‘All the new characters in the book are the result of my imagination’

Nikhil Bhave
Monday, 25 December 2017

A chat with author Anand Neelakantan about his book The Rise of Sivagami, which is a prequel to Baahubali. 

The Baahubali duology has become a milestone in the history of Indian cinema. While ‘Why Kattappa Killed Baahubali’ became an internet phenomenon in the first part, the sequel brought the answer in a very flamboyant and catchy manner. 
But what happened before there were Bhallaladeva and the Baahubali father-son? Writer Anand Neelakantan, author of acclaimed novels, Asura and Jaya, has come out with the prequel, titled The Rise of Sivagami, which has now been translated into Marathi. Excerpts from the conversation:

What can the readers expect from Sivagami and how much has the vision of SS Rajamouli contributed to the book?
The readers can expect a story filled with intrigue, passion, sex, violence and adventure. They are bound to be transported to a world that is totally different yet familiar, the landscape of the magnificent city of Mahishmathi and the people who lived there, many thousand years ago. It is not the same Mahishmathi of the film, though the geography is the same. 

The book traces the life of the teenaged Sivagami and Kattappa and tells the story before the movie. The world is more dystopian and has more gore than the film and there are many grey characters. This is to do justice to the international series that is being planned. S S Rajamouli had given me full freedom to develop the plot and the characters, except for the three characters, that are common to both the book series and the films. All the new characters you find in the book are the result of my imagination and there are about 40 of them.

What made you take up Sivagami?
S S Rajamouli had read my Asura and had liked it a lot. He was searching for a story teller who could expand the Mahishmathi story empire and it fell on my shoulders. I am a great fan of Rajamouli’s story telling and had always dreamt of working with him. 

Regarding your earlier projects, what made you turn towards ‘evil’ characters in mythology and telling history from their point of view?
If I am going to tell the Ramayana and the Mahabharata the conventional way, with same antagonists and protagonists, what is my contribution to literature? Great poets from Valmiki to Tulsidas, Kambar etc have done that spectacularly. I was always fascinated with Ravana and Duryodhana and wanted to see the epics through their eyes.

A lot of new writers are pegging their books around the genre of mythological fiction. What are your thoughts on this? Have we reached a plateau stage as far as this genre is concerned?
Writers write when they are passionate about the subject. It is heartening to know that success of mythological fiction from authors, including me, has encouraged many aspiring writers to write in this genre. 

When Asura was envisaged, publishers used to be apprehensive about the success of mythological fiction. When a genre delivers, it is natural that many new writers would come. Some will be great works, some average and some mediocre. Readers are discerning enough to choose wisely. Like any product in the market, this also will go through the sales cycle. 

Can you tell us something about your future projects? 
The second part of Rise of Sivagami is being written now. Also a young adult edition, with diluted violence and sans sex is coming soon. I am also a part of screenplay writing for the international Baahubali web series. 

Apart from the same, a few TV shows which I had scripted, are going on air from January, on channels like Discovery, Star India, Amazon etc. I have also scripted a Malayalam play to be staged by Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Academy. My short story collection on Women of Ramayana will be out soon. Another non fiction is in the offing. I have my hands full. 

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