Crimes of passion will be the next trend in non-fiction: Author S Hussain Zaidi - books author interview
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Crimes of passion will be the next trend in non-fiction: Author S Hussain Zaidi – books author interview

Hussain Zaidi has been very busy. Shah Rukh Khan’s production house, Red Chillies, adapted his book Class of ’83, a true story about a police encounter squad that dismantled the Mumbai underworld. The book was made into a Netflix movie earlier this year.

Farhan Akhtar is turning his nonfiction book, Dongri to Dubai, into a web series about the early years of gangster Dawood Ibrahim in Bombay. A chapter from another nonfiction book, Mafia Queens of Mumbai, is the basis for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film, Gangubai Kathiawadi, about the brothel owner and matriarch of crime.

Meanwhile, his Penguin Random House label Blue Salt has published 21 books since 2013, many in the true crime genre. One of them, Behind Bars in Byculla, the account of the imprisonment of journalist Jigna Vora, will be adapted for the screen.

And this month, Golden Pen, the content producer co-founded by Zaidi, announced a collaboration with another publisher, Westland, to encourage better writing of crimes and new authors, and to encourage digital, screen and audio adaptations.

From his beginnings as a newspaper criminal reporter to writing 12 books, Zaidi, over two decades, has shaped the writing of real crimes in India. It made it a viable genre for retired police officers and investigative journalists and helped Indian tales of crime and punishment take root in the popular imagination.

Did you imagine that crime would pay for this handsomely?

I did not do it! As a crime reporter, I fought for a living. I had no idea that 20 years later there would be a real crime genre. Or that I could make a living telling and shaping these stories.

There are so many books, so many stories. How has the genre changed?

When I started, the books weren’t focused on research. You would connect the fingerprint, the weapon, the fingerprint, and lo and behold, you were a private detective. The writers weren’t worried about details like forensic analysis or CCTV footage. The focus is more serious now. Writers no longer push that false stereotype of the poor man forced to commit a crime. It has never been true, or else all Dharavi and Govandi would be hotbeds of criminal activity. Books and scripts now recognize that being poor is not a justification, that it is not always the poor who are criminals. And criminals are now shown as complex people, etched in shades of gray.

His first book Black Friday, about the Mumbai attacks in 1993, came out in 2002. Are our changing cities now producing a new type of criminal or network?

For the most part, the clichés still stand. Delhi is where people are drunk because of their connections to authority. That proximity to power still drives crime at all levels. UP is also about connections. The perpetrator is wealthier, upper-class, and well-connected. The victims are typically of what I call the “defenseless class.” Privilege establishes the power dynamic. In Mumbai, it may seem that the motive is money. But take a closer look and you’ll find that much of the crime is driven by cunning – someone realized they could fool the system. Obviously there is less organized crime – no stock scams, movie extortion gangs, no strong underworld. But there are more ways that people can engage in corporate theft, cybercrime, and bank fraud. Crimes against women are on the rise.

How can our cities and urban systems prevent crime?

It’s about how our citizens are raised. We no longer teach ethics, it is in children’s textbooks and in the scriptures. But there is no education to deal with everyday dilemmas in the real world. We do not consider that our engineers, computer programmers, and corporate workers need to learn about good and evil or think of themselves as part of society. It is not focused on cultivating a conscience. Instead, everything is measured in monetary value.

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