Mumbai Confidential is a graphic novel based on Mumbai Underworld. Written by Saurav Mohapatra and illustrated by Vivek Shinde, it tells the story of Arjun Kadam, an erstwhile police officer-turned-junkie.
I picked it from a local bookstore on a whim. After the disappointing Devi (Ok! I mildly liked the first book.), I really did not want to read Indian graphic novels. Granted, Mumbai Confidential is not a breakthrough work, but at least it is leaps and bounds ahead of any mainstream Indian work I have seen.
The story is told in a non-linear fashion. The back and forth jumps in the timeline are nicely done. It was easy to follow and somehow did not feel non-linear for non-linear sake. As a consequence of its non-linearity, the story opens up in media res with a bleeding Arjun on gunpoint. It’s not just his blood that comes out of him but monologues as well. Arjun was bleeding monologues! He even does a self referential joke in the open pages. Consider this.
Monsoons in Mumbai. Heavens pissing water. Not the best of places to die. With two in the gut and bleeding like a menstruating whore, I don’t have much choice. Beggars, choosers and all that jazz. Fuck. Then there’s all this. I don’t mind dying here, in an alley in the ass end of Mumbai. But monologuing? Can’t a man get shot in silence anymore?
The story flows through moody high contrast panels that are partly noir-ish and partly surreal. The closest I can think of is Alex Ross on acid – and I mean it as a great compliment to Vivek Shinde.
Some of the full page panels are really well executed. These images are dark, moody and expose a sense of loneliness.
Through Arjun’s monologues (see all the square lettered boxes in the images?), we are invited into the world of corrupt cops, rival gangsters, wealthy actor who doesn’t care about the common man, broken healthcare that doesn’t cater to the poor and anything and everything in between. In short, the darkness of Mumbai’s underbelly. As Arjun tries to uncover the killer of a poor girl – a flower-seller on the streets – he stumbles across the involvement of characters who had defined his past as an encounter specialist. Amidst his quest and his flashbacks, he tries to uncover the player behind the pawns, even at the cost of his own life. (On a side-note, if anyone has seen the 90s Hindi movie Mohra, which translates to pawn, the story isn’t far off. I don’t mean that it has been lifted. Only that, the graphic novel has better execution of the outline.)
In essence, the graphic novel exposes the need for physical and emotional survival of these characters. In every way it is like a hard-boiled neo-noir movie. The only thing that is missing from the formula is a femme fatale.
There are four interludes sandwiched in between the chapters. These are drawn by Vinay Brahmania and Devaki Neogi. They are like short auxiliary stories that expose a bit more of the settings and background but contribute very little to the main narrative. The change in the art style gives away that fact.
The last interlude is the one that I really liked. It is called Demand and Supply. There is a red herring and a nice twist that makes it more enjoyable.
If you are in US, the book is published by Archaia and available via most leading bookstores (here is the Amazon.com link). In India, it has been published under the Inked imprint of Penguin. I own the paperback edition. The quality of the printing is top notch with good colour reproduction. I would highly recommend this enjoyable book.
Have you read the book? Please leave a comment below. I would be also happy to know of good stuff being written and published from this part of the world.