Susmita Mukherjee is a bundle of energy. A popular Bollywood actress and theatre artiste, she has many feathers on her cap. She sounds quite thrilled as she talks about her maiden novel Mee and Juhibaby, a female-centric fiction that discusses mother-daughter relationship. “I have always been a writer. Many of my short stories have been published in various magazines,” says Susmita, an award-winning scriptwriter. “Besides short stories, I have written plays and television scripts. A novel is just another fresh aspect of my writing side,” says the author, who has enthralled movie and television with her fine performance.
In her 35-year-long career, she has proved her mettle in theatre, films and television, and shone well as an actor, producer, director, entrepreneur and writer. Her recent film Sold, directed by Oscar-winning director Jeffery Brown, dealt with a grave issue — child trafficking.
Mee and juhibaby by Susmita mukherjee Pp. 280, Rs 350 Speaking Tiger.
Susmita’s stint with writing began with Vinod Chopra’s film Khamosh. “I was his script assistant,” she says. “I was just out of drama school, jobless. I did script writing for a living. Though I got credit for Vinod Chopra’s film, I had been a ghost writer for a long time. I mostly wrote for the production company I set up with my husband. I wrote for television too. I didn’t want to put myself out to the world as a writer. I was doing well as an actor then and didn’t want to confuse audience.”
However, she feels content about her simple and unpredictable journey. “I started off as an aspiring writer, but I turned out to be an actor, then a producer, director and entrepreneur. And, finally I became what I always yearned to be — a writer,” smiles the author.
Susmita says she was not apprehensive about the audience’s response while writing the book. “It all started in 2007 when I had a dream about my aunt Juhibaby, a beautiful Bengali lady. She belonged to the Zamindar family and in my dream, I saw her being part of a shabby circus. That was the trigger. I wrote the first sentence of Mee and Juhibaby on November 22, 2007. Then, I had to wait for 11 years for the baby,” she chuckles.
As the title suggests, the book narrates the story of Mee a.k.a Meehika and her mother Juhibaby. They both lead an entirely different life. Juhibaby, an unwanted child, is married off to a family in New Delhi, where Mee is born. Mee follows a different journey. She loves acting and goes to Bollywood to become an actor.
What makes Susmita’s characters interesting is that, contrary to the typical heroines in novels, these women are imperfect beings. “They are not bold. Juhibaby just goes with the flow of life. She never takes charge of her life. Mee, in the beginning, does not try very aggressively to make something out of life. In fact, her life derails once her love life fails. It is only towards the end, when she faces a near-death experience that Mee realises the need to listen to her heart. But, that is the whole point of my novel. It is a work about people who fail, make mistakes and fall, only to rise again,” explains Susmita.
Ask her whether she has taken cues from her own life to mould these characters as Mee’s journey bears certain resemblances to that of Susmita, she says, “It is not autobiographical. Some elements such as names of streets and characteristics of persons I am familiar with have found its way into the work, but Mee and Juhibaby is not my life per se. It is an amalgamation of so many people I have met in my life and my imagination,” says Susmita.
Was including Bollywood a conscious decision? “Not really. The story demanded it. It is an integral part of the protagonist’s journey. It naturally happened,” she says.
The book has a lot to do with mother-daughter relationship. Susmita says, “In fact, the alternative title of Mee and Juhibaby was Of Mothers and Daughters,” smiles Susmita, who believes that her drama school days encouraged her to find her true voice. “There, I could read a lot. It widened my horizon. Those days let me explore different kinds of literature. All these have contributed to my writing. I slowly started developing my own little voice, which I put forth as a book. People may like it or not, agree or not, but I am proud of what I have written,” says Susmita, who calls her book as a gift to readers, wrapped with love.
“Of course, I would love the audience to respond and be touched by the story. But, the book was not written visualising an outcome in mind. It is written as a journey and is gifted with love. I give it to the world. How the world takes it is beyond my control. My work ends here,” she smiles.
And, the journey goes on. Currently, Susmita is working on her next two books — a fiction and non-fiction. “Very ambitious of me!” she laughs. “I cannot divulge more details of the non-fiction work, which is half way through. The fiction, titled Beyond Khajuraho, was initially written as a script by my husband. Now, I am writing it as a novel. It belongs to a different genre,” says Susmita, who is also active in cultural activities.
She is busy travelling across the globe performing the play Naribai, written by her. “It is a new experience. I sing, dance and bring characters alive on the stage. I have been invited to the North East, and New York to perform,” she says.
“Apart from that, I am planning to work more on my NGO Rudrani Kalagram, an art village in Madhya Pradesh. Formed eight years ago, it is a research centre for art and culture. And, I want to travel a lot. Now, life is all about body, mind, soul and writing,” she signs off.