Pioneering Mythology: Anand Neelakantan

“A good king is always prepared to attack, but a great king is always prepared to defend.” Everybody has seen the Ramayana, the Mahabharata from the hero’s point of view. What’s the fun that? ” says Anand Neelakantan, author of the Baahubali trilogy series whose second book Chaturanga (Baahubali: Before the Beginning) is just launched.

Talking about the latest book Chaturanga, the book is all about the survival of a woman in the ruthless world of politics. “This is a trilogy. This is the second book so this forms the middle portion of the series. So here we will see Sivagami continue her journey but now the stakes are much higher. She has to earn her position as she is thrown into the world of ruthless politics. Any age, it is difficult for a woman to survive in the man’s world in the dark era of medieval politics, it is going to be tough and grim for Sivagami.” quotes Anand.

Sometimes you don’t make the choices

Anand has been chosen as the author of the month by Amazon. “Any writer take a huge responsibility of telling the story of such a successful franchise, I was also quiet tensed but fortunately the book 1 and now the book 3 has been accepted quite very well going by the positive reviews the book 1 was most remarkable book of 2017 and I hope this book be that of 2020 as per Amazon.”

Initially he was tensed to write on such a successful franchisee like Baahubali, but he was delighted that fortunately the book has been widely accepted. “It is not that I chose the name Baahubali. It is the part of the official film series. This book was commissioned by the producers and the directors of the Film S. S. Rajamouli, you cannot put any other name because this is the part of the original film. This is the prequel to the story which was told in the film. This is also becoming a Netflix series with the same name Baahubali: Before the Beginning.”

The Mythological Connection

Being born and grew up in a place where Puranas were and still a part and parcel of life, he is always connected to the mythology. “For me, Puranas are something I grew up with. It is dissolved in my blood. I grew up in a place where this was and still is a part and parcel of life. The research is not something  I do by searching on Google or by looking at Wikipedia. My stories are based on plenty of folk tales especially from South India and it has the backing of so many bygone writers and folk artists who have dared to tell these stories in their own fashion.”

In Kerala where Anand grew up in, there is a tradition that the mythology is still in their tradition. He says that there is a tradition of telling these old stories through performing arts, or by oral or verbal storytelling, so the research is not that much required. “Mythology is not something which I have to sit and research. It is something as I said, is dissolved in my blood. It has been passed on from my ancestors. These tales have been told by many Indian writers in Indian classical languages like Sanskrit, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, etc. It is not that I am directly translating them and it is not that Indian languages have not gone into. What I am bringing in is my own unique style and in English.” 

When his first book in mythology, Asura, came into the market, there was no place for mythological genre or we can say that it was nonexistent. “I didn’t calculate the odds because I was not gambling. I was just writing what I was passionate about. When I was writing Asura, now Asura is in its 9th year, when I was writing Asura that was almost 5 years ago, because it took 6 to 7 years to write the book and 2 to 3 years to get it published. So I started the workaround 15 years back. There was not this trend of mythology books in Indian English. Mostly it was Romance that used to sell. It was not market-oriented writing it happened that I wrote Asura and it coincided with the Rise of the Mythological Genre in Indian English writing.

Perhaps I can arguably claim that I was one of the pioneers who started this genre and made this popular.”

The Political Connection –

As the book is showcasing the struggle of Sivagami and her survival in the ruthless world of politics, we wanted to dive deep into the Chaturanga. He explained that Chaturanga is  a game more like Ludo rather than chess. Usually we mix Chess politics together but here, things are slightly different.

“Chaturanga is an ancient game very similar to Ludo rather than Chess. This was to be taught to the princes because it represented life or the skills which a prince should have. In life it is always a combination of skills and luck, Chaturanga is like that. You throw the dice and then you make the moves and then your opponent throws the dice and makes the moves based on the dice and your moves and the game escalates. So Chaturanga is the representation of politics. People in different places, rolling their dice, trying their luck, and using their skills, to come to the top of the game. It is to this ruthless world, I have thrown the hero Sivagami into.”

 It’s all about the characters –

Building the characters is a tough task especially when you have to go back in history. Anand has his own way of developing the intriguing characters. He says, “Every character is difficult to develop. But once you develop them it is easy to write about them provided you live enough with them So what i do is I live with m characters for many months or years and they speak to me. It is like transcribing their words and thoughts once  I have sufficient lived. Bhadra was a tough characterization, and so was Sugreeva in Vanara. In Baahubali series the tough character was Katappa.”

“Whenever I write a book, I try to give the maximum importance to the emotions of the characters. I love putting them in tough spots and see how they react. So to give an experience of life is what I intend to do  with any of my book. So that is what I have achieved in this book and I hope I have achieved that going by the reaction that I am getting.” He added.

“So many people are told the Ramayana and Mahabharata from the hero’s side. What is the fun in doing that? And these characters was quite fascinating for me because of the grayness in their character. They appeared more humane than the God. I felt more connected to these because of their flaws. they were apt material for writing tragedies which these three books are based on.”

Life as a Writer –

After his full fledged career as an Engineer, now Anand says that he has taken a sabbatical. He has transitioned himself into a full time writer and there are several projects with him.

“I have almost become a full time writer and I am on a Sabbatical. All I do is to read and write. Otherwise I would not have achieved what I have achieved so far. I have written 6 books in English, one in Malayalam, another 3 books are coming up in one year which I have completed, I had written almost 500 episodes of TV that is around 300 hours of content and also 2 OTT series. I write regular columns in newspapers and I also give professional corporate lectures in colleges so it is a full fledged writing life and it is not that I am balancing it out, I am fully into writing.”

For me, Puranas are something I grew up with. It is dissolved in my blood. I grew up in a place where this was and still is a part and parcel of life.

Anand Neelakantan

He writes about two to three hours on a good day and makes sure that he is writing at least one hour any day. “I write early in the morning when everybody is sleeping. I don’t write more than 2 to 3 hours a day. Rest of the time I spend my time reading something, watching some shows all are part of my writing rituals, I walk a lot, and think a lot, and putting into paper is then just a procedure as most of my stories are formed in my mind. especially the characters while I walk.”

“I always wanted to write. I didn’t think of the pros and cons  of writing about Ravana or anything else. I just wrote whatever I wanted to write and lot of struggle was to get it published. almost two years went on searching almost 18 rejections and all but finally when it clicked everything happened together then things starting falling in place. I was invited to write big television shows. Now I have completed writing two scripts in this lockdown period. So lot of things are coming and family has been always supportive of that.”    

On his books –

Life of Anand is like an open book and he doesn’t intend to give any message through any of his books. He says that it’s rather a mirror that shows the reflection of the reader ‘s mindset. ” So it is not a message, it is not a billboard to advertise my message, rather it is a mirror to see your own deep thoughts that is what I strive to achieve through my books.”

Chaturanga is an ancient game very similar to Ludo rather than Chess. This was to be taught to the princes because it represented life or the skills which a prince should have. In life it is always a combination of skills and luck, Chaturanga is like that.

Anand Neelakantan

Upon asking his favorite book that he has written, Anand gave an instant remark. “It is like asking who is your favorite child to a father. It is impossible to answer but the book that gave me the greatest satisfaction was the rise of Kali.”

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