SRK’s Inputs Would Be Invaluable: Bilal Siddiqi on Netflix Series
He wrote his first book when he was 19. And now, Bilal Siddiqi’s The Bard of Blood is being adapted into an original multilingual series by Netflix under the aegis of Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment.
We caught up with the young author, now all of 23, to chat about words, thrillers, and a certain Mr Khan. Edited excerpts from an interview:
You wrote your first book at 19, and your third by 23. How fast do you write?!
Bilal Siddiqi: I aim to write one book a year. Of course it should happen organically, it shouldn’t seem like I am a factory! But yes, that’s what I want to do. There are guys who do two books a year... I don’t know how they do it!
Do you have a set routine when it comes to writing? Has your writing process changed over the years?
BS: When I start a book, I try to outline the rough chapters first. Then when I write, even if I write twice a week, I try to put down the entire chapter in one go. After a day or two, I revisit the chapter, clean it up, fine-tune it. I prefer writing during the nights... there’s more silence.
I am more disciplined now. I make sure I allot a certain amount of time for writing and I don’t move away from that. Initially, I was pretty laid back about it. Otherwise, it’s the usual process - I always write the chapter tentatively in my notebook first and then I type it out on my tablet. So it’s almost like writing two drafts simultaneously.
How did you discover the writing bug?
BS: I enjoyed reading since a very young age. I used to do well in writing assignments in school too. Then in college, I started assisting the crime fiction writer S Hussain Zaidi on a few projects and I guess he saw the potential in me. The genre of spy thrillers always excited me... he asked for a few chapters that I had written. I didn’t know he had pitched it to Penguin Books. Then I met Chiki Sarkar, who was helming Penguin then, and she asked to read half the book before commissioning it. I think I was at the right place at the right time. It was a lot of luck but I think I used it to give it my best shot.
Two out of your three books are thrillers. What draws you to the genre? What are the challenges and highs of writing one?
BS: I have always enjoyed reading and watching thrillers and writing became an extension of that. I thought I could do something different in that zone with an Indian character... I did it initially as an exercise. I didn’t know I would get published!
The challenge of the genre is that you can’t afford to be predictable. The reader would never pick up your next book. The high is taking the reader on a ride. They think they know what’s happening and then you turn it around and fool them. That’s a high!
You collaborated with actor Emraan Hashmi for The Kiss of Life.
BS: I didn’t know I would enjoy working on the book - my second - so much when I took it up. But I think it’ll be one of the really special things I will have worked on. It was such a personal story about Emraan and his son Ayaan, who was fighting cancer for a long time. Also my father had a short brush with thyroid cancer. I probably connected very closely with the project. It was a personal journey of a man who also happens to be a star. Emraan is a friend now, I hang out with him and his family. He has become a brother figure in my life.
What is your third book The Stardust Affair about?
BS: It’s about a journalist who is commissioned to write the memoir of a fading actor and along the way realises that there’s more to her than meets the eye. She is involved in something criminal. There’s also a romantic angle. It’s a cat-and-mouse game they play.
What sort of research did you do for it? How much of it have you culled from your experiences of Bollywood?
BS: It’s very fictional. It’s more a character-based story opposed to The Bard of Blood, where I needed to research a lot espionage, Balochistan and so on. It’s more about plotting here, the book is more in the lines of pulp rather than espionage.
Bard of Blood has a pretty intense theme. What sort of research did you do for the book?
BS: I met a lot of people with Zaidi sir... cops, went through first-hand documents from people who have been on that terrain, watched documentaries on Balochistan. He vetted my writing in terms of facts. Also, I was in the US at that point and a childhood friend was dating the daughter of a CIA agent. Though I never met him, I sent him a list of questions and he responded. That helped me a lot!
The book is being adapted for Netflix. How did that come about?
BS: We decided to make a pitch to Netflix and it included Mr Khan’s (Shah Rukh Khan) feedback. It took a while before we ended up making the announcement about the deal the other day.
Are you writing the screenplay as well?
BS: I probably wouldn’t be writing it per se, but I would be creatively involved in the process. We would be jamming together and adapting it according to the demands of the format vis-a-vis a novel.
As the author, looking back, are there things in The Bard of Blood that you would have liked to have written differently?
BS: Yes definitely. A few characters I would like to take out, add a few others. The opportunity with Netflix allows me to do that - to revisit the novel but at the same time maintain its essence. Our first focus is to get the screenplay right. Then we would start work on the shoot.
Which actor would you like to play the protagonist Kabir Anand?
BS: I have a little sketch of Kabir which I had drawn and no actor looks like him! (Laughs) Let’s see what the casting director comes up with...
What are your upcoming projects?
BS: I have a few concepts in my head which I would like to develop into a novel. There’s a cop drama I would like to work with Zaidi Sir on... I am yet to meet him about it but that’s what the immediate plan is.
Who are your favourite thriller writers?
BS: Frederick Forsyth, John le Carré, Lee Child, Robert Ludlum... also Sidney Sheldon, whose books are more about the drama between people.
You write and you also work with Red Chillies. You know SRK quite well. What can you tell us about him that we probably don’t know?
BS: He reads a lot. He is completely committed to all the work he does. He is one of the best creative minds around. If you pitch an idea to him, he always tells you how you can add to and improve it. That’s what we are hoping for in the Netflix series as well... his inputs would make a lot of difference. You learn so much just looking at him work... he is an inspiration.
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