The packed audience looks adoringly up at the makeshift stage where the writer sits, his grin showing off his dimples. It is the launch of If It’s Not Forever...It’s Not Love, and Durjoy Datta, in his formal shirt and low-waist trousers, can’t stop smiling. The floor is thrown open to questions. A teenage girl stands up and says, “I don’t have a question... I just wanted to say that I love your dimples, Durjoy.” He directs a dimpled smile at her.
Datta is 25 years old and has allegedly sold over a million copies of his books in the last three years. This is his sixth. All but one co-authored with a friend, always a different friend, always a pretty girl. “No, I don’t bring on pretty co-authors as a marketing ploy. The women I write with help me stay focussed. After writing so many books, I tend to become complacent. But most of my co-authors have a book or two to their credit. So they have vested interests in making sure we stay focussed,” says Datta. “Besides, if their pictures on the cover help me sell the books, I have nothing to complain. Unfortunately, none of them have dated me,” he adds.
Joys of being Durjoy
All his books have been bestsellers — Of Course I Love You..! Till I find Someone Better... sold over 300,000 copies; and She Broke Up, I Didn’t! ...But I Kissed Someone Else sold more than 200,000 copies. It’s not the exclamation marks in the titles that make him a bestselling author. It’s his dimpled smile and over 5,000 Facebook friends, each of whose messages he replies to. “I don’t mind that my fans are more attracted to my smile than to my books. As long as they buy my books, I’m okay,” he says.
The question round is over. Now, Datta is signing books. His fans can’t take their eyes off him. Most of them are girls. Most of them are under 20 years old. Each of them has a copy of his book. But they’re not as interested in an inscription as they are in getting photographed with their “favourite” author. He seems okay with that. He patiently poses for one picture after the other, holding his dimpled grin for as long as it takes. One gawky teenager and her friend step on the stage while another friend waits with a phone-camera, ready to click. One of the girls gives Datta a red rose. “I love you, Durjoy! I love your books! But you didn’t respond to my FB message,” she says. He apologises: “I’m sooo sorry. I’ve just not had the time lately.”
In a matter of hours, pictures of fans and Datta find their way to his Facebook page. A page that is already bursting with I-love-you-Durjoy-you’re-so-cute! messages. His fan following includes teenage boys too, most of whom admire his work or are with girlfriends who have a huge crush on the writer. Harsh, a 21-year-old KJ Somaya student, is one such fan. “I can really connect with the characters,” he says. “In fact, it was I who introduced his works to Disha.” The wide-eyed 20-year-old standing beside Harsh blushes. “He’s a very contemporary author. I have a huge crush on him more than I like his books,” she says.
‘I’m thinner than Chetan Bhagat’
Ankita Singh, 19, and her sister Arpita, 16, also look starstruck. “He’s so kind! He tries to reply to every message that is posted on his wall, even though he’s so busy,” says Arpita. “And just look at those dimples. How can anyone not love him,” her sister adds.
When his fans are not reading Durjoy Datta, they’re avidly following the likes of Chetan Bhagat. But equate Datta with Bhagat and his careful smile disappears. “It’s not fair to compare us. I’m younger and much thinner.” The smile returns. “But if you consider writing style, I guess in that sense we’re similar,” Datta says.
There’s a whole new breed of young writers — men and women — that make for pretty pictures on the back cover of the book. Their target is the teenage reader, one that is more awed by the writer than the writing itself. A woman writer who recently released her first book joked about how she asks her friends: “Do you like the front cover better or the back cover?” The front is a picture of a strategically wrapped naked woman. The back has a photograph of the model-actress-author leaning forward in a low-cut little black dress.
“They start off as non-writers but eventually become writers because of the way they market their books,” says Saugata Mukherjee, editor at Pan Macmillan. “This pulpy romance writing, somewhere between commercial fiction and Mills & Boon, seems to be growing as a genre. Post the Chetan Bhagat phenomenon, these are the writers filling the lacunae between literary fiction and commercial fiction.” Mukherjee adds that the target is specifically a semi-urban and urban readership between the ages 16 and 25, mostly college students, call centre workers and young executives that want to read about lives like their own. “That’s this kind of writer’s greatest achievement — they’ve found a tool where their characters speak and act exactly like their target demographic.”
Critic and author Shinie Antony says of this new phenomenon, “Sideburns or attitude will get a reader to buy the book. But to make him read it, the book has got to be good.” For this new group of writers banking on their looks to sell books, the writing itself doesn’t always live up to the picture of the author. But then, as Datta’s book sales show, the writing really doesn’t matter.