Nakul Kapoor is a quintessential hustler in the corporate world whose life transforms once he discovers his passion for writing. After moonlighting as a writer for some time, Kapoor finds his inner zen and gives up his job for a full-time career as an author. Is Nakul Kapoor, the protagonist of the bestselling Chaos trilogy (A Romance with Chaos, Chaos Down Under, The Chaos Project), a stand-in for his creator, Nishant Kaushik? “Not quite, although our initials are the same,” smiles Nishant, 39, based in Melbourne, where he juggles his corporate life at Telstra alongside his passion for writing novels.
Even though the enigmatic character of Kapoor parallels Nishant’s own trajectory in several ways, Nishant insists that “there isn’t so much drama in my life”. Born and brought up in Ahmedabad, Nishant was hired by Infosys on completing his MBA from Mumbai. In 2007, he visited Melbourne for the first time, getting lost on his way to dinner, before a stranger went out of his way to guide Nishant back to the latter’s hotel. “That’s when I realised how warm people of this city are,” recalls Nishant, who settled with his wife in Australia’s most happening city in 2015. “The Indian in me would like to stay at home and watch TV in my spare time, but when you’re living in Melbourne, it’s hard to resist being outdoors. It’s the sports capital of the country and something or the other is always going on, be it cricket (Nishant wrote for My Kolkata during last year’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup), football, tennis or Formula 1 events at the international level or just jogging and trekking expeditions organised locally,” describes Nishant.
‘Till date, I haven’t received the kind of overwhelming response I got for my first book’
Nishant’s first book, ‘Watch Out, We’re MBA’ was a runaway success and is due to be relaunched later this yearWikimedia Commons
The editor of his college magazine, Nishant was bitten by the writing bug quite early on. His first serious attempt at penning his thoughts produced a series of moving poems in the wake of the Gujarat riots of 2002. After that, he harboured hopes of writing his first novel, but doing so while getting his engineering degree proved too ambitious. Eventually, Nishant persevered and got published as an author in 2008 with his breakthrough book, Watch Out! We’re MBA, a runaway success that resonated with 20-something Indians in their attempts to manage studies, work and love. “Till date, I haven’t received the kind of overwhelming response I got for my first book. I was inundated with calls, emails and messages. The book struck a chord,” says Nishant, who is now working on an updated version of the novel where the characters are “less brash and more reasonable”.
Starting from his late-20s, Nishant entered his peak phase of productivity, churning out books at an impressive rate while steadily climbing the corporate ladder. This is where the Chaos trilogy was born, a product not of the author’s premeditation but the prerequisites of publishing. “At the time, my publisher (Rupa Publications) had already published A Romance with Chaos, and I had pitched a rather offbeat concept to them for another project. They rejected that and asked me to write a sequel to A Romance and make it into a series,” says Nishant, who nonetheless convinced Rupa to sign him on for a separate book, Conditions Apply, in the middle of the trilogy. “I was spending a lot of time in cafes in Mumbai back then and it became a habit to study couples and how they behave in a public setting. That’s what inspired Conditions Apply,” says Nishant, whose Modern Love-esque approach to love paints a powerful contrast between external appearances and internal feelings. All the while retaining his characteristic wit and humour, which matured across the Chaos titles.
Writing a film script in four days before turning it into a book
Nishant’s latest book, ‘Bhadresh Mhatre’s Slam Book’ was originally a film scriptNishant Kaushik
As someone who reads for “leisure and good grammar”, Nishant admires the likes of John Grisham, Khaled Hosseini, Chitra Banerjee Divakurni and Amish Tripathi. Glimpses of these influences emerge in different places of Nishant’s oeuvre, be it in his gliding prose, his understated sentiment or the moral dilemmas of his protagonists.
Nishant’s latest, Bhadresh Mhatre’s Slam Book, released last September and tells the story of a middle-aged widower who stumbles upon an old slam book in his attic. What follows is a quest to reconnect with old friends, during which he also revives his bond with his estranged son. “Initially, this book was a film script which I wrote in four days,” says Nishant. In four days?! Nishant proceeds to explain after suppressing a bout of laughter: “I had seen a script-writing competition on Twitter and started working on it, wondering why somebody set a deadline of four days for a film script submission. When I finished, I realised that I had missed the fine print, which mentioned it was for a short film and not a full-length feature. In any case, since I had a proper script, I tried to pitch it to various production houses and got some positive leads. But the pandemic put paid to all my efforts. That’s when I decided that whether or not this gets made into a film, I’m going to make it into a book first.”
A firm believer that his best book is always the next one, Nishant makes somewhat of an exception for Good Boy Joe, which he wrote in 2014, self-publishing his potential magnum opus due to a lack of interest from publishers. “It’s about a 24-hour journey a disgraced film star takes on the back of a scooter that belongs to a jobless vagabond. I wrote it as the ultimate Bollywood potboiler,” says Nishant. After years of wilderness on dusty book shelves in select stores, Good Boy Joe got a new lease of life in 2020 when the book serendipitously found its way into the hands of Kate Delaney, an Emmy Award-winning radio journalist in the US. “Out of nowhere, I got an email from Kate saying that she loved my book and wanted to interview me. My interview was broadcast across 16 states in the US. Shortly afterwards, a publisher in the UK (Austin Macauley Publishers) got in touch expressing interest to take up my book,” narrates Nishant.
Going forward, Nishant wants to work on a few children’s books, since “there’s an emerging market for them back in India. Apparently, the only Indians who read books these days are kids!” Speaking of kids, Nishant and his wife have a couple of their own, and spending time with them naturally tops Nishant’s list of priorities when home. “It’s only after the kids are soundly asleep that I sit down to write. Mostly, I write on weekends. Whatever I can produce after a work day is a bonus,” he says, admitting that with each passing year, “I’m closer to making a full-time transition into writing”. Not unlike Nakul Kapoor, after all!
‘All I wanted to do was to get Bollywood to treat writers with respect’
A voracious vocalist when surrounded by friends, Nishant remains a huge fan of the late KK, having opened for the singer when the latter came to perform in Melbourne in October 2019. But that is not where Nishant’s Bollywood connection ends. Among his yet-to-be fulfilled dreams is to see his scripts come alive on the silver screen. “During my early days in Mumbai, I worked on a number of concepts for Hrithik Roshan, one of which he really liked. But when the trailer of Ferrari Ki Sawaari came out in 2012, there were overlaps with my idea. That’s where that concept died,” remembers Nishant.
Then, in 2015, Nishant went back and forth with director Siddharth Malhotra, submitting a story synopsis that received no response. Some two years later, when on a vacation to India, Nishant saw a film trailer that left him stunned. The film in question was the Rani Mukherji-starrer Hichki, but the script in question very much seemed like his own, he says. “It wasn’t just the idea or the premise, there were entire scenes that had been written by me. I called Siddharth Malhotra out on Twitter with the necessary proof, but he rubbished my accusations. Ultimately, I didn’t go to court because I had neither the energy nor the funds for it. All I wanted to do was to get Bollywood to treat writers with respect,” sighs Nishant, who promised to himself to be “more methodical and vigilant” when dealing with the film industry thereafter.
Six years later, Nishant still wishes to write his own Bollywood blockbuster. While that brews in his mind, he has some unique advice for all aspiring authors: “Just get started. If you want to write, take the plunge and begin. After that, you’ll get a lot of advice… Don’t listen to any of it.” Why not? Because, says Nishant, “it's much better to have your own journey than to search for templates”.