1 Aug 2018

Bookmarks with Rajorshi Chakraborti

From Afternoons, 2:26 pm on 1 August 2018

You know you're South Asian when your heart quickens and gladdens at the opening bars of a Bollywood song, says writer Rajorshi Chakraborti.

Rajorshi joins Jesse Mulligan for a chat about his favourite books, films, music and TV shows.

Rajorshi Chakraborti has written five novels, including "The Man Who Would Not See" which was published in February

Rajorshi Chakraborti has written five novels, including "The Man Who Would Not See" which was published in February Photo: Supplied

Rajorshi was born in Calcutta in 1977 and grew up there and in Mumbai. He later lived and studied in Canada, England and Scotland and now lives with his family in Wellington.

Rajorshi has published six books – five of them novels – including The Man Who Would Not See, released in February this year.

He spoke to Kim Hill in March 2018 ahead of the NZ Writers & Readers Festival.

Listen to Claire Murdoch discuss Rajorshi 's story A Good Dry-Cleaner is Worth a Story for the Short Story Club.

You can read A Good Dry-Cleaner is Worth a Story here.


The Ramayana and The Mahabharata

These two Sanskrit epics are cornerstones even now, in Indian and particularly Hindu everyday life, Rajorshi says.

The stories and the sub-stories within were passed down to him by his grandparents and his parents.

Amerika Franz Kafka

Kafka is one of the great writers of the 20th century, well known for The MetamorphosisAmerika is less well known, but to Raj’s mind, it has everything people love Kafka for.

He says he couldn't write his stories the way he does without Kafka: he loves the style and the mixture of probable and unlikely, true and magical. Kafka's way of writing has freed him from having to be ‘realistic’ with his own writing.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

Rajorshi likes the way this "dream’ novel"  moves from the mysteries of a relationship that is breaking down to telling a story of contemporary Japan  the intersection of corporate and traditional and the dark aspects of the country's past.


'For All We Know' – Nina Simone

Rajorshi chose this for the yearning Simone manages to infuse the words with: “the holding of the notes, it's a triumph of sound and nuance and subtlety.”

'The Boy in the Bubble' – Paul Simon

“A lyrical, poetic achievement. The skill of finding a melody to which you can set such beautiful-sounding lyrics.

“Simon seems to delight in the creativity of the lyrics. It's indulgent, abundant, rich and full of delicious fruit and fat.”


Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne (2004)

The film explores rarely-seen sides of masculinity: feelings of inadequacy, indecisiveness and juvenility with a bittersweet humour, Rajorshi says.

He sees a lot of the problems the characters Miles and Jack face in his own male friends – and in himself. Many of his books feature noble, well-intentioned men struggling with their flaws.

High and Low, directed by Akira Kurosawa (1963)

Kurosawa’s morality tale is uncharacteristic. Much like Murakami's book, it has a completeness and is set in post-war Japan, which at the time was not that far off present-day India, Rajorshi says.


Rajorshi says Bollywood films and stories fill his life. The songs, the music, have been the soundtrack to his life to this day.

"You know you're South Asian when you hear the opening bars to a Bollywood song and your heart quickens and gladdens in anticipation of happiness.

“If you've ever watched a movie in a classic Indian theatre, part of the experience is watching the audience react to what's happening on screen as though it's part of a live theatre experience.”

His favourite Bollywood songs are 'Kala Chashma' and 'Main Zindagi'.



Crime Patrol

This Indian police anthology programme is “relentless and unsparing” in its look at the limitlessness of what people in different situations can do to each other, Rajorshi says.

“They look for stories far and wide across India: unquestioned rituals which have been used to oppress or dominate people for generations, or middle class lives with unspeakable cruelty and violence existing behind the curtain.

“It is also a shocking eye-opener as to how much gendered violence exists in this society. Scary and shameful.”

Black Mirror

This British science fiction anthology series has a quality of imagination Raj loves – it draws out the logic of some existing realities only slightly, it only takes reality a little further.

Writer Charlie Brooker is a former TV critic who follows the tradition of New Wave French cinema.

Rajorshi also likes TV series The Keepers and Wild, Wild Country.

His favourite comedians are Sacha Baron Cohen, Hannah Gadsby and Larry David.