Noir Literature Festival: Sequence of events (January 28)

Dear Agent,

The Noir Literature Festival returned to the capital city with its third edition this weekend. The festival aims at celebrating the darker shades of literature in order to encourage more writing in the genre. The festival was held at Oxford Bookstore, Connaught Place, New Delhi, and antiSOCIAL, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi.

Mita Kapur, CEO of Siyahi, and festival producer, acted as master of ceremonies for the inaugural function on January 28th and welcomed the community of crime writers speaking at the festival. Festival director Namita Gokhale, in the inaugural address, spoke about the development about the genre of crime in literature, and shared insights about the growth in the scope and content of crime writing in the country in recent years. Neeta Sreedharan of the Oxford Bookstore welcomed all the speakers and the audience.

There is no person more apt to open a festival on noir in India than Surender Mohan Pathak. The occasion was rendered more special as Namita Gokhale unveiled the latest of Mr. Pathak’s books, Framed, which was followed by the session titled Qaatil Qaun. Mr. Pathak won many laughs with his unpretentious demeanour and candidly confession that he said he writes to entertain alone, and has no delusions about being a litterateur.

Thomas Enger and Uday Satpathy, noir writers from vastly contrasting backgrounds, decoded the irony of their respective writing traditions. Thomas’ Norway, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, also boasts of the immensely successful Nordic Noir subgenre. Conversely, in India, acts of crime are widely prevalent, but not literature on them.

The conversation in the session The Other Side of The Rope was an excellent example of literature being a vehicle of social reflection as the panel moved through the various dimensions of this weighty question through the reflections of Janardhanan Pillai, the eponymous hangman. The multiplicity of opinions among the audience made the discussion lively and charged.

Giampaolo Simi introduced the Italian crime writing tradition and the changing tastes of the average reader of crime fiction which has shifted from the mafia stories of yore to modern police procedurals. On being asked about the social significance of crime literature when storylines have become intensely personal, he explained that the story of a single family is more telling than a fresco of mafia families. Giampaolo’s remedy to the writer’s block is music: he is also lead guitarist in a rock band, Flying Circuses.

The session She’s Sexy When She’s Dead hosted Urvashi Butalia, Paromita Vohra and Avantika Mehta in a discussion about the images of crimes against women in literature, popular culture, and the news. Urvashi pointed out that while the news media of the age does not ignore sexual violence altogether, this does not always extend to those from marginalised communities or those who do not conform to the public’s notion of a ‘good girl’. Paromita matched this sentiment while emphasising the importance of literature and films that manage to convey the silent violence that underlies every social interaction.

To pen her short story collection The Love of a Bad Man, Laura Elizabeth Woollett was attracted by the literary possibilities that the moral ambiguities he offered. Novoneel Chakraborty pointed out that an easy trap for writers of noir romance is of being a judgemental narrator, which would stand in the way of fair treatment of every character.

“As a young writer and police officer, Hashimpura [massacre] left permanent marks on my psyche” says Vibhuti Narain Rai of the violence he witnessed first-hand and felt compelled to put down on paper. Mr. Rai spoke about the unthinkable violence based on communal feelings that he has witnessed in his career as a policeman why it should not be forgotten – “If we forget Hashimpura, there will be more Hashimpuras.”

Puja Changoiwala shared the shock and subsequent curiosity that lead to write about a wealthy, well-connected man who turned out to be a serial killer, and how she had to learn to think like a murderer in order to understand his motives. For Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, the story is all about the detail, because – “For the sake of art, I cannot write something that sounds nonsensical”.

“Every image on a page means something different to everyone, and at the same time, brought people closer in a way that prose at times failed to do.” – Arjun Raj Gaind succinctly summarised the power of the genre of the graphic novel in the session Graphiosi. Even though the genre is in a nascent state in India, it is the right medium for stories that are characterised by an urgency to be heard as Malik Sajad’s Munnu is.

Shashi Warrier, Aditya Sinha and Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, at the onset of the final session of the day Classic With A Twist, strongly condemned the attack on Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Jaipur, and emphasised on the need to uphold artists’ freedom of expression. Moving on to talk about reinventing the genre of the whodunit, the panel reviewed their methods of structuring the plot so as to balance the classic question of ‘who?’ with the modern day need to fully trace the ‘why?’ and the intricacies of the ‘how?’ to produce a well-mixed crime cocktail, served with a twist.

The parallel venue of the festival, antiSOCIAL, Hauz Khas Village hosted the absrobing Jailbird Workshop by author Chetan Mahajan. The session was full house and Chetan took the attendees through his one-month long incarceration at the Bokaro Jail before guiding them in writing crime through several exercises. Chetan emphasised on the importance of drawing inspiration from one’s own experiences so as to bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction. The session left the attendees clamouring for more, and a few of them were seen demanding the workshops be longer, henceforth! The workshop was followed by a screening of the classic caper film Bonnie and Clyde, as no examination of present day noir is possible without tracing it back to the influence of Hollywood of the 1960s.

The most exciting event of the festival was the Qrious Qrimes Quiz competition conducted by Quizcraft Global on the evening of January 27th. The delightful quizmaster Adittya Mubayi had the audience and the contestants equally on their toes. The team mentored by Italian author Giampaolo Simi took home the spoils, and Uday Satpathy’s team came second. Priti Paul, Director, Apeejay Surrendra Group, hosted a Celebratory Dinner for the festival at The Park Hotel and the evening came to an end with new friendships being forged and old ones renewed over a delicious meal.

The first phase of the operation was a success and the target unlocked. The secret code #NoirLitFest was used to grant access to ground visuals from the operation. The Mission HQ can be contacted through the classified portal @noirlitfest on all social media platforms. Please find here photographs from Phase 1 (Photo credits: Naihad Mohan). We look forward to Phase 2 on January 29th with more murky terrains and dangerous targets.

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