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'I'm fascinated by darkness of homicide'
Why did you choose to specialise in the crime genre on television?
I have been all my life, even as a kid and later a teenager, really fascinated by the darkness of the human condition. And clearly murder is the worst thing one human being cane do to another. After my course in film and television at the New York University, I did a programme in writing in which I wrote short and long pieces on crime. I spent a lot of time doing research with the police.
Were you ever influenced by other crime writers?
David Simon, who was an author and crime reporter and who created the acclaimed series, The Wire, was a huge influence. He wrote fiction and non-fiction and as a reporter he was strong on the subject. Dennis Lehane who wrote The Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone was another influence. Crime Suspect starring Helen Mirren shaped my thinking in many ways.
You have often expressed your reservation about using crime to entertain. How do you walk this tough line yourself?
For me, a big part of writing about homicide and crime is about expanding from real life itself. I am particular about being authentic in how I portray the experience of those who are affected by crime. I like to spend time, so to speak, with the dead person and those who suffered for that loss of life. The worst thing is to reduce crime to entertainment.
Doesn't this relentless association with crime ever get depressing for you?
I am drawn to it. I have no idea why really. It is tough, certainly, and not entertaining at all. But it feels like here is a story that I need to tell.
Tell us how you got involved in creating the American version of 'The Killing'. You have been criticised by the fans of the original for meddling with the plot.
The minute I saw the material I instantly fell in love with it. It was a lot like jazz, you hear a sound and then you simply have to build on it. I loved the original but I also did my own research with undercover cops and families of murder victims and it was important to add to it my vision as well. I was very, very mindful of the fear that Hollywood tends to adapt European material very badly. We retained the flavour and the whole method of building the story.
How does the creative process work for you?
We started the series last summer. In the months before that we were a group of writers locked in a room, discussing the plot, building on it, and very often for weeks, just talking about who the people in the story are. The entire show is like a character study disguised as a police procedural. We tried to walk in the shoes of the victim - who is she? what did she like? what did she dream of?
Your investigators in both 'Cold Case' and 'The Killing' are women. Was that deliberate?
Helen Mirren's DCI Jane Tennison in Crime Suspects, was my first revelation about how a crime drama could work out with a woman in it. The fact is that women in the police can be as ambitious, passionate and flamboyant as the men. I am endlessly fascinated by women in the police force - and there aren't so many of them. It is a brutal profession and to survive it and still retain your humanity is tougher for women.
How do you feel, as a writer, when a story that you have written takes on a life of its own as a TV series?
Every time, every single time, I have felt a sense of wonderment. You put things down on paper and then suddenly there are all these people devoting their extraordinary talent to create a living, breathing thing from that blueprint. The actors, the camerapersons ...There can be no better experience than this for a writer.
How connected are you to your roots in India?
My father is originally a Punjabi from Delhi and my mom from Philippines. We made a lot of trips to Delhi, met relatives and travelled around the country. It was wonderful, there was a lot of coming-home aspect to these trips. But when I was growing up in Ohio, like other children, I didn't like what my parents were listening to or watching - movies, songs. Later when I began watching Hindi films, I fell in love with them - the drama, the romance, the colours, the photography, the use of technology. It was wonderful.
Does your family offer you creative inputs?
I love their take on what I do. My son Kumar is now in high school and is showing interest in psychology. When the original The Killing was showing on TV here, we would watch it together. And it was really intense, good stuff. I loved it that this 17-year old boy adored the character of Sarah Linden (the detective). It was so against this stereotype of what the American teen loves - here she was, a female cop in a drab sweater and jeans and not a model running around in a bikini!
How do you unwind after dealing with all this grimness?
I am really, really passionate about the outdoors. I have been in California for 10 years and it is a beautiful place to explore. My husband, Steven Kasher, was a attorney but he is now into adventure travel. We both share a passion for adventure. I often camp by myself for days in the wilderness.
And you manage not to spook yourself with your own stories?
(Laughs) It is scary but fun.
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