The comic strip with Hari Majestic from an anthology. ART/HARSHO MOHAN chattoraj
Tell us about your fixation with Majestic Talkies.
I've always had a soft spot for Majestic, that area around the Bengaluru bus stand and railway station, ever since I first got off the train in 1992. That part of town is called Gandhi Nagar but everybody knows it as 'Majestic', after an old cinema hall that once stood there. The area is vibrant with plenty of food, entertainment and shopping options. Being a transport hub, you will find amazing little canteens that serve all kinds of fare from Kerala to Bengal; shops sell smuggled and pirated products, and it was once known as the place with the largest number of cinema halls in the world. Though many have been torn down, including Majestic Talkies, it is still a hub for local cinema. So it is fun to head there, people-watch or browse in shops; it's where I go when I want a feel of the real city.
How did Hari enter the picture?
On some level, the characters in my stories started cooking in my mind over 20 years ago, when I stayed in a hotel there. The area stuck in my mind so strongly that whichever place I travelled to, if I got bored there, I'd think: "I wish I were in Majestic." Indian metros are perfect settings for detective stories; there's a lot of scope for action. My first Mr Majestic! novel took four years to write because I didn't want it to seem like a western style detective story by just using an Indian location. I had this idea that I wanted to write something that would seem almost true —although the story is made up — and so I set my targets high. I felt that if I write a detective story set in India, it can only be a relevant book if an Indian reader, like my wife who is a writer, can read it and nod in recognition.
What role does Bengaluru play in this new work?
The interesting thing is that Bengaluru still has a small shelf of city fiction dedicated to it, at least in the English language. Kannada cinema has a lot of great Bengaluru movies, but I think literature and graphic novels are still to catch up. What I mean to say is that in a rapidly growing cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru, there must be more fiction that tells us stories of the city from various aspects. I felt that every self-respecting city should have a shelf full of detective novels dedicated to it.
A fictional detective is an urban explorer, so writing or reading a detective novel can ideally be a way of getting to know a place better. For me, Hari Majestic, the private eye, became my key to unlock the city and chronicle it. And at that point, when the idea came to me, it felt so obvious! Why hadn't I thought of it before? But I seriously doubt I could have imagined the character Hari Majestic without Bengaluru.