Hussain Zaidi: ‘People Love to Watch Crime More Than Anything’

Author and former journalist Hussain Zaidi’s books have found a market in the world of streaming shows
Hussain Zaidi: ‘People Love to Watch Crime More Than Anything’

Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival’s ‘Word to Screen’, held at JW Marriott, Juhu, on the 26th of September, highlighted the synergy that exists between text and cinema. The festival’s options market presented the opportunity for writers and publishers to pitch their work to filmmakers and producers, along with panel discussions on adaptations, cinema writing, and more. 

Film Companion had a chat with S. Hussain Zaidi, author and former investigative journalist. Several of Zaidi’s works have been adapted into films and television shows, most recent ones being Amazon Prime’s Bambai Meri Jaan (2023), Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) and Netflix’s Class of ‘83 (2020).

Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

You mentioned during the panel that you like to maintain a degree of separation from film adaptations based on your books. Why is that?

What happens is that the way you have written a book, there is a certain story, there is a certain detail, there is a certain point of view when you have written a story. Now you see that the director has changed the entire scene. And you feel affected by that because you are sensitive about the story. Initially, I used to object, and tell them they are not doing the right thing.  I could see it is giving rise to unpleasantness, and that the director is feeling interrupted by the writer. 

Why do you think we have a bias towards crime, or true writing when it comes to adaptations?

It is public liking. People love to watch and read crime more than anything else - this is coming from an experience of two decades in the industry. I have also grown up on crime fiction, so this is not really a fad. Now it’s the youngsters who are looking for romance and comedy, but the crime genre has always been the most preferred genre for the people.

Do you have a theory on why it’s the preferred genre?

What happens is that romance is liked only by a certain age group. So I think from 16-30 they like romance. Women like crime. Kids like crime. Action-murder-mystery — it’s all very exciting. People who are stressed or exhausted look for comedy, but everyone looks for crime. 

Are OTT platforms comparatively more inclined towards book adaptations?

See they are all looking out for good content. A published book is a ready-made source material for them. People have liked it and they have already seen a beginning, middle and an end. It's a safe bet for them. 

What was your level of involvement in Bambai Meri Jaan, and what did you think of the show?

Well, it's a nicely done show, fabulous craftsmanship over there. It was a very complicated story that started in the 1960s, when Mumbai Police was still up and coming but crime existed in substantial portions. And the story covers two decades, and revolves around an honest policeman who loses his job, and whose children become criminals. According to me, it was a very complex story to be told and somehow encapsulated in these ten episodes, but it has been done splendidly. 

I had read the screenplay, we had extensive discussions, and we just wanted it to be a fictional take on the Mumbai mafia. We have tried to blend the fact and fiction of crime to make a more interesting story and experience. 

This is a part of a series of short interviews taken at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival’s ‘Word to Screen'. Film Companion also spoke to producer Siddharth Roy Kapur and film restorer Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.

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