He is one of India’s most widely read bloggers. And now, computer scientist Arnab Ray, has joined hands with filmmaker Srijit Mukherji to adapt his novel The Mahabharata Murders for a web-series. In a candid chat with RBN from Chicago, Arnab talks about the project and his future plans.
How did you collaborate with Srijit for the adaptation?
Srijit has been a reader of my blog for quite some time now and we used to communicate often. I had given him my third novel, Yatrik (2014), for a possible film adaptation. The backdrop of the novel was the change of power in West Bengal in 2011. Srijit’s films have the Kolkata sensibilities ingrained in them, which I always liked. The adaptation of Yatrik didn’t work out as Srijit was looking for something more present-day and gripping. I had just finished writing The Mahabharata Murders at that time which is a psychological thriller and gave him the manuscript to read.
Why Srijit? With a Goodreads rating of 4.1 and Amazon rating it 4.5, it could have been any director
Not many directors in India have explored the dark psychological thriller genre, featuring a serial killer, leave alone in Bengal. Srijit did that successfully with his second film Baishe Srabon in 2011. I wanted a director who would not compromise with the violent content in The Mahabharata Murders. Violence, in my novel, is weaved into the story. That aside, the story is set in Kolkata, where I was born and brought up and spent my formative years. Kolkata and the violence were both deep-rooted in Baishe Srabon and there’s no other director who could have handled the subject better for my novel.
What is the story all about?
The Mahabharata Murders is about a serial killer who believes himself to be a modern-day reincarnation of Duryodhana. He wants to avenge the Kauravas by killing present-day Pandavas and Draupadi. He selects his victims who have some common trait with the Pandavas. All these killings happen in Kolkata and a police detective and her assistant are called on to investigate.
I was always intrigued, obsessed in fact, with Mahabharata and have widely read on the epic. I have interpreted the main conflict in Mahabharata in an entirely different light in my novel. It raises doubts in the reader’s mind on whether what is popularly known as the Mahabharata story, is actually what the epic means. The book is also a commentary on the epic, and the sense of dharma as told in the Gita.
Why is the novel being adapted on the digital platform, given that it would have reached a larger audience, had it been made for the big screen
Not compromising with my vision is more important to me. Making a film for the big screen involves an entire distribution system with several commercial permutations coming in. The marketability of a film, as a product, often interferes into the making. Also, the cost of making a full-length film is huge, much of which can be brought down if it’s made as a web-series. Writers and directors, earlier, had no option but to cede to the market demands. But the advent of on-demand digital entertainment has largely negated that. I and Srijit both have our target audience who will subscribe to watch the series. In that way, I will have people who are genuinely interested in our product. Even if The Mahabharata Murders was made for the big screen, the target audience would still have been niche, because of the content.
Why a thriller? Is it because thriller books and films are now almost the staple diet of the Bengali audience?
Well, honestly, romance never interested me. There’s no commercial reason behind this. It’s simply that I can’t write romantic stuff (laughs). None of my five novels are ‘romantic’. My first book, May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, dealt with Indian pop culture and Bollywood in the nineties. The Mine, which I wrote in 2012, was a horror thriller. My fourth novel, Sultan of Delhi: Ascension, is about a crime family in Delhi.
And your upcoming projects?
I am writing the next part of Sultan of Delhi. I am also working on a horror story, Shakchunni, with the 1930s zamindari system in Bengal as the backdrop.
Are these projects for the screen?
I never write directly for the screen. I am a novelist and my novels are published first, and later if things work out, are adapted for the screen. Even if that doesn’t happen, I have no qualms.
Pics: Arnab Ray