Between exploring the complex labyrinth of India’s criminal underbelly and narrating it to curious readers through his gritty books on dons and mafia queens, there’s a lot that writer S. Hussain Zaidi still ends up not telling…writes Radhika Bhirani
A veteran of investigative, crime and terror reporting, Zaidi is known for books like “Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia”, “Mafia Queens of Mumbai”, “Black Friday”, “Headley and I” and “My Name Is Abu Salem”, some of which have got film adaptations.
Do you ever find yourself at crossroads about how much to say and how much to conceal?
“I have never been asked this question earlier, but I will be candid about this. I have always been faced with this dilemma in all stories of mine and I end up withholding much more than I end up telling,” Zaidi told IANS in an email interview.
“The reason is that in non-fiction, it is not just important to know the facts but it is also crucial to substantiate it with documentary or other evidence.
“Since all the facts are not adequately supported, I have to make a difficult decision of not revealing the complete truth but make do with whatever I can disclose and get away with,” he said, adding that “things have so far been smooth” for non-fiction crime writers in India.
Is it easier to tell an engaging story set in a non-fiction milieu rather than a fictional one?
“Writing non-fiction is always more arduous and challenging. Fiction is an expression of unbridled smart thinking and a gifted craft of storytelling, while in non-fiction, you are restricted by the facts and actual incidents.
“You are supposed to maintain the interest of your readers and keep them riveted with a repertoire of limited devices. Especially when pen pushers like me decide to not just inform the readers but also entertain them. So, writing non-fiction is a far more difficult process than fiction, which is liberating and gives you infinite freedom.”
Taking his fascination with the world of crime a notch higher, Zaidi has launched Golden Pen, a “Writers First” venture with a focus on creating crime thriller content that is platform agnostic.
The crime thriller genre has always done well, and its dynamics seem to be changing with television, web and films experimenting with such subjects more than ever.
Zaidi said: “Crime stories are a favourite staple with all segments of audience from 16 to 60 years old. Unlike other genres which have limited appeal, crime aficionados simply devour the stories. I think while other genres might get more exposure, crime will still remain the most favoured subject everywhere.”
The interest, he agreed, has only got a boost with the success of shows like “Narcos”, “Sacred Games” and “Mirzapur” in the recent past.
“These stories have only bolstered the prospects of more crime stories being taken seriously and even those who preferred to look at other subjects now find that crime is more gripping and commercially viable,” said Zaidi.
His acumen in creating gripping, screen-adaptable noir content is world-renowned, with his book “Black Friday” being later made into a critically acclaimed landmark film of the same name by Anurag Kashyap, and his in-depth research on the Mumbai mafia being used by international authors like Misha Glenny in “McMafia” and Vikram Chandra in his book “Sacred Games”.
His own Golden Pen is an attempt to ensure that writers are given paramount importance when it comes to adapting their work on-screen — whether as a movie or web series or other such derivatives.
He has joined hands with Vivek Lath and Jaspinder Kang of Goquest Productions for the venture. And two projects are near completion.
“We have tied up with a reputed production partner for both these and they are being actively considered by platforms. Both these stories are rooted in India but have a definite global appeal. One of these is most likely to be the first that you see from Golden Pen slate,” Zaidi said of the slate.
Are they producing any show or film based on any of his works?
“At this stage we want to curate the content and mentor the writers. We are partnering with other production houses to produce films based on my works and are closely involved in the creative development of those.
“However, we are in plans to produce a feature film based on stories either written by me or mentored by me.”