Jordan-based journalist and writer Saba Imtiaz’s novel Karachi, You’re Killing Me! is the newest entry in the growing list of Bollywood films that have been adapted from popular books. We speak with Imtiaz to learn more about her book, her thoughts on film adaptations, her future projects, and more.
Is your novel an autobiographical account?
It’s not autobiographical, but I identify with the character, Ayesha Khan. She’s a reporter based out of Karachi, Pakistan, which is similar to my life and work experience, in a way. Some of the reporting experiences in the book have been drawn from real life. The one thing that I would say is quite similar is the character’s relationship with her cat.
A lot of movies are adapted from books, but often don’t turn out to be as good as the source material. Does that worry you?
Adaptations are often expected to be the same as the book, and maybe that’s where the trouble lies. As viewers and readers, we all tend to compare the two. But I’m not worried, because the movie, for me, is not a word-for-word adaptation. The movie is inspired from the story. It’s not set in Karachi, so I am not worried about such details. I’m interested in seeing how it translates on the big screen, which actors they cast, what lines they use, and how they put it in their local context.
Were you approached earlier for a film adaptation of the book?
A lot of people did write to me and a lot of people still approach me, but when it came down to finalising it, the deal with Indian film-maker Sunhil Sippy was the one that worked out. Sonakshi Sinha will be the lead actor in the project. I am a huge fan of Bollywood. You don’t really imagine that you’ll write a book and it will be turned into a film. I’m really excited and I’m glad it worked out.
Even though your book is based in Karachi, it’s being adapted to an Indian context. What do you think makes it relatable?
I think it’s because the book is set in a massive city, and the problems that people face in such cities are essentially the same. Having to work in a competitive office, and working in a big city, which comes with its own set of problems such as money, transport, buying alcohol — all these things are a large part of the middle-class urban experience. You’ll face similar problems anywhere in the world.
When is your next book, No Team of Angels, expected to be completed?
I started writing it before my first novel. I’ve never delayed a project so much, but it is expected later this year. It’s a non-fiction book about reported experiences, so it will have elements that will help people understand how Karachi functions and how crime permeates there.
Do you plan to write full-time?
I wish, but I continued with journalism even after I wrote the book. I wish I had this life of leisure and luxury, where I could sit and write all day, but I don’t think that’s on the cards. The grass always seems greener on the other side, but there are days where I was writing the book and I couldn’t do news stories. For me, it’s always going to be about both. I don’t think I have the luxury of simply writing fiction. For those who started off as journalists, it’s very difficult to give up that gene entirely.
Cyril Almeida was recently put on the Exit Control List. What do you think of the state of journalism in Pakistan today?
I don’t work in a traditional newsroom anymore, so it’s hard for me to give you an exact picture of how things are, but I feel it’s between a rock and a bigger rock. I don’t think there’s much hope there. If you have a senior journalist on the Exit Control List, that in itself says a lot about the state of journalism in the country.
The ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan have created controversies around Bollywood projects that feature Pakistani actors. Do you think there will be any controversy about or resistance to the film adaptation of your book?
It’s like you’re asking me to predict the future. You see, a lot of these things are well thought-out by those who do the protesting. But I have no idea how things will be next April when the movie is set to come out. We have a selective memory, and things are known to change very quickly as well. Also, none of these things work in a rational manner, so it’s hard to predict. I wish I was a fortune teller and could tell you how things would pan out.