THE DEVIL’S RACONTEUR
This is Charles Sobhraj. The serial killer? You could put it that way...
The prelude itself hooks you on and you cannot help but flip the pages to read more. Alas, had this been just a novel, then there’d perhaps be a convincing end to this story that started at the Channel 4 office in Charlotte Street, London, way back in 1997. However, things aren’t that simple. According to Dhondy, Charles Sobhraj contacted him. Sobhraj, born Hotchand Bhawnani Gurmukh Sobhraj, on April 1944, the illegitimate son of a Vietnamese peasant girl and a wealthy Indian merchant living in Saigon, was Asia’s premier serial slayer. It is difficult to discern what he’s most guilty of—a charming womanising persona or the fact that he is charged with the murder of ten (if not more) innocent backpackers on the hippie trail. By ’97 he was already famous, Thomas Thompson’s book Serpentine had already released in 1979, followed by Julie Clarke and Richard Neville’s The Life and Serious Crimes of Charles Sobhraj (1980) and Shadow of the Cobra (1989). Yet he chose Dhondy to tell his story, for reasons uncharted.
In an interview with British GQ, Dhondy described what Charles and he had as ‘acquaintanceship’, simply because he was intrigued to see where the story might lead. “It was some hotel on the M20 junction, Sobhraj was there with two large Belgians in leather jackets. Sobraj said, ‘ We’re here to set up an antique furniture shop.’” Sobhraj wanted Dhondy to lease the shop as a British citizen. ‘“You’ll get £100,000 if you do this for us,’ said Sobhraj, ‘ because we’re not selling furniture. It’s a front for selling arms. We’re going to launder the money through the antiques job,’” Dhondy was quoted in the article. Of course, he turned down the offer, but he was convinced that Sobhraj was already involved in trading of illegal arms.
The two kept in touch since and were on good terms too, until the release of The Bikini Murders. Dhondy has spoken about several instances when Sobhraj got in touch
Farrukh Dhondy may be many things, but nothing kept him in the
limelight more than the story of his alliance with Charles Sobhraj. Today, he finds himself under the media radar again as Bollywood grapples to fictionalise the serial killer. Mandate speaks to the sharpas-a-whip author and he responds,
with his tongue firmly in cheek.
with him about little things, be it regarding emails with coded references to red mercury, a Russian isotope or a bizarre instance when he called him at 2am from a London casino, asking him to get him out of the car park since he didn’t have a cent on him. He lent him some money and “it’s anyone’s guess whether he paid me back,” Dhondy had said at his book launch in Bengaluru.
Sobhraj, who is believed to be an unusually secretive character obsessed with preventing anyone from exploiting his life for financial gains, wasn’t amused with the release of The Bikini Murders and threatened to sue the writer. There was a fallout, Sobhraj described Dhondy as a ‘petty middleman’ and Dhondy called his threat an attempt at ‘extortion and blackmail’ as reported by DNA. Recently enough, Dhondy received a similar threat when DAR Motion Pictures bought the rights of his book, soon to be adapted into a film, while Prawaal Raman’s Main Aur Charles, based on Amod Kant’s account (the investigating officer on Sobhraj’s case), is slated to release early next year. As Dhondy finds himself in the media line of fire once again, quite unwittingly, we spoke to the celebrated author about his book, movies and Sobhraj.