Internal Affairs

A conversation with S. Hussain Zaidi on his latest thriller, The Back Orphan, a tale of terror and revenge—the usual terrain of his heroes. This time, however, he has tried something different. His DIG Ajay Rajvardhan is a man in love...
Internal Affairs

He is easily one of India’s most well-known crime writers. Starting as a news beat reporter, S. Hussain Zaidi has come a long way from covering daily murders and arrests of small-time drug peddlers in Mumbai to the undisputed leading crime writer in India. His notable works include Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, Black Friday, and Mumbai Avengers. With several successful crime bestsellers in print and on audiovisual media, especially on OTT platforms, Zaidi has also ventured into non-fiction crime thrillers. His latest thriller, The Black Orphan, inspired by true events, is a riveting tale of love, terror, and revenge, showcasing Zaidi at his best.

S Hussain Zaidi
S Hussain Zaidi

Excerpts of Zaidi’s conversation with TMS:

How did real-life events influence the narrative?

The world of intelligence operatives, developing threats to national security, and the ripple effects of past events on the present and future—all of these elements form the bedrock of my story. Fact is stranger than fiction. Where would I get a better, strange or crazier premise to base my fiction on, than in fact itself? By anchoring my fiction in reality, I aim to give these important facts their due visibility. It’s not just about creating a thrilling narrative but also about shedding light on significant issues and stories that deserve attention.

This book is a departure from your previous works as it blends romance with thriller elements. Why this shift?

While my earlier fiction like Eleventh Hour included elements of romance, The Black Orphan takes it a step further by making the love story central to the plot. This shift allowed me to experiment beyond my usual action and suspense narratives.

A strong-cop film, Shootout at Lokhandwala. For representational purposes.
A strong-cop film, Shootout at Lokhandwala. For representational purposes.

The protagonist of your novel, DIG Ajay Rajvardhan, navigates a complex web of crime, deception, and intrigue. What were the challenges in developing such a multifaceted character?

Developing Rajvardhan was a challenge, but an exciting one. Crafting a character who is deeply entrenched in the world of crime and law enforcement while also being relatable and human was key. Ajay had to be tough and decisive yet vulnerable enough to connect with readers on an emotional level. Balancing his professional duties with his personal life, especially his romantic involvement with Asiya Khan, required careful attention to detail.

The book intertwines themes of love, terror, and revenge. How did you approach balancing these themes to create a cohesive narrative?

It involved a meticulous weaving of plot lines. Each theme needed to complement the others without overshadowing the narrative’s core. Love, in The Black Orphan, is not just a subplot but a driving force that influences the characters’ decisions and the story’s direction. The terror and revenge elements add layers of complexity and urgency, creating a dynamic interplay that keeps the readers engaged. The key was to ensure that these themes intersected naturally within the story.

How does Mumbai’s atmosphere and culture contribute to the overall tone and mood of the novel?

Mumbai is more than just a backdrop. Its diverse culture, its bustling streets, and the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty create a rich tapestry that enhances the narrative’s tone and mood. The city’s inherent energy and unpredictability mirror the book’s themes of intrigue and suspense, making it the perfect setting for Ajay Rajvardhan’s journey through crime, love, and revenge.

The Black Orphan delves into the world of law enforcement and legal representation. Can you discuss the research process behind portraying these professions authentically?

I spoke with several professionals in the field, including intelligence operatives, lawyers, and police officers, to gain insights into their lives and work. Understanding the procedural intricacies, the emotional toll, and the ethical dilemmas they face was crucial.

Your novel addresses pressing contemporary issues such as terrorism and the vulnerability of nuclear scientists. What message or commentary do you hope readers will take away from these explorations?

Through The Black Orphan, I hope readers gain a deeper understanding of the complexities and dangers our society faces today. The threat of terrorism and the vulnerability of key figures like nuclear scientists are real and pressing issues. By weaving these elements into the narrative, I aim to highlight the bravery and challenges faced by those working to protect us. I want readers to appreciate the delicate balance between freedom and security and to acknowledge the sacrifices made by individuals in the shadows to keep our world safe.

Do elaborate on the character dynamics between Rajvardhan and Asiya Khan.

Their personal and professional lives are deeply intertwined, creating a rich dynamic that drives much of the story. Ajay, an intelligence officer, and Asiya, a human rights lawyer, are often on opposite sides of the law, which adds a layer of tension and complexity to their relationship. Their interactions are a blend of conflict and passion, as they navigate their feelings while dealing with the pressures of their respective careers.

With a background in journalism, how has your experience influenced your approach to storytelling, particularly in crafting intricate plots and character-driven narratives?

Journalism teaches you to dig deep, uncover hidden truths, and present facts in an engaging manner. This experience has honed my ability to craft intricate plots and develop character-driven narratives that are both compelling and credible. The skills of observation, investigation, and concise writing are directly transferable to fiction writing, allowing me to create stories that are rich in detail and authenticity.

Given your extensive body of work, including non-fiction titles such as Mafia Queens of Mumbai and My Name Is Abu Salem, what draws you to explore both fictional and real-life stories within the crime genre?

Exploring both fictional and real-life stories within the crime genre allows me to delve into the human psyche and societal issues from different angles. Non-fiction provides a platform to present facts and real-life accounts that inform and educate, while fiction offers the creative freedom to explore ‘what if’ scenarios and deeper psychological aspects. Both formats complement each other, enriching my overall understanding of the crime genre and enabling me to offer readers diverse and engaging narratives.

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The New Indian Express