I don’t live in my father’s shadow, I live under his light, says Vivaan Shah
The newly minted author, son of actors Naseeruddin and Ratna Pathak Shah, has a crime thriller out. It’s called Living Hell and is about a gangster named Nadeem Chipkali falsely accused of murder.
Vivaan Shah is 29, a theatre actor who has also appeared in some films. He’s now out with a novel, which he hopes will be the first of many. Shah’s crime thriller, Living Hell, is set on the fringes of the Mumbai underworld and follows Nadeem Chipkali, a man falsely accused of murder, as he tries to uncover the truth.
Shah’s protagonist is unusual – lawbreaker struggling to find justice. The writing is languid, almost noir-ish. The odds are stacked against Chipkali, and it often feels like the universe itself is conspiring against him.
Shah discusses the Bambaiya dialect he uses, the struggle to get his family to read his book, and rejection as a part of life.
What made you write a book, especially in this genre?
Growing up in and around Bandra, Mumbai, in the 1990s, I met a lot of people who were part of the city’s gangs. We played cricket with them and were friends with them, not by choice, but just because they were there. I found the bhaigiri and this milieu fascinating. I also realised that there are a lot of visual narratives about dons and mafias. Authors like S Hussain Zaidi have written non-fiction books about them. But in fiction, hardly anyone talks about small-time operators like the street-corner hoodlum.
Getting Bambaiya right in English must be challenging. What kind of a role does language play, for you, in storytelling?
I first began to understand the importance of vernacular prose and the poetry of the streets from the Hollywood films of the ’30s and ’40s and the Bollywood films of the ’70s. I think it’s my job as a writer to document subcultures in every way possible. Language is a big part of that. It plays a political function too. These are characters who wouldn’t speak English.
Writing your first novel, did you find it challenging? Was your family a helpful sounding board?
No. I think I kind of lost their interest as a writer because, over the years, they have been subjected to a lot of my juvenilia. I passionately went to them with my worst work. Now, it’s tough for me to convince them that something I’ve written is worth their time.
People mystify the act of writing too much. You don’t have to go into the wilderness to write. If you want it enough, you can write in the middle of a traffic jam. It can be pretty mundane and you have to enjoy the process at every level.
Did living in the shade of the giant banyan tree that is Naseeruddin Shah help, or in any way hamper?
I think this is the most important question you’ve asked me. I don’t live under his shadow, I live under his light. However, I hope that the name did not give my email to the publishers priority over other ones.
I admit I have advantage and privilege. It rattles my brain. But I like to think that that’s not the reason my work got recognised, as I have gone through a lot of rejections from publishing houses.
In 2016, I was trying to publish horror/sci-fi stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and got rejected pretty much everywhere. I recently read the book of short stories and realised why. Reading your work later gives you some perspective.
I want to be able to act and write in equal measure. The ideal stage of self-actualisation for an artist is if he or she is able to generate his or her own employment. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my phone, waiting for others to give me work.