“I had not even written one word of my first novel when I scribbled a note for myself with a sketch pen and stuck it on the wall in front of my writing desk,” says Anand Neelakantan, author of three bestselling mythology based novels: Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, Ajaya: Roll of the Dice and Rise of Kali.
“What was it?” I ask him.
“The note read: This book is going to be the bestseller,” he says, and even though we are talking on the phone, I know that a victorious smile is etched on his lips. And why ever not? – Anand’s first book, Asura, a retelling of Ramayana from the perspective of Ravana, has sold 500,000 copies till now.
His next two books, Ajaya and Rise of Kali, have been bestsellers, too.
The Big Question, Finally Answered
Fast forward to 2015, after watching Baahubali: The Beginning in a theatre, Anand told his wife that the director, S S Rajamouli, would soon call him to adapt his book, Asura, into a movie. February 2016, Rajamouli did call up Anand, but it was to ask him if he could write three novels that would be prequels to his Baahubali movies.
The first book in this series, The Rise of Sivagami: Book 1 of Baahubali – Before the Beginning has been published by Westland and released on the 15th of March in Mumbai.
Talking about his much anticipated novel, Anand reveals how he had 100 days to plot, write and edit a 500 page novel. So, how did he do it?
I don’t usually plan when I write. I just let it flow and after I have written everything, I go back and tie the loose ends.
Anand makes it sound as easy as baking a cake, when it is anything but that.
In this particular case, Anand not only had to match up to the monumental success of Baahubali (which remains the third highest grossing film in India), but also write the novels from the perspective of a woman with the Queen of Mahishmati, Sivagami in the main lead.
“The three novels cover Sivagami’s story from age 17 to 45, tracking her journey as a young orphan who comes to Mahishmati kingdom to avenge the death of her father and goes on to become its Queen,” he says, and adds how he plans to introduce at least 40 new characters in these novels.
“What about Kattappa?” I ask Anand.
“He is there in the novels as a loyal, trustworthy slave…”
“Would the readers finally know why he killed Amarendra Bahubali?” I interrupt.
“Yes,” Anand replies, breaking into an easy laugh. Almost at once I begin to wonder if it was stressful to meet the high expectations from this novel and also deliver it to a strict deadline. How did he manage it all?
I was writing for TV series like Siya Ke Ram, Chakravarthin Ashoka Samrat and Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman, and it trained me to write to deadlines and TRP’s. I already knew what tropes I could use and how I could use them.
It is no wonder then that he took only 64 days to write the first draft of the novel which he then deleted to almost half its length before rewriting it again.
The Other Way Round: Movies to Books
So, as it happens – whether Anand is aware of it or not – he is definitely setting a trend in India where generally, popular books have been adapted to movies. Here, it is the exact opposite, a sort of an experiment, some might say, and I wonder if it will succeed.
Anand’s publisher remains optimistic.
While the concept may be new in India, it has proved successful in other countries. Case in point is the Star Wars series of novels that were launched only after the first 3 films and tell the stories that are chronologically before, after and in between the films.
Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO, Westland
“But, the audience for cinema and books is completely different. Will the books be accepted by the readers here?” I ask Padmanabhan.
“We hope the books will break new ground, just like the film did,” he replies. “While we are releasing the English editions we hope to release the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu editions in April, followed in subsequent months by other Indian language editions.”
“So, what next?” I ask Anand. “International projects?”
“Of course. My ultimate dream is to write for Hollywood projects,” he says, ending the interview on an optimistic note.
(Vani has worked as a business journalist and is the author of ‘The Recession Groom’. She can be reached @Vani_Author)