Piyush Jha takes to crime fiction with his debut novel. The filmmaker and author tells us where the two overlap
Piyush Jha is dealing with a siege of emails and messages when I am introduced to him, he has only just found out that his debut novel, Mumbaistan, which is a collection of three crime novellas, has been longlisted for the Tata Lit Life Award. “I had never imagined I would be on a list along with other literary people,” he offers modestly. Piyush is proud of the contribution he has made to commercial fiction and speaks decidedly about its place in the world of literature. “It is only in the past few years that commercial fiction has opened up after Chetan (Bhagat) wrote his first book. And crime fiction is the largest selling genre in the world. I would like to see a bigger space created for crime fiction in India,” says Jha whose book has, within weeks of its publishing, gone on to become a bestseller, and is in its third print run.
Jha has till date been recognised as an ad-man and then went on to own the title of director by venturing into feature films. “There have been so many turns in my career but the commonality in the three or four things that I have done is my role as a story-teller. It frees me from the shackles of being one kind of person,” he says as we talk about the radio channels he is in talks with. “I don’t want to restrict myself to any medium.”
He discovered he could write when he was working on a film that got delayed and got another idea, which he considered as a new script. For fear of losing steam and to avoid the risk of energy dissipating, Jha decided to make it a short story, which eventually became a long story. “I don’t have a story where I was rejected 15 times till my book finally got accepted. The book was published in about six weeks of sending my manuscript out to the publishers and I had also sealed a deal to make this a series,” he says still sounding slightly amazed at how it all worked out.
And about Mumbai, the eternal muse for all craftsmen, Jha says, “I grew up in Mumbai. I write about the changes I have seen as a child, a lament of the changing, crumbling edifice for the essence of the city that is disintegrating. I love Mumbai and crime fiction and Mumbaistan is the love child.”
The result of studying screenwriting very closely is evident in Jha’s book; the stories are cut by scenes with precision, making sure that the pace never falters. “I have learned from my experiences that economy is paramount, you have to choose the best words and the best moments. In a film you have to be very visual; the actions need to narrate the thoughts,,” says Jha who has Mumbaistan the film, and Mumbaistan 2, the book, in the pipeline.