Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 2/27/2022 12:40:20 AM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Debleena Majumdar

Debleena Majumdar has worked for over 20 years in leadership roles in Finance, Strategy, and Education across several global firms apart from co-founding Kahaniyah, a company to simplify strategy with data storytelling. Her business articles have been published in Economic Times, Economic Times Prime, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Your Story. She has also written plays that have been performed in Bengaluru. She is a trained Hindustani classical vocalist. She loves singing and when she forgets the real lyrics, she makes up her own. Humour is her forever panacea. She has recently come out with the book “Sabu: The Remarkable Story of India's First Actor in Hollywood”. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, she talks about her book, her writing journey, her favourite books and authors, and much more. Read on!

Please tell us more about Debleena Majumdar as a person.

Growing up, I loved both numbers and words. When it came to choosing a profession, I chose numbers, graduating in Statistics and then specializing in Finance. For most of my career, weekdays found me working in corporate leadership roles across Investment Management, Investment Banking and Venture Capital in both global firms and in start-ups. And weekends were reserved for singing and for stories. I thought that these two parts of my life were disparate and destined never to meet. It was a few years back when I became an entrepreneur, and co-founded a venture called Kahaniyah, that I realized that storytelling, and specially, storytelling backed by data, was my bridge across both these worlds. So today, I write on business, on finance, on history, on crime. I work on projects in the areas of strategy, finance, and social impact; all linked by the invisible glue called storytelling. I love singing especially Sufi and folk songs and often create my own lyrics for a song when I forget the real ones.

Has writing always been a part of your life? Or did you chance upon it later and then instantly fell in love with it?

Much before writing, reading has been a part of my life. I have been an avid reader all my life and my superheroes were authors who gave me such magical moments of learning and imagination through their writing.
For the longest time, all I wrote were bullet points on power point presentations and limericks when I got bored during long meetings. It was an early onset of midlife crisis, the encouragement from my family, and a simultaneous jump into the unknown with entrepreneurship that led me to explore writing.
Non-fiction writing and specially writing on business and on finance was a natural choice. My articles on business started being published by leading journals like ET, Huffington Post etc. and I started contributing articles to Economic Times Prime.
History has been another abiding passion for me ever since grade six when I wanted to carry a spade around for every holiday, convinced that I would unearth a centuries-old civilization. Researching on history therefore was the next natural progression for me and I love the journey of historical research.
The road to fiction was even more unbelievable, even though my first published book was a crime fiction. But I have grown up on crime stories and have spun many a whodunit in my head. The early belief shown by my brilliant literary agent and guide, Mr. Suhail Mathur and by my publishers, Vishwakarma and Locksley Hall, made me believe I could write, across these genres. I am deeply grateful to them.

Please tell us more about your book “Sabu: The Remarkable Story of India's First Actor in Hollywood”.

The book was a deep dive into multiple aspects of Sabu’s life. Primarily, of course, his journey as an actor and the movies he acted in over the years and how that changed, even as audience tastes for movies evolved. Apart from that, the many dramatic moments that he encountered in his life and his way of dealing with and bouncing back from them, and reinventing himself in multiple diverse ways as life threw many curveballs at him was what made the story interesting for me to research and to write on. I have covered the historical backdrop against which he led his life, the lucky accidents, the brave choices, the sudden shifts, and the world changing events that underpinned his journey. You can call the book an intermingling of the story of his movies, the history of that time and through it all, the story of his life.

Sabu Dastagir’s character is interesting, and his story of becoming a Hollywood actor fascinating. Tell us more.

Yes, it is a fascinating story. A famous British Director discovered him while he was living in Mysuru. He was an orphan. From there, his life took a miraculous turn as he travelled across the ocean to complete the shoot for his first film. His early magnetic screen presence translated into a career, first in the UK and then in Hollywood. But he was more than just an actor. He loved being with animals and at some point, in his life, he conducted a circus act. During the Second World War, he fought as a tail gunner and got commended for his action in the field. He set up a business with his brother. There were many arcs that his life went through, and I found researching and sharing the insights from that, the most fascinating part of his story.

What inspired you to author this book? When did you start authoring this book and how long did it take you to finish it?

It stemmed from a discussion I had with my brilliant literary agent and guide, Mr. Suhail Mathur of The Book Bakers and noted Bollywood producer, Mr. Sunil Bohra, where we were wondering how people today know so little about the miraculous journey of Sabu and his early work in British and Hollywood movies. Then, when I started researching more, I found multiple other facets of his life which made his real life as interesting, if not more than that of some of the characters he would have played on screen. And all this happening in the backdrop of the historical events of the Indian freedom movement and Second World War made it even more engrossing. It took me about five to six months for the research. That was really detailed. The actual writing process was faster, after I had completed the research.

Can you tell us more about your writing process for this book? What kind of research did authoring this book entail?

There were three kinds of research involved in the writing process of this book.
One, the research on Sabu himself and the various aspects of his life. I researched a lot from newspaper interviews to books, articles, and any other references I could find. I was trying to form a picture of his voice pieced together from all of these.
Second were the movies. To understand more, I watched some of the movies and tried to understand the setting and the way the characters had been set up. I also found the film reviews, the movie stills, and that helped me get a deeper understanding of the cinematic aspects.
Third and not the least, I delved into the historical part of the journey. I love historical research. And I tried to match timelines and events and how it would have shaped the journey of Sabu’s life and his choices.
It was a fascinating research journey for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Can you recommend five books from any genre, for our readers to add to their reading lists, that you particularly cherish?

“The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel, “The Devotion of Suspect X” by Keigo Higashino, all books written by Agatha Christie, including her Mary Westmacott novels, “Shajarur Kanta” and other Byomkesh stories by Saradindu Bandopadhyay, and short stories of Satyajit Ray. I could go on.

What are you working on next? Any new literary projects that our readers should look out for?

I am working on a children’s book now which introduces the idea of Money and savings to them through a fun, storytelling style. I feel financial literacy as a topic is not introduced early enough to kids, leading to fear about money later. Having worked for a long time in Finance and in storytelling, this is something I really wanted to work on.
I am also researching on Bengal history in the 1700s and writing some non-fiction stories based on that time. History fascinates me and I find it like an unfinished story which we can experience.
Apart from this, I will continue to write more crime stories.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

“A word after a word after a word is power.” ― Margaret Atwood
As someone who came from the world of numbers into the world of words, writing is a craft I needed to hone myself. It is a discipline. And for me, Margaret Atwood spelt out the journey. It is built, word by word.

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