Like her dad, young author Zuni Chopra wants to chase excellence
All in the family
- Published 20.06.18
After writing her first book of poems, aged nine, she wrote her debut novel — The House That Spoke — that was released at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2017. And she’s only 17. On the morning of Father’s Day, we met Zuni Chopra at the ITC Sonar lobby, with dad (film producer and director) Vidhu Vinod Chopra beside her. By the time we got chatting, Zuni was her own person — confident and witty. Excerpts...
What made you want to tell stories and write a book?
I have always really liked doing it and I have always really loved how fun stories could be and everything that they could do and how within a story, nothing was wrong, nothing was right — just do whatever you wanted to do. My dad tells the story, which I don’t remember, that when I was really young, I was on his phone and he thought I was playing a game. So he took it from me and saw that I was writing something and he was like, “Did you write it?” I said, “Yeah.” To which he said, “Why didn’t you finish it?” I was like, “You took the phone away, how will I?!” Giving me back the phone, he was like, “Okay, here. Finish it!” So that was probably one of the first times I wrote something.
Have your parents always been very supportive?
They have always been very encouraging with everything that I have done. They have been very encouraging to both me and my brother (Agni, 19), who plays cricket — the odd one in my creative family. It’s a whole family of artistes and my brother, all of a sudden said he wanted to play cricket and my parents said, “Okay, we don’t know much about it but we’ll try.”
My first two books were poetry books when I was nine and 11, and I think I told my parents before writing The House That Spoke that I wanted to write a novel. It was a very organic process really — we discussed and it happened. And then when I got the idea of a novel, they really helped me and encouraged me.
You have been quite vocal about how marks do not sum up an individual. Do you think Indian parents are ready to accept that?
I genuinely think that we are definitely making progress because of just the fact that I have, myself, been allowed to take a subject like theatre at a higher level and for me to be able to take that subject in this country is really big. However, I do think that it is going to take a while for us collectively to get over the idea that math and science are the important things. I have seen students crying because of a 97 in math, no joke! And I was like, “Oh my god, I got 86 and I am so proud of myself!”
We need to remember that we get good grades because they are a way to our future, the future that you want to go to. That’s the reason grades exist. Like I want to get good grades because I want to go to a good university. So that gives me perspective. I enjoy working hard for grades because I enjoy getting them. My parents want me to get good grades because they know I want to get good grades. My dad has told me so many times that I can drop out and pursue what I want to do and parents should be encouraging like this.
Did you face resistance in the form of not being taken seriously enough outside of your parents?
Kind of, yeah. Especially when I went to Goodreads to read the reviews about my book, a lot of them were like, “You know for a while that it was written by a 17-year-old just kind of deterred me from picking it up…” and I was like, “Firstly, I was 15 when I wrote it and did it really deter you? Did it?! Oh, I am so sorry about my age!” So yes, a lot of people have said that. The typical reaction is that I got published because I am the child of famous parents but that’s just something that one has to deal with if one’s parents are famous. I can’t control that and I can’t let it affect me.
So what’s the plan after you finish school?
I will start 12th grade soon and am really excited about it. I want to go to a liberal arts-based university in the United States and they are really hard to get into. But the one good thing about applying to the United States is that extra-curriculars matter and so hopefully everything I have done in the writing field will work in my favour. Just the idea of going to university is such an exciting one!
If you were offered a screen-to-page adaptation of one of your dad’s films, which one would you pick?
I really liked Broken Horses, which is the Hollywood film he made and didn’t do well. I would also like to make 3 Idiots into a book, only because I saw the effect it had on my classmates in particular and saw it helping people.
How do you unwind?
I like playing video games with my brother and cousins, and playing with my six dogs.
Two things you have learnt from your parents?
Discipline, hard work and taking the high road sometimes are the things I have learnt from my mom (film critic Anupama Chopra) because I have seen the kind of nasty comments she gets when she trashes a Salman Khan or an Aamir Khan film. And from my dad, I have learnt that stressing and worrying is not useful; working hard towards something ensures you don’t feel too bad if the result does not necessarily go your way and to always chase excellence and not brilliance.