Screenwriter-film director Piyush Jha, whose debut crime fiction novel Mumbaistan is into its third reprint, talks about what prompted him to take to this genre of writing

Mumbai has been the subject of numerous books, both factual and fictional. Also known as Maximum City, the metropolis inspires scores of writers and filmmakers to present the city in its various hues and avatars. But, author of Mumbaistan, Piyush Jha, says there are very few crime fiction novels that are set in Mumbai. Since its release in September, Piyush’s 3-in-1 crime novel has gone into its third reprint. “That’s around 30,000 copies sold, I believe. And, for a first-time writer, this is encouraging,” says Piyush.

The transition, or rather adding an extra dimension to his creative self, has helped Piyush bridge the gap between film direction and novel writing. “In a way, I think, my script writing and film direction experience has helped me create well-etched characters and scenes you can actually visualise as you read the book,” says Piyush, director of Chalo America (2000), King of Bollywood (2004) and Sikandar (2009).

Mumbaistan, a work of fiction based on a fictional city, modelled on Mumbai, comprises three stories — Bomb Day, Injectionwala and Coma Man. “There are suspense thrillers and murder mysteries, but I there is a vacant space when it came to crime fiction, and that’s where I would like to slot Mumbaistan. When I started writing Bomb Day, I was also working on a script for my next film; hence its short story format. On completion, I sent it to some publishers and a few of them accepted the manuscript. With Rupa, I found a like-minded publisher who encouraged me to write two more stories to make it a 3-in-1 novel. I have also agreed to write two more novels in the same genre, but these will be full-length ones. I plan to complete the final draft by year-end. I have to get back to filmmaking next year,” says Piyush.

Did he write Mumbaistan with a film in mind? “Not really. If I did that, I would have had a general pattern in place, ready for adaptation into a screenplay. But, what has emerged is akin to a film — with flashbacks, story going back and forth, lifelike characters and locations. A reader said it was like reading a movie!”

How much of it is fact/fiction? “It is purely fictional; even the title Mumbaistan. But, the take-off point is a real incident that has taken place in the city. Like, the 26/11 terrorist attacks inspired Bomb Day. The premise was: what if another group of people had landed in the city on the same night and is still in hiding, waiting for the right time to strike? Coma Man is about a guy who disappeared in the 1993 riots. He has been in coma for 19 years. His recovery is slow, but something said in his room on a particular day which happens to be his wife’s birthday, jogs his memory and he comes out of coma. He traces events that took place over those 19 years and begins a search for his wife. The story, therefore, goes back and forth: past and present come together on that particular day. I have used a real incident and woven fiction into it. It’s a comment on society by a writer of crime thrillers.”

Is there any likelihood of the book being made into a film? “Some producers are interested in making all the three stories into films. The first choice would be to offer the three stories to two directors and let them pick whatever they want, and I will make the one that’s left out into a film. It doesn’t matter, because I have written all the three and treat them with equal importance,” says Piyush.

Film and television producer Ekta Kapoor, who released Mumbaistan in Mumbai, had this to say about Piyush’s novel: “A potboiling page-turner packed with three main ingredients — entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.”