Stephen King once said that books and movies are like apples and oranges; they both are fruit, but taste completely different. The world of books and movies seems to be on a mission to disprove Mr. King. Popular art or pulp fiction has captured a humongous share of youth readers in India, thereby inspiring a fleet of new writers who attempts to bask in the short-term glory of wide casual readership at the cost of creating valuable works of art. If the work can be turned into a movie, the author has killed two lucrative birds with one rudimentary slingshot. Bollywood director Piyush Jha‘s new crime novel, Compass Box Killer, belongs to this category. It targets casual readers and appears to be adapted straight from a typical Bollywood masala thriller – ample pulpiness enmeshed in the broad canvas of crime, suspense, romance and revenge.
Set in Mumbai, the novel follows Inspector Virkar in his mission to capture the mysterious “Compass Box Killer” who commits a series of meticulously planned murders. In each murder scene, the killer leaves behind a clue within a compass box, apparently pointing towards his next victim. Inspector Virkar, along with an ambitious TV reporter Raashi ‘hunterwali’ Hunerwal, races against time to capture the killer while unraveling the mysteries surrounding the killer and his motives.
Notwithstanding the absolutely dismal state of crime fiction in India, the author has successfully managed to give us a murder mystery which keeps the readers engrossed and entertained throughout. Yes, most of the characters are stereotypical to celluloid – daring, cool and tough hero who is relentless in the pursuit of justice, sexy, flirtatious and ambitious heroine titillating the readers with romance and love making, a notoriously brilliant killer surrounded with intrigue and mystery; yet, the plot has enough substance that the reader harmlessly bears the occasional pulpiness and cheesiness of the novel in the backdrop of fast-paced action, suspense and plot twists.
Another aspect worth mentioning is the steep Indianness in the characters, conversations and story line. Inspector Virkar belongs to the Indian Crime Branch while Raashi Hunerwal is a TV anchor of the show Crime Update on the local CrimeNews channel. The plot locations change from Mumbai to Khandala to Belgaum. The conversations are interspersed with Hindi one-liners like “Ankh khuli andhe ki, toh vaat lagi dhande ki” and “Naseeb gandu toh kya karega Pandu”. Vada paos, lasoon chutney and jhinga koliwada make their special guest appearances. This desiness is certainly refreshing in crime fiction, may be more because of the dearth of such Indian works.
The novel is the first of the Inspector Virkar crime thrillers – part of the Mumbaistan series. The author has certainly been successful in creating a brand Virkar – Bullet riding, Godfather beer loving crime fighter from India. We will definitely see Mumbaistan appearing on Bollywood screens – at least it has all the ingredients to be a popular hit. But the old question remains – how much value does such popular fiction add in shaping and sustaining a literary culture of the highest artistic values? Can we expect an Inspector Virkar thriller with a little less pulpiness and a little more denseness in characters and sophistication in the art of story telling?