Filmmaker Piyush Jha talks to Budhaditya Bhattacharya about his debut as a writer and the give-and-take between books and films

Filmmaker Piyush Jha has now debuted as a writer with Mumbaistan, a collection of three novellas. As the title indicates, the three ‘explosive crime thrillers’ are rooted in Mumbai, and, in the writer’s words, are “an ode to the other side of the city”.

While Bomb Day is concerned with how a gym instructor gets caught in the battle between a ring of terrorists and cops in the city, Injectionwala has illegal organ trade as its background. The last story Coma Man describes the attempts of a victim of communal riots to come to terms with the incident and find his family.

Twists and turns

Although crime fiction is a genre he has never ventured into in his films (Sikandar, King of Bollywood, Chalo America), Piyush has been an avid reader of crime fiction, especially Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime writer. While the twists and turns in his plot are in keeping with the conventions of the genre, the stories are also unapologetically filmy. They employ what in cinematic vocabulary is called intercutting; the action moves swiftly from one setting to another before being hauled back to the initial setting.

As a director of three films, this technique came naturally to him. “The task of writing was very daunting. So I wrote an outline first and then filled it out with scenes,” says Piyush. But a need to economise was also at work. “When I read a book, I tend to skip a lot. I wanted to write the kind of books that I would read. So where many novels would use five pages of fluff, I’ve cut right to the chase.”

Since the novellas are informed by an understanding of films, they also lend themselves to adaptations into films. Piyush reveals that all three will be made into movies; he might even direct one of them. On being asked why one does not see enough give-and-take between books and films, Piyush says “Indian writing has been about turn of phrase, and it’s very difficult to do adaptations of literary fiction.”

Piyush entered films as a director of ad films. Prior to that, he was a student politician, rising up to the post of the general secretary of National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). “The university extended from Sawantvadi to Nasik. While campaigning in colleges, I got to meet a lot of characters. That is the base of my understanding of Mumbai. They filled me up with experiences and a lot of that stuff is reflected in this book.”

Owing to this first-hand familiarity, Piyush did not have to undertake a lot of research into the city. “My only research was on police procedure,” he says.

With the positive reaction that Mumbaistan has received, Piyush can turn confidently to the other two books that his publisher Rupa had commissioned. “I used to introduce myself as a filmmaker. Now I introduce myself as a filmmaker and writer,” he smiles.