‘Every city should have a shelf full of detective novels dedicated to it’
Author of Swedish origin, Zac O’Yeah, who has made Bengaluru his home, talks about his new novel, Hari: A Hero for Hire and explains why it is equivalent to a popular masala movie.
How did you think of a working class sleuth in the cyber capital of India?
Well, if I hadn’t stepped off the train at City Junction station, Bengaluru in 1992 and checked into the cheapest lodge in the Majestic area, I don’t think I would have been a successful novelist today. I spent my days in those nameless second-hand bookstalls that used to proliferate south of Kempegowda Circle, dreaming that I might write a book that would be on display there someday.
Another reason why I chose to set my book series here is because until fairly recently, detective fiction used to be dominated by Anglo-American locations and concerns. Nowadays, you have globally bestselling detective novels set in places like Botswana, Thailand or Sweden. So, why not Bengaluru? I strongly felt that every self respecting city should have a shelf full of detective novels dedicated to it.
Also, having Hari as a reformed tout character seemed like a great idea because a tout would know every nook and cranny of the city. Hari speaks English well, is good at calculations and in many ways a perfect detective. So Hari, the private eye, became my key to unlock the city and chronicle it.
I doubt I could have imagined the character Hari Majestic without Bengaluru, the city where I’ve lived for the last 15 years after leaving Sweden.
You seem to be more interested in how your characters behave than the whodunit.
You’re possibly right. I wanted to avoid creating a stereotypical literary detective — the kind you meet in Swedish or Western detective novels. Over the years, I have seen plenty of Kannada action movies and become a fan of Upendra, the king of local cool and one-liners. I wondered what a literary equivalent of such films might read like. I, therefore, set out to write a romantic tragi-comic thriller in Bengaluru. It seemed like the most logical thing to do.
The book is filled with observational humour.
A detective novel should ideally be out in the streets, taking its reader through narrow alleys, pointing out interesting things to look at and places to visit, and somewhere amongst all that, there will be the clues to cracking the case. Reading the newspapers every day in Bengaluru is an endless source of inspiration. There are so many strange stories reported all the time and so for a novelist, it obviously sets the imagination on fire.
How do you combine crime and comedy?
I have no clue. I personally don’t consider myself a ‘humourist’. It just so happens that everything becomes very weird when I write it down. Essentially comedy and crime should not be combined because it’s a recipe for disaster. Lots of readers find it hard to accept. But in Bollywood films, they are able to combine action movies with humorous elements, or comedies with thrillers, so one needs to try to expand the genre and broaden it by adding comedy.
What’s next for Hari and his sidekicks?
A third book is in the works, it might come in 2017. And in 2016, there’s going to be a movie version of Mr Majestic! The Tout of Bengaluru, the first novel. I have been told that they are writing the screenplay right now and expect to start shooting soon.
(The interview was first published in Sakal Times, Pune on 28 November 2015. View the Story Here.)