Turbulence’ is to Superman, ‘Resistance’ is to Batman.

ST: Back to ‘Local Monsters’.
SB: It is quite like a sitcom, but in the form of a comic book. About friends who live in Delhi, and then you realize that these friends are actually monsters. You have a Yeti, a Southern siren whose roots can be traced back to the Classical Greek sirens and a few other such monsters. The book starts off with their light-hearted shenanigans… what you’d expect any sitcom to throw at you, but gradually you realise a lot of social issues when these guys end up being in situations they want to be in.

ST: There’s been a comic boom in India. According to you, is it good or bad?

SB: Well over the past few years there have been a boom of writers in India and though they have sold tremendously, they aren’t exactly books I would read. But with comics, the people who are stepping up to do work are people who have been extensively exposed to the already established fraternity. I would say the right kind of people are taking a step towards the comic boom. Because of their knowledge and exposure to international standards they have a sense of good and bad and that is great.

However in India there are a couple of problems, the first being that this will perhaps be reserved only for a nice part of the society. In this country, any creative field that has almost nothing to do with Bollywood has a tough time to be accepted and India also differs vastly from countries in the Europe who pride themselves in being storytellers and of course no one expects to pay for anything. But with the way the industry is developing, hopefully we can overcome the threats!

ST: When he’s not writing, is Samit busy with a very interesting life we know nothing about?
SB: Very honestly, my life outside my writing is not very interesting. I am a regular guy who sometimes hangs around with his friends, goes out a bit, travels when he has the time and money to and mostly does nothing! And the nothing I do mostly, is very very boring. One thing I have realized in life after meeting so many people is the fact that these individuals who have interesting private lives generally shy away from the public. One a few manage to surface and I definitely am not one of them.

ST: Any wise words for your fans out there?
SB: I don’t think I can do wise very well, but I do want them to know that I am very proud of the kind of readers I have. Of the ones I have met I can safely say that they have all been extremely interesting and avid readers. But we are living in interesting times these days. I never thought there would be a day when I would say that films are getting better and books stupider… But here we are and we need to deal with this sense of alienation. So when you have an idea about what is good and what is not, you must always demand for things that live up to your expectations and never settle for crap!