Hindi pulp fiction never got its deserving due since its inception and the latest controversy between the veteran author Surender Mohan Pathak and web-series Mirzapur 2 yet again proves the fact.
The scenario has always been the same ever since the genre gained momentum in 1960s, taking it forward from the era of Ibn-e-Safi and Jasoosi Duniya. Despite selling in big numbers, the Hindi crime novels were always considered as something cheap with downgraded content mostly read in the smaller towns.
Interestingly, though we had a few Hindi crime thriller films made on the novels of the best-selling author Ved Prakash Sharma, still Hindi filmmakers never featured these novels as something respectable in their on-screen sequences.
In simple words, till the decades of 1960s-70s, the books being read by actors on screen either used to be famous English novels/magazines or at the most Hindi magazines or Hindi/Urdu books from the world of reputed Hindi/Urdu literature. But rarely there was a Hindi crime novel given to a character to read in a scene fearing the general assumptions famous about the genre. In fact, even if the lead characters in the films were authors, they were always shown to be the authors of Hindi social literature or poets as in Naya Zamana, Anand, Kabhi Kabhie, Aakhir Kyon and more.
More importantly, whenever a film dared to feature Hindi pulp fiction in a sequence making a rare appearance, these novels were either used to depict erotica, horror or comedy in a typically forced manner following the same false assumptions about the genre.
Sharing a funny example, one of the first films to feature a Hindi pulp fiction novel on screen was Woh Koi Aur Hoga (1967), in which Feroz Khan can be seen reading a fictitious Hindi horror novel Pret Atma. But hilariously, where the front cover of the novel has its title written in Hindi, its back cover has everything printed in English as a big goof-up.
Showcasing the same confusion, in Jani Dushman (1979), Amrish Puri reads an English novel (instead of a Hindi one) titled Horror Stories, before transforming into the evil hairy killer.
Three years later, Angoor (1982) boldly became one of the first films presenting an original Hindi pulp fiction novel on screen, Agyat Apradhi by the renowned author Ved Prakash Kamboj. But the entire sequence was shot as a comedy, wherein Sanjeev Kumar reads the text in a funny comical manner.
In 1985, an off-beat film Debshishu had a negative character of Om Puri reading Surender Mohan Pathak’s novel Khoon Ke Aansoo, yet again depicting the same conservative mindset of the makers.
After more than a decade in 1999, another Surender Mohan Pathak novel Late News was seen being read by Paresh Rawal playing a suspicious gurkha watchman in Haseena Maan Jayegi, again using the novel in a comical manner.
The situation somehow became better in the new millennium as a few directors came up with some respectable sequences in their films showcasing Hindi crime novels, but the confusion still remained visible in other major projects.
In Raincoat (2005), the director shows all crime novels by Surender Mohan Pathak and others nicely placed on the reading table of Ajay Devgan. In Gangs of Wasseypur-I, Huma Qureshi is fondly reading the novel Jaal by Dinesh Thakur. On the other hand, in Chharfutiya Chhokare (2014), Soha Ali Khan makes faces noticing a few novels of Ved Prakash Sharma lying on the shelf. In Bareilly Ki Barfii (2017), Kriti Sanon picks up a Hindi crime novel from the railway station bookshop and then leaves it, asking for a cheaper Hindi book from the seller. Similarly in Meri Pyari Bindu (2017), Ayushhman Khurrana is presented as a successful writer of weirdly funny, erotic-horror Hindi novels.
However, where the above filmmakers silently displayed their individual vision towards Hindi pulp fiction, the makers of the recent web series Mirzapur 2 crossed the limit of decency and used a fake voice-over reading a porn-like text in a scene, which was not there at all in the novel Dhabba written by Surendra Mohan Pathak. No doubt the veteran author had to raise an objection through an immediate notice and the makers had to apologize, promising in their official letter that the changes will be made soon.
This avoidable dispute between Pathak and Mirzapur-2 once again revealed the questionable absurd assumptions about the Hindi crime fiction novels and their authors still prevalent in the minds of many young filmmakers.
It’s quite strange that the perception exists, even when authors like Surendra Mohan Pathak and Ved Prakash Sharma are now being published in Hindi by international publications as Harper Collins, Westland and Penguin books.
Sadly, the genre is still waiting for its due even after more than half a century since the 1960s.
(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of Did You Know series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)