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"Mumbai never disappoints when it comes to fascinating stories": writer S. Hussain Zaidi

The film industry is a highly competitive place where morals have a short shelf life, says writer S. Hussain Zaidi.

March 27, 2022 / 06:21 PM IST
Alia Bhatt in 'Gangubai Kathiawadi'. The film is based on

Alia Bhatt in 'Gangubai Kathiawadi'. The film is based on "The Matriarch of Kamathipura", a story in 'Mafia Queens of Mumbai' (2011), written by S. Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges.

S. Hussain Zaidi's passion for his work as a crime reporter in Mumbai during the '90s shines through in the multiple stories he has told us through his books in the last few decades. Years of meticulous research, accumulation of facts, and his honest and artistic portrayal of events make him a master storyteller. While Hollywood was known for its gangster films, it was Zaidi's stories that gave a new lease of life to gangster cinema and the underworld in Bollywood, during the early 2000s.

His reporting days as an investigative journalist, multiple interviews and encounters with the underworld and its associates, honed his ability to create compelling characters and share chilling insights into the mind of a criminal - and that's what drew filmmakers to him.

Talking about his foray into Bollywood, he tells us, "I am thankful that my first book Black Friday was adapted into a movie and that got the ball rolling for me." Zaidi's latest book, Zero Day, is a thriller on cyber terrorism.

Most of Zaidi's best-sellers went on to become memorable films like Black Friday, Phantom, Shootout at Wadala, Byculla to Bangkok, documentary Terror in Mumbai, Class of 83, Mardaani, London Confidential to the latest release, Gangubai Kathiawadi.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film is based on the 38-page story titled "The Matriarch of Kamathipura", from the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai (2011), written by S Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges.

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In an exclusive interview with Moneycontrol the author, screenwriter, talks about Bollywood, writing and more. Excerpts:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s latest film 'Gangubai Kathiawadi' is based on a book co-authored by you a decade ago - 'Mafia Queens of Mumbai'. Tell us about it.

Yes, Jane Borges co-authored that book with me. I was looking to create a portrait of women in crime. And Mumbai never disappoints when it comes to fascinating stories. We found more than a handful, and went about writing the book.

Are you happy with the Alia Bhatt starrer? What are your thoughts about the film?

Sanjay Leela Bhansali is the grandest storyteller of them all. He never disappoints. This time, it's a women-centric film and Alia Bhatt’s performance is one that will be remembered for ages.

Multiple books penned by you have been made into films. Did you ever dream of being a scriptwriter for the Hindi film industry?

When I started as a journalist, I had not planned for all this in any sense. But once I wrote Black Friday, one thing began leading to another and here we are. Obviously, I can’t complain.

What is your process as a writer?

Research. Write. And rewrite.

S. Hussain Zaidi S. Hussain Zaidi

After so many years of your books being turned into films, do you ever feel like you are writing your books for Bollywood? Envision scenes and scripts?

No. My job is to be true to the story. Everything else will fall in place if I do my job honestly without thinking about the after effects.

Are you content with the portrayal of your characters, and the way your books look on screen? Are things changed to suit producers and directors?

Of course, things get changed when the book is adapted. Once the book is sold, then the writer in me has to let go and let the makers take over. They are catering to a different medium and a different audience. So they are within their rights to change things.

You’ve said earlier that you used to find crime reporting boring. What made you turn all that experience into page-turners?

It was a stroke of luck. Vikram Chandra, while he was writing Sacred Games, set up a meeting with Penguin for me. David Davidar, who was heading Penguin at that time, suggested that I write about organised crime. Being a crime reporter, I was best placed to take up that challenge.

You have said earlier, "The film industry people are shameless people — anything they do or say is like water off a duck’s back." What do you have to say about them now?

To survive in the industry, one needs a thick skin. It is a highly competitive place where morals have a short shelf life.

From a journalist to author, scriptwriter, publisher (Blue Salt) – how has your journey been? And which role do you identify with the most?

All in all, I am a storyteller. As a journalist, author or scriptwriter, my job is to bring stories to life.

Tell us about the Golden Pen.

Golden Print was an imprint with Westland under which we have published three titles - Intersections, The War That Made RAW, and Mortuary Tales. All of them were written by very talented, first-time writers. So through Golden Pen, we are also giving a platform to fresh voices.

Books authored by Zaidi

Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts (2002)

Mafia Queens of Mumbai (2011)

Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia (2012)

Headley and I (2012)

Byculla to Bangkok (2014)

My Name is Abu Salem (2014)

Mumbai Avengers (2015)

Dangerous Minds (2017)

Eleventh Hour (2018)

Dawood's Mentor (2019)

The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police (2019)



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Debarati S. Sen is a Mumbai-based independent journalist and consultant content creator. Instagram: @DebaratiSSen
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