Year 1999. The dark, ominous underbelly of Mumbai (then Bombay) is seething with gangsters: Khalif Ahmed, Mohan Raswe and Usman Ali.
Their exploits, feuds and financial shenanigans are fervently discussed across the by- lanes of the city, from press club, police stations, Irani cafes to dance bars, carom clubs, smoking joints, gambling dens, and even panwallah’s nooks, for that matter.
Enter, Ritika Khanolker, a media intern. She’s young, tenacious, sprightly, and only too eager to “move to bigger things in life”. Within days of joining City News – a local cable news station, Khanolker manages to get an exclusive interview with the CEO of Khalif gang in Mumbai, the stylish, smooth-talking sharpshooter, A.T.
The two of them soon land up in bed and what follows next is a heady cocktail of love, lies, death, deception and manipulation. In her latest, Prime Time Crime, author-journalist, Vrushali Telang weaves a punchy, action-packed narrative around the organised crime era of the 90s that is sure to enthral her readers and keep them riveted to the novel until the end.
Of Self-Destructive Choices
In a market that is populated with books on gangsters written mostly by men, Telang’s book is a refreshing change – and most certainly, a thriller aficionado’s delight! Her plotting is tight and her characters relatable, especially Ritika Khanolker – in her, one finds a protagonist who is vulnerable, yet strong; clever, yet naive.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“However successful, mature and intelligent we may be, all of us have a self-destructive streak. Our self-destruction makes us powerless, renders us helpless. It could be as overt as abusing food, alcohol or drugs. Or then, it could be insidious: like the quality of our thoughts, of the words we may or may not speak. It could lie in our manipulative tendency, malicious gossip or even the relationships we choose. After all, relationships are not as honest as we would like them to be. Whether we admit or not, manipulation, intrigue, greed, ego and deception are a part of relationships that we share with one another, but most dangerously – with ourselves.
Ritika Khanolker’s choice of the man was a self-destructive one. Despite knowing that A.T had used her as means to an end, that there were speculations about them two, despite knowing that any further association would be dangerous for her reputation – Ritika dropped everything to meet A.T late that night.”
Telang tells me over an email –
In all the movies that I saw on Mumbai mafia, the female lead was either a gangster’s moll, a bar dancer or someone who did not approve of the gangster’s ways and coaxed him to change. I wanted to have a female lead who was his equal – an intelligent woman who had no grandeurs of changing her man, but accepting him. A woman who did not need him for any reason, yet chose to be with him.
From Entertainment to Crime Reporting
For one who has spent a good part of her life covering entertainment, Telang does complete justice to her chosen subject in this novel, which, as it happens, is a big deflection from her previous works.
While her first novel, Can’t Die For Size Zero, was about self-acceptance and self-love, He Loves Me Not, was about a relationship gone selfish and stale. Talking about the challenges she faced while writing Prime Time Crime, she told me how the ecosphere of crime reporting was completely alien to her requiring her to begin from a scratch.
I started by speaking to crime reporters and cameramen who were my colleagues. From them I got leads to speak to police officers. I also did my own academic research at CED, Centre for Education and Documentation.
She also sought help from historian, Deepak Rao, who seemed to be a powerhouse of knowledge –
Writing and research happened side by side. By the end, I had put in a solid four years of research before I started to work on my final draft where I had to infuse style and speed that befits a thriller.
Explaining her choice of basing the story in the nineties – 1999, to be specific – Telang tells me how that particular year was a breeding ground for a story that was to have the Mumbai mafia as a backdrop. Not only did the maximum number of police encounters on record happen in 1999 – she tells me – but the crime scene also shifted from far flung locations in Mumbai to the posh suburbs of Bandra and Worli.
“(The crime scene in Mumbai) waxed to its fullest in 1999 – after which it waned out by 2003,” she adds.
And while I write this review, Telang is already busy chalking out the characters of her next novel, a project that explores love in the age of social media.
(Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of ‘The Recession Groom’. She can be reached @Vani_Author)