Trends in Indian Thriller Writing
For generations these epics have mesmerised billions. From the thatched house of the poorest of the poor to the palace of the richest of the rich, the appeal of those two epics is universal. To me these are the first two thrillers of India – each one is rich with plot, sub plot, climax, anti climax, war, conspiracy, love – in a nutshell with all the ingredients of a successful thriller. To me Ramayana and Mahabharata were not only sagas of love, hate and revenge coupled with a fast flow of the story and twist and turns all around, they are the first instances of successful thrillers.
Let us for some time leave them aside and let us cross examine some of the recent thrillers – discuss about their styles and try to arrive at a unified theory of thriller that will explain to us, albeit partially, which direction the art of thriller writing in India is headed.
How does a thriller differ from a conventional crime story? Sometimes the question is too difficult to answer. Uncertainty is a feature of both the types. In some of the most successful thrillers of contemporary times, you will not be able to find the offender unless you turn to the last
word on the last page. Between the front and back covers the streaming of events will only confuse you; pointing towards some other person or persons as offenders. That is true for most of the successful crime detection stories, too.
Then where lies the difference?
The basic difference is the speed. Sheer speed makes a thriller completely different from conventional crime detection. There are flashes of intelligence throughout in both the types, but you just can’t expect the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles to flow with the same speed as The Da Vinci Code. It is the starting of a modern day thriller that can simply render you speechless. Take example of God is a Gamer by Ravi Subramanian –the story begins with a speed that can only be equated with the speed of a racing car in a formula one grand prix. It is turmoil around the financial world-nations and international organizations joining hands against an individual-or to say more precisely an individual who has dared to go against the unethical practice of the most powerful nation on globe. The beginning will make you familiar with the sphere of the story in an instant. Simply the beginning is light years away in terms of action and speed than a conventional story of detection- especially armchair detection. But that does not mean that conventional detective stories lack speed.
I have recently come across a thriller titled Rage in the Jungle, Raj on the Street by Doctor Kesi. It has innovative plotting – Naxalite ideology. A fake encounter of a Naxalite couple is the heart of the story. Action sequences are there, but to me these are rather short bursts of shower rather than torrential rain. And it has a very differently approached story. The identity of the offender is crystal clear, what revolves around climax and anti-climax is whether the offender will be punished or not. Just like any other successful thriller the dark side of the human psychology is exposed in the story, but the bonus to the reader is the split personality of the protagonist. His character epochs between yes and no, positive and negative, angel and demon! From one point of view he is a tough super cop determined to stop all offences of the society at any cost. But there is other side of the story, too. Just like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide – the super cop has a darker side of the character. What makes the storyline different is writer’s explanation for such a behaviour, an explanation which makes the offender sits on the chair of the executor.
Indian thrillers are now showing a sign of coming of age, matured contemporary ideas are making the stories take off. No longer are the stories confined within the cocoon of the stereotype crimes, newer concepts are replacing the older ideas. And believe me they are not old wines in the new bottle. No, they are certainly not. These are fresh ideas ready to challenge any international bestseller. Take for example Pirates of Bollywood by Dr. Kalyan C. Kankanala. It is themed around the vast grey market of pirated movies and songs. Surely enough everybody well, almost everybody have bought a pirated DVD or CD or have downloaded the latest blockbuster from the internet but very few of us are aware with the depth of the problem. The multi billion dollar dark empires have experienced the sunshine, probably for the first time, thanks to the well researched story.
Talking about research, I had nearly forgotten to mention the research part of a thriller. Countless facts need to be accumulated from various sources and then needs to be analyzed upon to produce a bestseller. You need not go far, just pick any Dan Brown bestseller and you will find the proof. In my view that is where Indian authors do lag a little behind their western counterparts. It is not true that well researched Indian thrillers are not coming –most of them are – but it is equally true that most of the times the subject, the plot of these thrillers matches the profession of the writer. Ravi is an international banker, Kalyan is an eminent lawyer of patent rights – so it is naturally expected that their writing will contain authentic well researched facts. But outside their sphere of influence they are a little shaky, a little uncertain, and a little weak. Pardon me, this is my personal opinion. In western countries a team of professionals help the writer to gather and analyze information. Indian writers have miles to go in that respect to reach the zenith of professionalism!
Exploring historical myths and facts in a thriller and setting them in contemporary times is a trend that is succeeding off late. Remember the mystery that surrounds the Holy Grail and the Last Supper. Personally I think thousands of the said facts in Indian history are mysterious and worth exploring but they lie unexplored. They are gems as far as thriller writing is considered. Starting from the mysterious destruction of Indus valley civilization to the secret identity of Chanakya to the mystery shrouding the life and times of Sumudragupta or the mysterious death of Lord Buddha – elements are everywhere. What is needed is a little research (good extensive research I meant). Recently I read a thriller titled Finders Keepers by Sapan where the writer had made pious attempt to explore mysterious legends of King Bhagirath and the river Ganges and legends of Hinduism with a considerable degree of success. Huge amounts of recent information has added a perspective to the total storyline but mixing up of some mythological legends with historical facts have diluted the appeal of the good story to some extent.
As I have previously said that adding contemporary events as a subject matter of the story has diversified and broadened the scope of Indian thrillers. One such story is Checkmate by Hrishikesh Joshi where hijack of a plane by a terrorist group forms the core of a story. The story environment is such that the reader can not help but find the similarity with hijack of IC814 of Indian Airlines at Kandahar a few years back. Some years ago, a strong writing in Bengali – Shunna theke Sunno (from zero to zero) by Suchitra Bhattachrya had caught my attention. It was themed around the alleged selling of customer database by a BPO employee. Addition of other contemporary matters like evil effects of social networking sites, virtual crimes, gigolo and male prostitution made it a book worth reading.
Off late in almost all the thrillers the formula of running the story in more than one parallel tracks are followed. It creates suspense, increases sharp ends as if the story is a racing track and ofcourse enhances the twists and turns. Sometimes engines run on more than two parallel tracks. But that does not necessarily mean that the story running on a single track does not has hope.
Even with the advent of new trends in story, conventional crime detections have not lost their glitz. Uncertainty in detection where the criminal hides under a mask, detection of motives, method of elimination, where some suspicious characters moves in a shadowy world – all have their own realm of appeal. Take for example a crime thriller like The Murder of Sonia Raikkonen by Salil Desai. The detection takes the detector to an unknown slippery kingdom of motive – a motive that is beyond any reader’s wildest imagination.
Taking cue from the western writing more and more stories are coming up where a common man with a professional background in a particular field solves the crime of that particular field. But that does not imply bells are tolling for professional crime fighters.
Literature is like a flowing river. It is dynamic. Everyday new and newer concepts are coming up to take up the vacuum of older concepts. So no extensive trend can ever be provided. I have not even tried that. This writeup is only a glimpse into the vast world of Indian thriller writing.
Welcome. And go pick up an Indian thriller right away. You may be spoilt for choices!