PenKonnect with Anirban Bhattacharya

PenKonnect with Anirban Bhattacharya

About the Author:

Anirban Bhattacharya, the author of The Deadly Dozen: India’s Most Notorious Serial Killers, grew up in a boarding school called Dr Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong which is near Darjeeling. He studied BA English at St Xaviers College Kolkata and did his Masters in Mass Comm from MCRC Jamia, New Delhi.

He’s been a director, producer and Head of Content at Channel [v] and also worked with The Walt Disney Company (India) as Head of Non Fiction. He’s a Co-creator and Producer of Savdhaan India and has Produced shows like Fear Files for Zee and Ishq Kills for Star Plus.

Anirban is also a stand-up comedian who made his debut at The Comedy Store Mumbai. He performed his solo show Don’t Mess With The Bong in Mumbai, Pune, Shillong.

He is an actor who debuted in Yashraj’s Sui Dhaaga; and was also seen in Mission Mangal.

We spoke to Anirban Bhattacharya on December 11, 2019 on #PenKonnect@Penmancy.

Click the video to watch:

Penmancy: What inspired you to write this book?

Anirban: Crime is a fascinating genre – and we can’t get away from it! Everyday you open up the newspaper – at least 65-70% of the news is crime related. I love the genre. Especially going into the mind of the criminal and doing an autopsy and finding out the WHY and HOW. The book was a natural progression for me. I co-created one of India’s most-loved crime shows on television – Savdhaan India in 2012. Since then I have produced it, written it, and have been the show-runner. So I was breathing crime 24/7/365! My first book was going to be a semi-autobiographical coming of age story. But my literary agent Suhail Mathur from The Book Bakers (who has a nose for publishing trends and to help authors deliver what the publishers want) suggested that instead I should write a true-crime non-fiction book. I balked at the thought of the amount of research I would have to do. But I decided to give it a shot! And the rest as they say is magic, courtesy Penguin India!

Penmancy: What was the research that went behind this book?

Anirban: Studying and reading at least a thousand pages of legal documents, speaking with journalists and lawyers, digging up old newspaper articles, separating the fake news from the real, going through dusty pages of ancient books at libraries, And most importantly, taking a journey into the dark, macabre heads of the killers .

Penmancy: How long did it take for you to actually write the stories?

Anirban: It took me a year to write the book. This included research. I realized that if I tried to research all 12 together – I would go insane. And so I set a rule that I would research and write one story at a time and then when it was done, put it away and move to the next. And as these are all true-crime books, I would encounter new detail or research from some least expected of places. And then I would often go back, absorb the new information into the story and rewrite the portion. Also, I have a full-time job as a Television Producer – and so time was precious. In the beginning, when Penguin India commissioned the book – I thought, ‘how would I manage the time to write this?’ But it was a paid gig – and I had to deliver! So every day I would have my dinner and sit and write from 11pm – 4am or sometimes 6am – then go to sleep – and wake up by 9am. And this was my schedule for a year! I slept only 3-4 hours every night. The fabulous A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once said, “Never stop fighting until you arrive at your destined place…” And so I fought with sleep, fought with my body, fought with time and in January 2019 I handed in the first draft.

Penmancy: For a debut book, why did you choose a book that detailed the stories of criminals?

Anirban: As I said, it is a genre that came naturally to me from my experience in producing crime shows. It was a natural progression. On a TV show one has to tell a story within 45 minutes. And this often leads to nuances, detailing getting left out of the script. Also the censor department for television – they are known as the S&P (Standards & Practices) – they have a strict broadcast guideline that they have to follow – no violence, no blood, no erotica on prime time television. And this often leads to softening a crime story. At the end of the day, the human being is a voyeur. We love to see the gory details. Our basic core often revels in seeing the violence, or the way a killer kills! But in a book I was not bound by either time or censorship. And so I could get into the nuances, get into the heads of the killers, share the tiniest of details to bring the stories to life. And I deliberately retained all the blood, gore and violence in the stories – I wanted to shock the readers into realizing how heinous these killers were. If I wrote, “Raman Raghav killed the man.” It would seem so ordinary, nothing shocking about it. But when I write, “He raised it above his head and brought it down on the husband’s head. A crunch was heard as the impact smashed the skull. The side of the man’s face had caved in. He convulsed and a stream of blood flowed from his mouth. Raghav brought down the rod again and again – till the man’s head was a messy pulp of blood, skull and brain.” Now suddenly, I have you by the jugular! You are visualising the crime – you are shocked, revulsed, scared, vulnerable. And that is the emotion that I wanted to bring out in the reader. These killers were heinous – there is no good in them – and you as a reader need to see them in their true avatar and hate them! And my brilliant editor at Penguin, Gurveen Chadha allowed me to tell the stories the way I wanted to – in all its gory glory! She was a rockstar who held my hand through the entre process!!

Penmancy: How much of the book is reality and how much of it is based on conspiracy theories?

Anirban: Every story, every incident, every detail written in the book has a citation. Nothing is made-up. It is all true. The only story that has a conspiracy theory is that of the Nithari Killers. And this is because, when I was researching the story, I came upon the work of an investigative journalist called Arpit Parashar (he died in an accident in 2017). He had unearthed some mind-blowing details of the case, which most of us are unaware of. And these were the conspiracy theories that still haunt the Nithari case… the D6 doctor and organ-trafficking, the missing torsos of the skeletons, Koli’s supposed coerced video confession and more… And I had the choice to either tell the story via the official narrative that we all know; OR include the conspiracy theories to give the reader an insight into the murky nature of the case. And I felt that it would be unfair for the reader not to know the latter. And so Nithari is the only story that has conspiracy theories along with the official narrative. All I can say is that once you read Nithari – you will not look at the case with the same eyes again! It blew my mind when I unearthed the hidden treasures!

Penmancy: While researching for the stories, was there a time when you discovered something that made you feel really sick?

Anirban: Absolutely. Imagine at 1am you are reading about people’s skulls being smashed; or babies being raped; or chopped… it was sickening. I remember the one story that made me physically vomit was that of the child killers of Pune – Anjana Bai, Seema Gavit & Renuka Shinde. They used to kidnap infants, use them as decoys when picking pockets; and if they were caught, they would smash the infants on to the floor to create a diversion for them to get away! These were infants!!!! For no fault of theirs, they were killed. And as I read about the murder and the methods in each killing – I just puked! 

Penmancy: Which was your most challenging phase of writing this book from idea germination to marketing it?

Anirban: I think the research was the toughest. I have studied hundreds of legal documents and Supreme Court judgments! So much so I think I ought to be a lawyer now! But I enjoyed researching. For eg. Thug Behram lived in the 1800’s and I had to track down books that were about the thuggee movement and which were written in the 1800’s – and it was fascinating time-traveling back to that era. I have been blessed to have Penguin as a publisher. For a debuting author – it’s a dream come true! Their marketing is superb and so is their distribution. I begged Anurag Kashyap to launch the book – and the superstar that he is – he agreed!! I could not have asked for a better launch!! And I have been blessed to have the endorsements from John Abraham, Ayushmann Khurrana, Ronit Roy, Kiran Rao… and all of this I put into marketing. As a writer these days, one has to be prepared to have his/her own marketing budget. The publisher usually has a two month marketing plan – but beyond that it is the responsibility of the author to push the book. And so I produced a trailer, advertised on facebook and instagram; posted videos on youtube; created a FB page for the book; reached out to celebrities to endorse the book; went and interacted with book clubs like Did You Read Today and more. Plus, attending literary festivals as a moderator and a panelist – also helps push the book.

Penmancy: Your book is not a recount of these criminals’ life or modus operandi but is written in a very fictionalized manner. What made you decide to write it that way?

Anirban: The book IS about the life of the killers and their modus operandi and also a journey into their heads. Each story starts off with the killers before they became one… and follows their journey to hell. I chose to tell the story in a narrative that was akin to the fiction narrative was to grab the audience. If I didn’t – the book would have ended up as a dry, legal, psychological study of these criminals – which no one would have read! The intention was to tell their story in a way that was interesting, that would suck the reader into this macabre world; and also be an interesting and entertaining read. Again, its not about the body count of the victims – it is about the depravity of the killers and the plight of the victims – both edgy and emotional – and that could not be told in a dry, documentary style writing. 

Penmancy: When you write about crime, especially real crime, how difficult (or easy) is it to maintain your sanity?

Anirban: Unfortunately, all of us have become very de-sensitized to crime. 20 years ago when we red about a murder – we gasped – now with the increase in crime and the availability of news on social media – we are less shocked about it. It has now become almost normal. Twenty years ago every crime or rape or murder shocked us. Now it is the most heinous ones like Nirbhaya, Unnao or the Hyderabad case that jolts us out of our complacency. While writing this book, I was scared and disturbed as a parent – thinking of the safety of my son, and children in general – in this heinous world.

Penmancy: Who are your favourite authors, national and international?

Anirban: Amitav Ghosh, Pico Iyer, Enid Blyton, Bill Bryson – I have read all their books! 

Penmancy: Your debut book made it to the No.1 bestseller in Crime, but have you got a negative review yet? And how did you deal with that?

Anirban: I was pleasantly surprised to see the book reach No.1 Bestseller status within 16 hours of the pre-order link going live on Amazon. And 7 months down the line it remains in the top 3! Absolutely blessed. Overall the book has a 4.6 rating on amazon, goodreads and flipkart. For which I am again thankful to the readers who have appreciated my labour of love! The one negative comment I got is that it is too shocking! Bhai, real life is shocking! What to do? I am not writing a fairy tale or a book on economy and the rise of onion prices (which of late is as shocking). Anurag Kashyap, at the launch of the book had said that the truth is often stranger than fiction. And he was bang-on! I figured one cannot please everybody. And everybody has their own inner shock-thermostat – with respective thresholds.  

Penmancy: What was that one discovery that you made about yourself while writing the book?

Anirban: That I enjoy writing violence… the dark, edgy, murky world – if you read Raman Raghav you will see… I don’t want to sound apathetic or insensitive – but as a writer I enjoyed giving a visual narrative to the stories. As one reader said that he felt as if he watched 12 movies! That’s a huge compliment. The other fab reaction was from a reader in Kualal Lumpur who wrote on instagram – that she was now scared to sleep alone and had been sleeping with her dog and with the lights on for three nights!

Penmancy: You are a TV producer, an author, a stand-up comedian, an actor and so much more. Which one is the real Anirban Bhattacharya?

Anirban: All of them. I figured my creation had the probability of 1 to 10 million. And so I want to live by experiencing everything that I love doing. It is one life – why reach the end and regret not having done so many things! I am a TV producer and director by profession… and the rest are what the corporates call these days as ‘passion projects’. I love being on stage and so comedy and acting! And I love telling stories – and now I am an author 🙂   

Penmancy: Anirban, tell us something about yourself that no one knows yet.

Anirban: I am Batman! And I am crazy about momos! I was probably Tibetan in my last birth. 

Penmancy: What are your suggestions for budding writers who want to explore the genre of true crime stories?

Anirban: Research, research, research! Have a strong gut! Don’t hold back in your narrative. Enjoy the blood, the gore as you journey into the twisted and macabre minds of the killers!

Penmancy: Is your next book ready?

Anirban: Yes!!! And it is completely on the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s a children’s fiction book!!! No murders, no violence, no gore!! It’s a beautiful YA book – old-school detectives, case-solving, friendship, and fun!! Set in 1985 when there was no internet or mobile phones. I want to take back the young readers of today to the time when I was growing up! The book is ready – and the manuscript has been submitted! Wish me luck!! 

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