Love, sex, dhokha

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 19 July 2018

Those who have lived in Mumbai at the turn of the century were well acquainted with its mafia and the term ‘police encounter’. Journalist Vrushali Telang has set her new novel, Prime Time Crime in the Mumbai of 1999. She tells us what attracted her to the genre and how she came up with credible characters and storyline

An intern reporter; a sophisticated gangster and a dirty love story — reads the blurb on the jacket of Prime Time Crime. Set in the year 1999, in Mumbai, it’s the story of Ritika Khanolker, a journalism intern who has found a placement in a local TV channel, City News. Her first assignment is covering the trial of A T Pradhan at Sessions Court. That’s her first encounter with the sharp shooter-gangster. What follows is a game of manipulation, deceit, lust and love. Written by journalist Vrushali Telang and published by Vishwakarma Publications, Prime Time Crime digs deep into the dark belly of Mumbai underworld, as it existed then. Over to Telang:

How did it feel to be in the shoes of a crime journalist?

I have been an entertainment reporter but the ecosphere for crime reporting was alien to me. So I started speaking to my ex-colleagues (crime reporters) in the news channels I had worked with. That’s when I realised that being a crime reporter, especially for women, was challenging. It was like working against the tide. I had once substituted for a crime reporter during my stint. It was an action-packed day where I oscillated from police station to sessions court to office and back to Enforcement Directorate. No doubt an adrenaline rush, but it was not for me. 

Is it true that women can conjure up any scenario except crime scenes as not many have direct exposure to it? Did you find your imagination failing you at times when creating the crime world or the criminal’s mind?

To conjure a scenario or a watertight crime plot one needs two things — knowledge of the place in which the plot unfolds and nitty gritty of action that will unravel. Having said that, research plays an important part in the writing of a crime scene. I made research the backbone of my storytelling in Prime Time Crime. My imagination found wings because I had studied my subject before writing or in some situations, as I went along. And speaking of women, I think women can write fantastic plots as they have that lethal combination of meticulousness and intuition. 

What made you go back to the ’90s, when underworld ruled the streets of Mumbai? 

My novel is specifically rooted in the Mumbai of 1999 because by then, the crime scene had moved from far flung suburbs of Mira Road and Kurla to posh neighbourhoods like Bandra and Worli. I was born and brought up in Bandra which has always had a chilled-out vibe to it. But in 1999, within a span of two months, a leading national daily reported about an extortion shoot-out early morning outside Jogger’s Park, and an encounter killing not far away from Otters’ Club. These were the places we frequented. 

As a student of mass communication, I inferred that mafia in Mumbai is ubiquitous. Like a ghost. They can see us, we can’t see them. I think it waxed to its fullest between 1999 and 2001, after which it waned off the radar and fabric of Urbs Prima in Indis, in a snap. Also in my research, I found out that maximum number of police encounters on record were in 1999. And that’s why I chose that specific year. 

In 2018, Ritika Khanolker might appear to be very naive, to those born in late ’90s and early 2000. The lives led are very different now than what it was in the pre-2000 era. Was that why you tried to recreate the period by giving references what it was like then?

The reason for the period of 1999 has nothing to do with Ritika Khanolker’s character. I wanted to write a manipulative love story set against the backdrop of Mumbai underworld. 1999 was not just about the turn of the century.

Coming to your question whether Ritika is relevant today or not — I think she is like any 21-year-old who is starting out in her career.  Her naiveté has more to do with the fact that she is an intern. Any intern in any field would not know the rules of the game as a seasoned veteran would. 

Having said that, Ritika knows A T  is using her as a means to an end, and yet plays along because she intends to cultivate him as a source. Somewhere along the mind games, they both fall in love. However, Ritika has no notions of grandeur that she will or love will change her man. She confronts him head on when need be, refuses money from him and despite getting vital leads from him, always works with the honest cop. She is an intelligent woman with high integrity and I think all the qualities I just elucidated make Ritika a relevant character in any decade. Most of my readers have loved Ritika and A T as people. 
What are your thoughts on writing a book that has a soft corner for the gangster? What was it about A T that made you tilt towards him slightly? 

There is no soft corner for A T. If you study his character and compare it with any real life mafia character, there is none like him. He is purely a figment of imagination. And the reason he is so well etched is because when I read my first draft, the crime reporter was very real and A T came across as someone, I had read in books or seen in films. 
I did not want A T to come across as “a gareebon ka Satya/Parinda/Company/Vaastav’... so I dug deep, for over a year. I went through the writer’s block for months. I’d often make headlong dashes into his characterisation, only to bounce against a wall. And then after many such attempts, one morning on a serene bike trip from Devbaug to Malwan fort, his backstory just came to me. Tailor-made. Ready to type. 
From being the crime reporter’s story, now my story was about A T. My weakest link had become my strength. I must give credit where its due. The previous night, my husband and I sat listening to the lapping sea waves on Devbaugh beach. Over stiff pegs of The Macallan, I chanted all that was wrong with A T’s character to date. The next day, I had him. The Macallan is the perfect antidote to the writer’s block. And Konkan’s pristine beauty of course. 

Give us a peep into the building up of the character of Babban Mistry and his habit of taking vapours in the patela (metal vessel)? That was incredibly funny.

 You like Babban Mistry, don’t you? As a novelist, trust me, he is my favourite character, I mean the one I have created so far. And this is because, he was not fully fleshed out when I started writing the novel. He is the only one who grew as I went along. 
Babban Mistry is the magic that happens as one goes on  writing. He is a creation from the process. There was just one thought I started with when I was writing the guy. He is a man who has a penchant for full figured, curvy women in their late 40s. Contrary to popular culture, in my conversation with men and about men, many confessed to liking full figured women but were sheepish about admitting it for the fear of being ridiculed. About the patela, that was more because I had the end in mind.  

What’s your next book going to be?

Social media has changed the way we love. So surely I am writing about that. However, recently, a crime comedy has come to mind. Now I am debating whether to write a love story or an erotic crime comedy.

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