Ready for this Mumbhai encounter?

Sep 29, 2012, 10:01 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Mumbai crime noir is here to stay. Published by international comics giant, Archaia, Mumbai Confidential, written by US-based Saurav Mohapatra and illustrated by Mumbai boy Vivek Shinde looks at our city's underbelly in a never-seen-before pallette. The comic series debuts in India at the Mumbai Film & Comics Convention in October. Fiona Fernandez gets an exclusive with its creators on their adrenalin-high page-turner

What was the trigger point for Mumbai Confidential (MC)?
Saurav Mohapatra: I’ve been fascinated by crime-noir and pulp hardboiled crime fiction. Add to this, my love for the sub-genre of Hindi movies pioneered by Satya, Company and Ab Tak Chhappan; I wanted to infuse it into a single narrative to create the genesis of MC. Earlier, I had written a story called Mumbai Macguffin for Virgin Comics with Saumin Patel, and I had a blast while doing it. Mumbai is a great prism. After Macguffin, I wanted to set a more serious noir story in Mumbai, and began work on MC. It wouldn’t have existed, but for the support of our publisher Archaia. They believed in us and allowed us to craft our book, while providing support in reaching it out to readers in every corner of the globe.
Vivek Shinde: Being Mumbai-based, this city is daily life for me. When Saurav contacted me for Mumbai Confidential, I was happy to tie up (having learnt of his earlier works). I was hooked on to the script, instantly because it was set in Mumbai. I always wanted to work on something like this. 

Nana Patekar was a huge influence on both creators

You’ve mentioned that it was pitched as James Elroy does Ab Tak Chhappan... tell our readers about this slant to the titles. We also notice a Nana Patekar-like figure…
SM: Noir is a universal genre. It is underpinnings like the morally ambiguous protagonist, a world where everyone ranges from bad to worse, the cynical world view — all of this, appeals to a dark and deep inside of our souls. With MC, our goal was to take these iconic tropes, filter them through the unique milieu of the underbelly of Mumbai and tell an entertaining story. MC owes as much to Chandler and Hammet, as it does to Anurag Kashyap and Ram Gopal Verma.  Nana Patekar is a colossus of the Hindi movie industry. This character is a homage to him, not an exact likeness, but a reflection of all the iconic roles he has played in this genre. As the story progresses, you will see many such nudge-nudge-wink-wink references to iconic scenes from seminal Indian movies. In issue #2 (chapter 4), the dream sequence is homage to Zanjeer, and one of the interlude shorts in issue #3 was inspired by Parveen Babi’s entry scene in Deewar. MC owes a lot to Bollywood- Mumbai Noir, traditional Hollywood crime-noir, hardboiled, crime fiction of Elroy, Chandler, Hammet and MacDonald, and the Hong Kong-Japanese crime movies. It also owes a lot to crime comics like Torpedo, 100 Bullets, Criminal and Sin City.
VS: I was trying to create this bad cop character with a sharp personality. The typical Maharashtrian police cop-moustache was a must; while drawing him, Nana Patekar’s image kept cropping up because his role as an angry cop is influential. He was a huge inspiration.

What was the response for the first 4 issues, particularly in non-Mumbai milieus in the West — for example, the concept of encounters?
SM: I was apprehensive about this element. But the response has been awesome. One of the reviewers’ referred to MC as “a pulpy thrill ride “and made a special note of the setting calling it “familiar yet strange”. This is what we wanted. We feel satisfied knowing that at least, we succeeded in communicating most of the vision that we set out to put in the narrative and visuals.
Indian hardboiled pulp crime fiction has a voice of its own, from the five-rupee paperbacks like Surendra Mohan Pathak’s Vimal series to Ashok Banker’s sleek-and-sexy Sheila Ray stories. We’ve tried, humbly, to stand on the shoulders of giants of the genre (from India and the West) and have attempted to create a mash-up. What also worked (while pitching it to comic book fans at the San Diego Comic Con) is that the idea of encounters was novel for Western audiences that it hooked them, immediately, for a closer dekko.

How did copy and artworks fuse? How did you work despite being on different continents, especially when it came to fine tuning elements on the storyboard?
SM: We follow a Marvel style plot-art-dialogue method. I wrote a full script (panel descriptions, dialogue) for the first two chapters. Vivek turned in such gorgeously detailed artwork that I felt guilty covering it up with caption boxes and speech balloons. So, I adopted a sparse voice in terms of the text. From chapter 3, I wrote the panel descriptions / breakdowns and after Vivek was done with thumbnails, I wrote the dialogue based on the mood and space available in the art. Vivek is the star of Mumbai Confidential. I try not to get in the way of his awesome art. Vivek turned in grayscale wash digital painted pages and our publishers Archaia wanted them coloured. Since we couldn’t budget for a colourist, and Vivek was churning out pages, I adopted an algorithm used to colourise old black and white movies (like Mughal-e-Azam or Hum Dono colour re-releases) and ran with it. Thankfully, it worked, and we retained it. I’ve accentuated Vivek’s grungy brushwork with a water colour-like palette and texturing. We have never met in person. Both of us worked with Virgin Comics, and after it shut shop, I was developing the concept of a hardboiled noir tale set in Mumbai, and reached out to him. We worked using Google Drive, Dropbox, Skype and email / phone.
VS: Working across continents was easy because of mail and phones. It was Saurav’s idea and initiative, and my liking of the story that led to MC. I researched a lot for its characters. We froze on a style that had a surreal yet real feel of Mumbai. It was an exciting project because of the freedom to explore the subject, artistically.

Why did you launch it in digital format prior to a hard copy release?
SM: We wished to release the book as a serialised novel like old-school hardboiled pulp. We went digital because it was the easiest for an all-digital pipeline like ours and allows us to breach distribution silos, globally. Digital avoids the inventory of print, and we can reach out to fans in US /Europe and India at the same time. The hardcover edition is slated for March 2013. We are in talks with several Indian publishers for Indian soft cover / paperback editions too.

Any plans to convert this into a film?
SM: My lips are sealed! We wrote MC because it was the movie we always wished to see.
VS:We would love to see that happen one day!

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