Filmmaker and writer Jyotin Goel’s latest novel, Bheem, published by Penguin, uses threads from The Ramayana and The Mahabharata. The plot revolves around a virus, which is the modern version of the curse given to the vaanar by Mandodari, the queen of Lanka. It’s now up to Bheem, who arrives in the 21st century, to seek out the four humans, who with their natural immunity, can help develop an antidote to the virus.
Goel, who has written and directed sci-fi TV series Antariksh and films like Inaam Dus Hazaar, Zahreelay, Safari and Hum Hai Raahi Car Ke, says that he wanted to envision the possibilities of genuine and old-world heroes in the present-day era.
Bheem is a greater warrior
Arjun is considered as the greatest warrior in The Mahabharata. So why did the author choose Bheem as the protagonist of his novel?
“Bheem is as great a warrior as Arjun. It’s just that he didn’t use bow and arrow, which was the weapon of choice then. In that period, this was not considered as a trait of a great warrior. If you read The Mahabharata, you will realise that Bheem was at the forefront of all action. The Pandavas made him unleash terror on the region of Kauravas,” he says. Goel explains that he was fascinated by the complete submission of Bheem to Lord Krishna and Yudhishthir. “Bheem believes in seniority and will never rebel against his seniors. I wanted to bring Bheem out of his comfort zone; he now has to face this universe-ending dilemma in the 21st century. How he handles the situation, is what the book is all about,” he adds.
Listing the traits of his protagonist, Goel says that Bheem’s emotions are raw. “He is completely outraged by Draupadi’s vastraharan and extracts terrible revenge. His sons are also killed in the war, so he has a strong revenge motive,” the filmmaker-writer informs.
The old and the modern world
Bheem moves back and forth, between the past and the present, which Goel says, is the primary thread of the novel. “In present times, antibiotic-resistant viruses like Ebola, HINI, Zika virus, are spreading. All these diseases are major threats to mankind. Remember in the 14th century, two-thirds of Europe was affected by the pneumonic plague. I have used Mandodari’s curse in our time as a virus, and the only people who can handle the situation, are people from that era. So there’s action, adventure, family, emotion and revenge in the story,” he explains.
A lot of research and effort has gone into writing the novel, says Goel. “When you are writing a spin-off on an epic, you have to unleash your imagination. It is so because different people have depicted The Mahabharata in different ways. There is certain kind of gravitas associated with the epic. You can’t treat it lightly, nor can you mock the world events it talks about,” he says.
The filmmaker also has plans to adapt the book for screen. “We will either make it into a single movie or two-part like Baahubali. There are also talks about making it into a big-budgeted series like Game of Thrones,” he adds.
The author says that the plans are a given, because the epic leaves an impact on those who are born and raised in India. “Our social culture, political system is influenced by that era and there is no getting away from that,” he says.