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Detective Fiction

Anjan Dutt on writing his first book, 'Danny Detective INC'

After directing the eponymous web series, Dutt has now turned to writing fiction

Arindam Chatterjee | Published 10.03.22, 06:08 AM

As a lover of detective fiction since childhood, Anjan Dutt had decided to create his own detective in 2018 —someone who would be the Bengali archetype of all the great American detectives he admires, like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. After directing the web series Danny Detective Inc, Dutt turned to writing fiction. Dutt’s latest book is titled Danny Detective INC. — 3 cases of Subrata Shorma (Dey’s Publishing). 

Why did you decide to write detective fiction?

I thought of seriously writing last year. Whatever I have done in my career, from journalism, advertising copywriting, theatre, songs, films... basically had to do with writing. Guess it had to culminate into writing books. At this age, I consider writing to be a higher form of art. And it is detective fiction because that has been my favourite genre in literature. I had been approached before by publishers who wanted to print scripts of my show Rudra Sener Diary. I declined, since I don’t consider scripts to be literature for a normal reader. Maybe important for film theorists. Last year I was pushed by my actor Suprobhat to transform Rudra Sener Diary into stories. That’s when the idea got crystalised. I wanted to create my own detective stories.

How was the experience?

It was very difficult at first.

To find my own ‘self style’. My songs, my film scripts have been different. They were different from my contemporaries in terms of structure or style. Therefore, I needed to find my own style of writing. Offer something slightly new. In the use of adjectives, metaphors... jump time and space, etc. So that the reader is not just wanting to find out more, but enjoy the process. Find it refreshing.

Secondly, I wanted to create a new and more real, perhaps even a flawed, detective. An average man who becomes a detective because he is a misfit in this money-driven world. He is not super clever, but has sharp instincts. He is agency-based. He is often beaten up, he uses others’ gun, he lies his way out of danger, he even cheats. He is appointed to dig up other people’s dirt and ends up confronting a huge corruption beyond his control.

Every profession requires sharp, intelligent people. Why should a gumshoe be more intelligent than others? He is good at many things but is too lazy to fit into the routine and thereby becomes a detective.

How would you describe him?

He is a loner, alcoholic and bohemian. Unlike many Bengali detectives, he also has a sexuality that is dark. He either refuses love or is jilted often. He has sex but cannot build a home. He is the iconic outsider. It’s because he is an outsider, unattached, that he can see through the dirt and deceit. So creating this guy and finding my own style was a long and tedious process of re-reading a lot of pulp. Once I found them it was highly exciting, even to the point of being extremely indulgent. The name of my detective is Subrata Shorma. The name of the agency is Danny Detective INC, named after his boss who is murdered.

How challenging was the process of writing a book?

After I found my hero Subrata and my style, it was highly exciting and thoroughly enjoyable. Creating the plots were tricky. You have to keep the readers guessing. Then the style comes handy. The style of writing sometimes helps in keeping the game alive. My focus was to make it as witty as possible and equally dark.

Yes, my entry into this new profession till now has been a completely new and exciting experience. Now it all depends on how the readers react.

Do you have a particular time to write?

Anytime. I wrote the first three stories when Covid restrictions were high. I had the world’s time.

Usually late in the night. Over coffee during the day. Over vodka during night. I became a very late riser. I read out parts of it to Chanda, my wife, Suprobhat, my actor, Kaushik Bhaumik, my friend, and a thriller addict, Shiladitya Sen, a friend and journalist. They found the language exciting. But overall it was a very personal exercise. Sometimes I thought out the perfect sentences before I slept and forgot them next day. I write with a pen on paper. There were a lot of paper wasted. A lot of gel pens.

How different was this process from writing a screenplay?

Totally different. A script needs to be broken up into locations and the time of the day. Exterior or interior. Night or day. Dialogue becomes crucial. Here I was more concerned with the atmosphere. The mind space of the detective.

In my stories, my detective is affected by the story. Sometimes he changes the course of the story. Sometimes the story also changes him. It’s in first person, unlike a script.

In the case of scripts, the visual is created during shooting. It alters the script. Here I had to write words where you as the reader can visualise. The post-writing is completely different from screenplays... proof checking, discussing with the artist and cover designer. It’s a whole new ball game.

But somehow I enjoyed my interactions with my publisher, the proof readers, the composers, the artist.... The tiny office in College Street filled with the smell of books. It is a feeling difficult to express. I feel I have somehow joined the league of ‘truly thinking people’ in my own small way by writing.

You have said: ‘Detective fiction in Bengal has its acquired history but has somehow been looked down upon. Not regarded as serious literature.’ Why?

The American thriller writer Dashiell Hammett once wrote something like this — I hope my writings will be regarded as literature someday. Detective fiction has been regarded as pulp. Not serious literature. In Bangla, when I was growing up, the attitude of intellectuals around me was the same. Yet, almost every Bengali writer has his or her detective. It was quite confusing for me since I grew up with pulp writing and not the ‘so-called serious literature’. I personally regarded detective fiction to be very high form of literature. I found Saradindu Babu’s Byomkesh more socially relevant and exciting than say his Jhinder Bondi.

Though I am not a huge fan of Kakababu and regard them as youth adventure stories and not detective fiction in essence, I still can read his Bhoyonkor Shundor over and over again as pure literature. I regard Premen Mitra’s Parashor Barma’s stories as good as many of his other works. I find the Kolkata in them.

True detective fiction is a record of their time and society. Now, good pulp has got the status of literature. Like Alfred Hitchcock movies are no longer just thrillers but are studied as great cinema. Just think of the huge effort of so many and the long history that went into making the so-called ‘populist’ into ‘higher art’. So many creative artists got lost in the process. I believe that a good detective fiction makes a reader think. And ‘thinking’ itself is a ‘higher form of entertainment’.

Tell us about the storyline?

All these stories start in Kolkata and move to various outdoor locations. When I selected these places, I had to go back in time and find my connection with them, be it Shillong, Puri, Jaipur or Kohima. Then I had to find out more about those places.  No Darjeeling this time.

Detective fiction has been regarded as pulp. Not serious literature. In Bangla, when I was growing up, the attitude of intellectuals around me was the same. Yet, almost every Bengali writer has his or her detective

What can the readers expect from your book?

Difference. Those who value wit, hardboiled, wacky literature will enjoy the stories. Those who agree to disagree and are not looking for safe answers will surely enjoy. Neither in my songs, nor in my films have I ever tried to preach. Whatever I had to say has remained subtle. I do not believe this lopsided, corrupt dirty world will ever become a better place. Evil will rule. Corruption has long been part of democracy. Only there will be some people and work which will make our lives meaningful. Living with a terrible war going on and discussed on media like a football game, who am I to preach?

My detective is that lone individual who will unravel the dirty truth but perhaps not alter it. Just make a small difference to someone equally insignificant. The corruption he faces is way beyond his control. You will perhaps like him because he seeks the truth and manages to survive. He wins morally, if not legally. His strength is his obsession for truth and wisecracks. So, I think it will be a nice companion on a lazy afternoon, a lonely night or a train journey.

Who are your favourite authors?

Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Sandipan Chattopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Jack London, Nabarun Bhattacharya, Jean Genet... currently Michael Horowitz. It’s a very odd mix. I know. I actually like their style of writing. They all gave or give a refreshing style.

Growing up in Darjeeling, did  you enjoy reading fiction? What kind of books would you read?

During the fag end of my schooldays, I got hold of James Hadley Chase. I was blown. I still love his stories. I treasure them. Hit And Run, There’s A Hippie On The Highway, Tiger By The Tail, No Orchids For Miss Blandish, You Find Him I’ll Fix Him... the list is endless.

Did you think of writing in English?

No. I am a Bengali. Whatever good or bad I have produced is in Bengali. I strongly believe there is huge scope for style in Bangla. I feel much more at home writing in Bengali.

Last updated on 10.03.22, 11:07 AM
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