Someone with a taste for crime — unlike one pushed into it in self-defence or by overpowering passion — will rarely stop after a single act. Just as a reader with a preference for crime writing will not give up after a single read. No wonder then that the Hindustan Times Crime Writers Festival too is a repeat offender; returning in its second year with an even better plot and more players.
“We have upped our game and brought in many more genres of crime writing such as real-life crimes. We are also looking at strong stories that revolve around urban crime. It’s a lot of very edgy material, very nuanced,” says writer and one of the festival directors, Lady Kishwar Desai.
While the first day of the festival on Friday saw three film screenings curated by Kaushik Bhaumik at the Alliance Francaise De Delhi auditorium, the second and third day of the three-day festival are when most of the prime suspects are lined up for interrogation. Whether your style is brutal and gory or intelligent and sophisticated, whether you prefer physical force or a dark mind at work, crimes — of passion, by the organised mafia, of the commercial kind, or those that have shocked us in the real world, will all be placed under the scanner — as the best writers, film-makers and even lawyers, who make it their business to deal with perpetrators, get down to the work of dissection. Picture this — Kathryn Harkup discussing the use of poisons in Agatha Christie’s writings, Avirook Sen turning the focus beyond the actual Aarushi murder case to examine the possible “miscarriage of justice’ that followed, Sheela Raval speaking of meeting Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan, and Sudhir Mishra giving his perspective to ‘The Badlands of Indian Cinema’. And we have not even turned half the pages of this thriller yet. To make your own deductions, be there at the scene of crime.
Jerry Pinto, Writer
“All crime writing is about a moral problem, where a moral order and society’s order have been disrupted and the book then goes on to find a resolution. So my session will look at how each book by its resolution also presents how it looks at society,” says the poet and writer, who will be in conversation with Ravi Singh of Speaking Tiger. “I think we need as many literary festivals as we can have as long as the purpose is about reading and not about the festival itself. I find that genre fiction tends to get excluded from most mainstream festivals, though genre fiction is always mainstream in its thrust. I prefer crime fiction, unless it is something like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If someone gives me a work of non-fiction crime I will be happy to try it. But if it’s my money I am putting on the counter, it is almost always for fiction,” he says.
Karuna Nundy, Advocate
“Storytelling lies at the heart of justice. Competing stories are told in the courtroom; the one that fits the evidence and the law best, wins. Judges exercise discretion in each case though; especially in the Supreme Court, which is allowed by the Constitution to do ‘complete justice’ in each case — less trammelled by the procedural rules of lower courts. Imaginative empathy, borne from experiences and stories outside court may claim space then, in the judicial mind,” says Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy, who wrote on storytelling and justice in the context of a Supreme Court case that quoted from Hindi cinema. “This is why diversity of gender and caste and religion is important on the Bench.” “The Supreme Court is not an emotional place, but it seats men and women with hearts as well as heads; justice, fundamental rights and Article 142 of the Constitution require them to use reason as well as imaginative empathy with their fellow citizens,” she says.
Sandeep Unnithan, Journalist-Writer
“I will be in conversation with Sheela Raval. She is one of the few people who has met and spoken to both Dawood and Chhota Rajan. I will request her to play some of the recordings of her conversations with them. It should be very interesting. Unusual crimes and criminals in the real world inspire journalists, writers and sometimes even police personnel to write about these cases. The reason for one writing a book about real-life crimes is that you can’t present it with as much depth as you would like to in a newspaper or magazine article.,” says the author of Black Tornado – The Three Sieges of Mumbai 2006. “It is a challenge in such writings to engage the reader’s attention because, unlike in a fictional crime thriller, here you already know the end. The trick is to present a narrative that draws readers in, to assure them that there is something here that they don’t know about already,” he says.
Sudhir Mishra, Film Director
“For me, crime writing and crime films are very interesting because they explore another facet of human beings. Unfortunately, in India, crime writing is looked down upon and the genre is not taken seriously, which is why there is a tendency among writers to veer away from the crime writing genre. This is not so in the West, where crime books and films explore the area of grey in human character. People like Alfred Hitchcock and Raymond Chandler and their works are hugely respected,” says the director of award-winning films like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Main Zinda Hoon. “Personally, I am drawn more towards fiction than real-life crimes. I am a story-teller and for me there is a kind of truth in fiction. I believe the role of fiction is becoming increasingly important in our times and story-tellers have a very important responsibility.” His session at the festival is titled Shoot to Kill: The Badlands of Indian Cinema.
Ravi Subramaniam, Writer
“I have two sessions at the festival. The first is centered around my book The Bestseller She Wrote, which is about the illicit love affair between two authors. Many have linked it to real-life authors so one can expect a lot of juicy tidbits. My second session is on financial crimes. Financial crimes can impact both the rich and the poor,” says the banker-author. “Within crime writing we need to evolve sub-genres such as medical crimes, and defence and armed forces crimes. As these subjects need a fair amount of expertise, they can only evolve when people with domain knowledge start writing,” he says.
Avirook Sen, Writer
“For me, the book Aarushi goes beyond the case to look at many other things such as judicial accountability, the accountability of investigating agencies, and the very system of investigating crimes in India,” says journalist and author Avirook Sen. “The session will look at the way gross miscarriage of justice can take place. The reason why the case assumed such importance is because it held up a mirror to Indian society and institutions. I don’t look at it purely as a book on crime,” he says. Sen will be in conversation with Sonia Singh and Niharika Karanjawala.
Lady Kishwar Desai Writer
“I have two sessions, the first of which is with French writer Veronique Ovalde. I really find her writing to be very interesting. It’s almost like a slice of urban life, with very nuanced characters, very interesting women. Often, when we read a crime novel, we can form an opinion about which character is good and which is not. But that is not the case here. My other session is Mr Funnybones with Zac O’Yeah and Shovon Chowdhury,” says writer Kishwar Desai, also a director of the festival. “I feel we need more niche festivals like this one. Most literary festivals have become much too wide in their scope. And we all love attending those, of course. But it doesn’t give one the opportunity to really get into the nuances of a particular genre,” she adds.
Setting The Scene
What: Hindustan Times Crime Writers Festival
Where: Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place
When: 10.30am to 6.30 pm, January 16&17
Entry is free