I’m a male who has a female gaze, says author-filmmaker Piyush Jha

In an exclusive interview, Jha talks about his writing process, the mind of a serial killer and the inspiration behind the strong female character in his latest book 'Raakshas'.

Written by Trusha Navalkar | New Delhi | Published:January 19, 2016 8:37 pm
Piyush Jha (Center) with Zac O’Yeah (Right), ‘Raakshas-India’s No 1 Serial Killer’ launched by Sudhir Mishra (Left).

“He’s a serial killer, a person who’s killing people — defenceless people. You have to show all his guts hanging out there for you to understand what this is all about,” Piyush Jha, author of ‘Raakshas: India’s No. 1 Serial Killer’, says of his antagonist, while launching his book during the Crime Writer’s Festival in New Delhi. The book was launched on January 16 by renowned film-maker Sudhir Mishra.

Raakshas is an exploration of what drives people to do what they do — especially something as grizzly as serial killing. “It’s an area I like to go into — the psychological seeds of a person’s personality,” says Jha.

Raakshas is yet another addition to Jha’s list of serial killer books — ‘Compass Box Killer’ and ‘Anti-Social Network’. “I grew up reading crime fiction, and it just stayed with me. It came to me naturally — to gravitate towards being a crime a writer,” Jha says about his fascination with crime thrillers.

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As for his fascination with serial killers, he says his BA in Psychology may have helped. “I’ve actually been unconsciously researching serial killers and criminal psychology right from my college days. I was very interested in criminal psychology.” Jha did a lot of accumulated research over the years that led to his books.

Delving in the greys

There is a certain peculiarity in his characters, for a book that belongs to the classic ‘chor vs police’ trope. It is difficult to allot your loyalties to a specific character. Jha makes you sympathise — even feel disgusted — equally with both the protagonist and the antagonist. “When I’m writing about serial killers, I don’t want to package it in some nice, palatable way. I didn’t want to be formulaic. I want to tell it like it is,” he says.

In yet another deviation from convention, all his characters are educated — but they all display a moral weakness at some point. “Your values form you — either you get it from your school education or you get it at home. Moral science is one of the most important things…if moral science is inculcated in the curriculum, it makes you a better individual,” he says while explaining how education’s failure became the bane of his characters’ lives.

Much like in his critically acclaimed film ‘Sikandar’, Jha’s book also extensively delves into the childhood of his antagonist. “Most of my research — and psychologists — will tell you that serial killers become so because of a childhood which is harrowing in many ways. There is a very famous psychologist who said, ‘Give me a child and I will make him anything you want — I can make him a killer, I can make him a writer.” According to him, “Most people (parents) today are not being careful, they should pay attention to those formative years.”

Unlike many in the genre, one of Jha’s principle characters is a tough woman cop Maithili Prasad, who is hot on the trail of ‘Raakshas’. Talking about the male and female gaze debate, Jha says, “I think I’m a male who has a female gaze. I have been brought up by a very strong woman — my mother — and I am married to another very strong woman. I think I created the character keeping these two women in mind.”

This question is especially important as there is an undertone of a festering hatred of women in the book. “That’s essentially the essence of a serial killer. He fixates on a certain kind of a character — an authority figure — who kind of let him down, or created a dissonance in his life. Serial killers are known to target women, I couldn’t show serial killers trying to kill just men, you know. More often than not, they kill women. If I had not shown that, I would have done something wrong,” Jha justifies.

Media plays an important role in Jha’s book — a facilitator of sorts. “I think the media does act as something that brings focus. We need to bring that (focus) because a lot of things have been swept under the carpet. Serial killers have been swept under the carpet in this country. There is a section (in the book) on India’s least-known serial killers and the youngest in the world, in fact, belongs to India. Not many people knew that before reading the book.”

But it’s not all about upbringing, genetics have a role in the psyche of a serial killer as well — how else do you explain a child serial killer. “I believe we are a mixture of nature versus nurture, and even somebody who does not have such a great background — in terms of genetic pool, etc. — can have a great nurturing and become a different sort of a person. I don’t take sides. I try to give an understanding that both are important. We need to balance it out between the two,” he says.

“I don’t want to give ‘bhashans’, I don’t want to keep talking and sit out there and pontificate. I tell my stories in a fictional form, and hope that the subtext will be apparent to the reader. Some way it might affect a person, and create some kind of change,” says Jha, as he prepares for one of his books being converted into a Web series, and thus reaching out to a wider audience.

Jha is already working on a new book as well as a directorial project, but till we know more, there is always the mind of Raakshas to unravel.

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