Biblio-rants, In conversation

In conversation with – Anand Neelakantan

After the success of Asura: The tale of the Vanquished and the Ajaya series Anand Neelakantan is now busy with the Baahubali : Before the beginning series.The first book in the series, The Rise of Sivagami was out on March 15th and is doing really well on the charts. I had an opportunity to talk with the author. And here’s an excerpt of the conversation-anand_neelakantan

 

How was it writing The Rise of Sivagami in 109 days?

It was maddening. I didn’t think whether it was possible or not, I just sat down and wrote. More so because I was sending my unedited rough chapter drafts to Rajamouli. Soon after each mail he would text me back asking me ‘what next?’. He said, “Not to pressurize you or anything, but I can’t sleep until I know what happens next!” Later when I went to the sets of Bahubali 2 the producer told me that I had cost him 5 days of shooting as Mr.Rajamaouli was up reading my drafts all night and couldn’t shoot the next morning. (laughs) I tell you, that’s the biggest compliment I’ve received for the book, bigger than an award!

With your books like Asura: A tale of the vanquished and the Ajaya: Epic of the Kaurava Clan series you seem to be obsessed with the anti-hero. Why is that so?

To me, they are the heroes. See, if I am to write about, say, Krishna or Rama, they are divine and the divine can do whatever they want. So there is no story there. And many people, a lot more talented than myself, have written about them. What more would I write about them? I want to write about the less spoken about.

How would you characterize your style of story telling?

I believe that fiction is a mirror. It should reflect the society and basic human nature. That’s what I keep in mind when I write. My stories have to be entertaining and at the same time make my readers think.

Coming to The Rise of Sivagami, how much of this story is S.S.Rajamouli?

We had one meeting where he gave me a list of dos and don’ts regarding the characters of Sivagami and Kattappa. He essentially gave me the two characters and asked me to write the story around them like I would write any other story. All the other characters are how I created them from my imagination. The freedom he gave me and the responsibility of staying true to the franchise was daunting.

What are the challenges you faced in writing this novel?

The first challenge was to finish plotting, planning, drafting and revising in 109. Besides this book is a prequel to an already established franchise. The magical grandiose Mr.S.S.Rajamouli has created on the screen along with the musical accompaniment of M.M Keeravani’s magic is indisputably unparalleled in Indian cinema. For me to be able to recreate that magic in words is an intimidating task. But, like I said, I didn’t stop to think. I just started writing. Also, I think the bigger and real challenge would be to keep my readers engaged and interested all through the series. And, since I like challenging myself, the challenge is accepted!

What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to read more non-fiction when I’m writing. I feel it helps in adding more reality and character to my writing. Also, I fear reading fiction while writing fiction may cause my reading to influence my writing. So at the moment, I’m reading Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent by Pranay Lal. I’m also reading Anthakaranazhi, in Malayalam. I just finished reading Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand by K.Vijay Kumar.

What are the books that you read recently and liked?

Although I read it about couple of months back, itt has to be the multi-award winning Aarachar, by K.R. Meera, Manushyanu Oru Aamukham by Subhash Chandran and The Ivory Throne by Manu.S.Pillai.

Currently, Anand Neelakantan is busy scheduling time to promote his book The Rise of Sivagami, the first book in the Baahubali: Before the Beginning series, and working on the second book in the series. Further he also has some upcoming screen-writing commitments for Amazon Prime and Discovery Channel based on Indian history.

Book Review, Indian authors

The Rise of Sivagami: Book 1 of Baahubali – Before the Beginning by Anand Neelakantan

‘Why did Kattappa kill Baahubai?’, the most asked question in these 2 years, only begins 911wBYUAMAL.__BG0,0,0,0_FMpng_AC_UL320_SR208,320_
to gauge the wide public interest in the Baahubali franchise. While the answer to this question might evade us till the end April this year, when Baahubali 2 -The Conclusion releases, clues to it might be hidden in plain sight within the pages of The Rise of Sivagami, written by Anand Neelakantan. SS Rajamouli and Anand Neelakantan were well ahead of their game in marketing Baahubali franchise and the book by releasing Chapter 2: Kattappa ahead of the book release to pique interest. The book was up for pre-ordering on Amazon and it hit the stands on 15th of March, 2107. I caught hold of a digital copy from the Kindle store on the D-day.

The very first few pages into the book told me that it will need more than my Anand-Neelakantancursory attention. All the main characters are listed with their brief description before the story begins. This gives you an insight into what is in store for you. It also gives you a sense of the magnitude of the plot. This fictional political drama focuses on Sivagami’s story. How from young orphan she turned into the powerful bureaucrat she seems in the first movie of the franchise. The characters seem well thought out and by the end of the book you see a lot of them evolve into full bloom. The plot twists and turns tend to shock at times and sometimes get predictable. But, this book only starts to lay a ground for the plot twists and turns that could be possible in a story of this magnitude.

Anand Neelakantan had announced his arrival with his book Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished. And, in true Anand Neelakantan style, there are no black and white characters here either; every character has a gray shade, with the exception of Kattappa and Mahadeva. But, Neelakantan, a fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series himself, assures us that the plot will only thicken as the series proceeds.

Verdict: If you have enjoyed Baahubali, the movie and the mini-series on Amazon Prime, then you are definitely going to love and enjoy it. This book serves in thickening the plot and getting you further immersed into the world of Mahishmati. 

 

Continue reading “The Rise of Sivagami: Book 1 of Baahubali – Before the Beginning by Anand Neelakantan”

Book Review, Indian authors

Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished

Asura : Tale of the Vanquished has been on my to-read list for asuraquite some time and I decided to finally get my hands on it when I came across it in
a Kindle deal. This is also part of my read-more-Indian-authors campaign for myself.

By the time I got to the book-4 years too late- the author Anand Neelakantan has already written books based on Mahabharata and has signed on to write 3 books as a prequel to Bahubali, the big budget, multi-lingual movie. Until after I finished the book and did some research I didn’t even realize that the author is a Malayali (though I suspected so from all the Kerala references). He is an engineer from Thripunithura, Kochi.

Anand_Neelakantan.jpg
Anand Neelakantan

Every Malayali worth one’s salt is aware of
the version of Ramayana in which Sita is Ravana’s daughter. In this book, Anand Neelakantan explores this interpretation of the story through the eyes of two men, Ravana and Bhadra.

The story is presented to us through the eyes of Ravana who is at his death bed. Ravana needs no introduction whatsoever and has always been portrayed as the quintessential villain- the hot-headed, immoral, greedy, lustful, yet learned, artistic and mighty Emperor of Lanka. Yet, Anand Neelakantan paints a more human picture of Ravana, who is virtuous yet flawed.

The biggest tragedy of life was that we grow up and achieve our boyhood dreams.

-Ravana, Asura : Tale of the Vanquished

He is brave and courageous but isn’t immune to fear. He is passionate and compassionate, but also jealous, competitive and selfish at the same time. He is a victim of his own ambitions. He is ideologically progressive, yet practically regressive. This Ravana is by no means the villain, but neither is he the hero.

Another person who narrates the story to us is Bhadra, an Asura commoner. He introduces himself to us thus-

I’m a non-entity- Invisible, powerless and negligible.No epic will ever be written about me. I have suffered both Ravana and Rama- the hero and the villain or the villain and the hero. When the stories of great men are told, my voice maybe too feeble.

Yet, spare me a moment and hear my story, for I am Bhadra, the Asura, and my life is the tale of the loser.

-Bhadra, Asura: Tale of the Vanquished

Though he calls himself ‘a non-entity’, Bhadra is quite pivotal to the story. Not only does he appear at decisive moments of the story, but he also functions as the third-eye whose sole purpose in life is to survive inspite of the many disappointments, betrayals and humiliations thrown at him. To us he adds a different dimension to the story by being the all-seeing-eye. He is representative of how the battle between the Devas and Asura has affected the Asura population. He is representative of what caste system, or any other discriminatory system of rules, can affect the lives of the population. He is representative of the hollowness of war and the trail of destruction it brings forth.

This book though fall into the genre of mythological fiction, but is socially and politically relevant. It raises serious questions on castism, racism and misogyny. By the end of this reasonably long book you will find yourself posing serious existential questions. This book made me question my concepts on victory and success. It made me question my concepts of a hero and a villain as this story has neither a hero nor a villain or maybe it has a hero and a villain in more than one character. It made me question morality and it sheds light over the distance between concepts like good and evil, God and mortal. It also shows you how the gender divide is the elephant in the room that you can’t ignore.

Rating : 4/5

Verdict: If you are anything like me, who loves mythology and its different interpretations, you have to read it one. But, expect to feel the wrath of failure, the sting of betrayal and heaviness of loss as you turn the last page. And, also, expect to question concepts that you have long taken for granted. Continue reading “Asura: Tale Of The Vanquished”