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Sonali Bendre: 'I'm looking forward to a few strong years of solid work and good roles'

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Sonali Bendre: 'I'm looking forward to a few strong years of solid work and good roles'

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In this exclusive interview ahead of her talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2022, Sonali Bendre opens up about her online book club, why she doesn’t want to write her second book anytime soon, her acting plans, and more.

Sonali Bendre: 'I'm looking forward to a few strong years of solid work and good roles'
Sonali Bendre runs a wildly successful digital book club. Inaugurated in 2017, Sonali's Book Club started as an attempt by her to get back to reading regularly and connect with bibliophiles across the world.
Today, her online community of readers is over fifty thousand members strong. The club has several sections, each catering to a specific need, and has featured numerous acclaimed authors, including Amish Tripathi, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, AJ Finn, Kevin Kwan, Charlie Mackesy, and Sophie Kinsella.
The actor and TV personality, who also wrote The Modern Gurukul: My Experiments with Parenting, which came out in 2015, will be talking to author Meghna Pant on her unwavering faith and belief in books at the upcoming edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival.
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Ahead of her session at the fabled literary mela, she opens up about how her book club has helped her tide through the last few tumultuous years, the books that she loves going back to, what can parents to do help their children read, why she doesn’t want to write her second book anytime soon, and her acting plans.
It's fantastic how you’ve taken an activity as solitary as reading and built a robust digital community around it. How has the experience of running Sonali’s Book Club been so far?
It’s been so, so amazing and fulfilling and I find it hard to believe that the SBC turns five in March. I’ve enjoyed it so much that time has just flown. I love it because it keeps me motivated to read, and encourages me to go out of my comfort zone and explore more books and authors that I probably wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for the book club.
It also gives me so many perspectives about a book or an author. I look forward to the book discussions because I am excited to understand everyone’s views which sometimes are so diverse. It makes you revisit and rethink, which is so interesting. I didn’t expect it to become such a big community and one that has carried me through ups and downs, from my cancer to the COVID-19 lockdowns. I’m just so glad to have this community.
How have books helped you in life—growing up, in your acting career, to fight cancer?
Books have always been my best friends. My childhood was spent constantly shifting base (my dad was a civil servant). Every two years I’d shift schools, so books were my security blanket, my friends, and have always been my constant source of support. When I started my acting career, they were my companions on set. I was in a line that I didn’t know anything about, so I turned to books for answers. For me there was no Google, it was only books that gave me the knowledge.
Through books, I was able to travel the world without actually traveling, and that has been my biggest exposure to the world before I eventually started traveling. They have prepared and taught me a lot of life lessons without my actually having to go through those experiences. The book club was a huge support system for me during my illness. It became my happy place, something I would look forward to—keeping the book club going, having the discussions.
It's been seven years since your first book The Modern Gurukul was published. So much has happened since then. Are you planning to write the next anytime soon?
It's true. A lot has happened since then. Writing is a bit of a lonely process. I didn’t want to be alone and go through that again, so for a while, I didn’t feel like writing because of that, and it still stands. I don’t really want to go into my own space. Right now, I just want to be around people and live.
Having said that, what I’ve been through has already been put out on social media through Instagram posts and blogs. I feel I’ve said everything I have to say. I don’t really want to relive it and go through that again. Also, a lot of people have spoken about it. However, as and when I talk to people personally, I’ll keep talking about my journey, but I don’t feel the need to write a book about it.
When I wrote The Modern Gurukul, there weren’t that many parenting books. And whatever was available were very doctor kind of books which were very boring. The Modern Gurukul had a more hands-on approach, in which I wrote about what I did because parenting is very personal and what applies to one person may not necessarily apply to someone else. So I wrote about my experience and how I dealt with it, rather than saying what should be done. Today, there are more than enough people writing about it.
Any three books that you keep going back to or that have left an indelible imprint on you?
I keep going back to some of the books by Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, Elif Shafak. They are very strong writers and have really influenced me. Pratibha Ray’s Yajnaseni has really been a landmark book for me, and I keep going back to it.
I never realised it until I started answering questions about the book club and books that it’s mainly women authors who have deeply influenced me in life. I think that says a lot about who I turned out to be, other than the fact that I have a very strong mother. Then of course there’s the comfort zone. Whenever I’m exhausted and want the comfort of a blanket, I pick up sci-fi and fantasy fiction. It’s like comfort food for me.
It's interesting how the Sonali’s Book Club has diversified over the years. My favorite section is the masterclass. What was the idea behind creating each of these segments?
We have SBC Lil Ones, SBC Discoverables, SBC In Conversation With, SBC Book Discussions, SBC Lil Libraries, and SBC Masterclass. The concept behind Masterclass was that many avid readers want to be authors. They have many questions about the process of writing. So we thought it would be a great idea to be the bridge between the readers in the community and the authors we meet.
It's always beneficial to get published and unpublished authors together on a platform so the published authors can share their tips on navigating the publishing world. Also, avid readers who may not want to become authors may still find it intriguing to learn about their favorite author’s writing process. Much like actors, every writer also has a unique process.
What do you suggest parents can do to help children inculcate the habit of reading? What do you do with your son Ranveer?
We have to adapt and use all the various things that technology offers to us. Books are going to take a lot more patience which the children don’t seem to have. They can listen to an audiobook instead, or you can read it out to them. Whatever it is, as long as they’re getting exposed to different ideas and the visuals are getting into their brain, it’s okay.
Don’t get stuck on just old schoolbooks, use technology to entice them. When Ranveer refused to read, I made me reading to him our night-time ritual, and he would listen. It went on for the longest time. My husband used to joke, saying, ‘How old does he have to be before you stop putting him to bed?’ I would say, ‘It’s not about putting him to bed. It’s my time with him and I see to it that we read. Even if it is me reading to him, I’m not going to give that up.’
I’m glad I didn’t because now he reads what he likes, whether those are big books or small books. He’s reading interesting authors. He might not be an avid reader, but he reads, which would not have been possible if I wouldn’t have persisted.
We miss you in films. When can we hope to see you in one next?
I don’t know about films but definitely on-screen. I’m back to work and I’m so happy about it. I’m looking forward to a few really strong years of solid work and good roles. My fingers are crossed!
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