One of the opening panels
One of the opening panels

Saurav Mohapatra | Arjun Kadam’s last encounters

The writer of the noir-style Hindi cinema-inspired 'Mumbai Confidential' on creating a wry 'encounter cop' in search of redemption

Remember young Vijay’s horse dreams in Zanjeer? They get a stylized tribute in the forthcoming graphic novel Mumbai Confidential Book One: Good Cop, Bad Cop. In the hallucinations of its protagonist Arjun Kadam, it is a giant Knight (a chess horse) soaked in sea-green chimera. The Knight makes Arjun struggle with his fractured memory.

The Hindi cinema of “inspectors" and “bhais" is the muse of California-based Saurav Mohapatra’s writing, gorgeously illustrated in sepia and colour by Mumbai-based Vivek Shinde. There is an interlude dedicated to Parveen Babi—her sexy entry scene in the film Deewar, reimagined. There is a literal tribute to Satya—in fact, the story and all the characters seem like take-offs from Ram Gopal Varma’s underworld films of the 1990s. And there is an ode to camp film titles of the past, with a poster titled “Gunda Coolie, A Kantibai film starring Balwan Khan" in crimson red.

Arjun Kadam swims in apocryphal waters. He is an “encounter cop", the vigilante police officer who got carte blanche by the Mumbai police in the 1980s and 1990s to kill in what were termed ‘encounters’ between the police and members of the underworld. The police-mafia-Bollywood web entangles Kadam, and once a hero, he loses everything when found guilty. Through the book, Kadam is in search of a second life.

Reminiscent of Vikram Chandra’s Sartaj Singh (Sacred Games) only in his sardonicism, and a composite of the mind-boggling number of police officers we have known from Hindi cinema, Kadam is always engulfed in cigarette smoke and shadows, the lines of his face expressing paroxysms of anger and sadness.

Mumbai Confidential is a racy read sure to hook any serious Hindi film lover—the noir treatment uplifting a predictable story. Like the larger-than-life on-screen men in khaki, Kadam transforms from an upright man of a few words to a foul-talking misogynist.

Shinde and Mohapatra worked for Virgin Comics (now Liquid Comics). They are part of a gang that the insiders call “The Deflowered Virgins", and it includes writers and illustrators such as Samit Basu, Sid Kotian, Saumin Patel, Devaki Neogi, Mukesh Singh, Shounak Jog and Harshvardhan Kadam. They all got the break in Virgin Comics, and Mohapatra says they “still serve as each others’ focus group".

Running out of luck with Indian publishers, Mohapatra approached US-based Archaia entertainment. Mike Kennedy, publisher, Archaia Entertainment, says: “It offered a very unique addition to our library, which contains a number of noir titles from various countries, yet until now, none set in India. Saurav’s presentation and Vivek’s artwork made such a fascinating combination of familiar tropes in an unfamiliar environment (to most US readers)."

Mohapatra spoke to Lounge about creating Mumbai Confidential, meeting Shinde only in geekdom, and his love of Hindi films. Edited excerpts:

How did ‘Mumbai Confidential’ take shape?

Mohapatra
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