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No more scripts, it’s story time

Filmmaker Piyush Jha is ditching his clapper board for a pen. The debutant writer is exploring the crime underbelly of Mumbai in Mumbaistan. Udita Jhunjhunwala finds out more...

brunch Updated: Jul 28, 2012 19:20 IST
Udita Jhunjhunwala

It is rare for filmmakers to turn novelists. Even though many write fiction as screenplays, they rarely write novels. After his last feature film Sikandar (2009), Piyush Jha wrote a couple more scripts but he also started writing crime thriller stories. Encouragement from his wife and friends led to him developing these stories into complete novels that Rupa & Co is now publishing. The first of three titles is a set of three novellas called Mumbaistan.

MumbaistanThese novellas are set in the crime underbelly of Mumbai, but Jha is quick to point out that he has not revisited the done-to-death gangster-encounter tale. "When people think about Mumbai’s underbelly they think about gangsters and encounter specialists. My novellas are not only about that," says Jha adding, "There is crime, so there has to be police. Crime fiction is about crime that happens to people and society, such as serial killers, medical malpractice, organ rackets etc.

In fact, crime fiction in India is very under explored, especially in English writing. It is much more vibrant in regional languages and Hindi.”from book to movie.

Even before the book’s launch in August, producer Ekta Kapoor has already optioned the rights to one of the three novellas, though she is yet to choose between Injectionwala, Bomb-Day and Coma Man. “I have retained the rights to movies and hope to make one of my novellas into a film as well. I may direct the film Ekta makes or maybe someone else will,” says Jha who has already completed the other two crime thrillers which will release next year. “Mumbaistan is the first book.

One of the characters becomes a series character and appears in the other two books as well,” he says.waiting for reviews

Though the Chalo America maker is accustomed to movie reviews, he is nervous about the literary critic. “I am pretty sure people will like the book. It’s an easy read and the stories are entertaining. I have not faced literary critics yet.” He describes his chosen genre of fiction as ‘airport novel’, ‘bestseller fiction’ or ‘crime thriller’. He adds, “People are opening up to the fact that that the genre is growing and it will have to be critiqued and judged by the norms of that genre.”local inspiration

Much of Jha’s material comes from his student life in Mumbai – changing three colleges, travelling across the city and his experiences as the general secretary of the NSUI (National Students Union of India) and Mumbai University. “During that time I saw a lot of stuff go down. I observed a lot, especially while canvassing in colleges. That has built the flavour and characters for these stories,” says Jha, who found the discipline of writing quite challenging at first. His drill was to start writing at a certain time and not stop till he had written 1,000 to 1,500 words that day. It took him a year to complete all three novellas. “I write stories a lot, and some stories metamorphose into scripts while some I keep with me to go back to at a later date,” says Jha.

Piyush Jha


Write or direct?

Early positive reactions from publishers encouraged Jha to persevere with polishing the stories. “My natural instinct is to think of a script first. For some reason I decided to try this route. Sometimes you just have to take a step in a direction,” he says. “I have still not come to grips that I am going to be a published writer.”

So what does he think he is better at – filmmaking or writing? “I don’t know. You can’t say you are good at X or Y. You just have to keep doing it and somewhere along the way, you’ll get it right.” In that case, what does he prefer – writing or filmmaking? “Writing is lonely; filmmaking is collaborative. In filmmaking, you are always interacting with others. When writing, you’re unsure of yourself. On a set you get instant feedback from your colleagues. I am itching to get back on a set. My next film will be definitely be a crime thriller.”

Terror flick: A still from Sikander, Piyush Jha’s last movie

Jha’s loves

Crime writers he follows

Jeffrey Archer, Fredrick Forsyth, Ian Rankin, Lee Child



What is crime fiction?


Crime fiction happens in society. It talks about people’s daily lives and how those could be affected by these crimes.

Converting Sikandar to a book:
This suggestion has come up, but I first need to see how these three novels do

More writing:
I might want to do a true crime book series next

Photo: Kalpak Pathak

From HT Brunch, July 29

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