Author Anirban Bhattacharya had been chasing the story behind the audacious Chelembra bank robbery in Malappuram ever since a random Google search for a television crime series threw it up way back in 2010.
The robbery involving 80 kg gold and ₹25 lakh in 2007 had an instantaneous lure for a man obsessed with hardcore crime stories. But neither was there any information nor did he have the contact number of the senior IPS officer P. Vijayan who had cracked the case as the Superintendent of Malappuram.
Then in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, in his pursuit of a contact with Mr. Vijayan, Mr. Bhattacharya rang up his Kochi-based filmmaker friend who quite coincidentally was about to meet the officer the next day. That proved a breakthrough and thus was borne the book ‘India’s Money Heist: The Chelembra Bank Robbery,’ which is set to be released by actor Mohanlal here on Friday.
“It was like the universe conspired to make it happen. For a decade. I was after the story without any success and then a single phone call changed it all,” said Mr. Bhattacharya.
Then ensued year-long research and countless online meetings with the entire investigation team since there were travelling restrictions owing to the pandemic. It was followed by another year writing the story cocooned in Mumbai.
What drew him to the story was the audacity of a simple man, Babu alias Jaison alias Joseph, in pulling off what seemed an impossible crime. “Equally fascinating was the investigation by a good team of cops handpicked by Vijayan sir. There was much hit-and-miss, a good deal of luck, and a lot of hard work. Altogether, it was a thrilling story, which I have written almost like a masala blockbuster,” said Mr. Bhattacharya who was in the city in connection with the book’s release.
For a writer insistent on keeping things tied to the universe he narrates, the biggest challenge was to immerse himself in the local language, history, and culture of Kerala, where the story is set. That he had been to Kerala many times and had many Malayali friends helped.
“The book has many Malayalam dialogues, which was a deliberate decision to get the readers, even those from outside Kerala, to the skin of the characters. I have also used local analogies like the one used by Vijayan sir, who related amassing and discarding clues during the investigation to fishing, where one takes only the fish one looks for while releasing all others back to water. Maintaining that local timbre was the biggest challenge in writing the book,” said Mr. Bhattacharya.
Rights have already been sold for the screen adaptation of the book. While the specifics remain yet to be worked out, he prefers Mohanlal as Mr. Vijayan and Fahadh Faasil as Babu if the movie was to be made in Malayalam. Discussions are also underway to publish the book in Malayalam.
Apart from being an author, the Mumbai-based Mr. Bhattacharya also dons the hats of television producer, stand-up comedian, and actor. He made his debut as an author with the bestselling ‘Deadly Dozen: India’s Notorious Serial Killers.’ The latest is his fourth work.