Exclusive: The Rise of Sivagami author Anand Neelakantan talks about mythological fiction, binge-watching, and more
His 2017 book The Rise of Sivagami is being developed as a live-action drama on Netflix, and will also serve as the prequel for the blockbuster Baahubali series; so, Anand Neelakantan decidedly has a big year ahead of him. But the author who has always focused on nuanced, geographically-sensitive narratives is not big on binge-watching; instead, he prefers his audiences to take time to process the story-telling.
Neelakantan, who's in town for the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival is currently one of the leading writers in the country, straddling historical drama and mythological fictions in his repertoire, with outings like Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, Ajaya: Roll of the Dice, Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara etc.
We catch up with the author and screenwriter to better understand his literary process:
How do you think this generation responds to mythology-driven reads?
The new generation is extremely curious and hungry for modern-day interpretations of our age-old stories. My readership is mostly young people below 25 years old and then there's a senior crowd of 60+ years mainly. I think the reading crowd in India is also in the same demographic. Those in between are caught up with life and have not much time to read.
How challenging is it to write a book with the nuances of the visual medium in mind?
My writing is inherently visual. It comes naturally to me. This may explain why I have been sought-after by the reputed names of visual storytelling mediums. I have written more screenplays than novels.
Can you tell us a little about your research process? What does your reading list look like?
My research happens mostly through my travels. My stories have their basis in the rich folk traditions of Southern India, especially Kerala. Most of the stories I use are inspired by folk tales. The questions I raise in my books are those which have been asked by many folk artists over many centuries and my writing in English has amplified these voices.
Your books will soon be made into a Netflix series. How do you feel about the concept of binge-watching?
I am not a fan of binge-watching or even binge reading. I want the reader or the viewer to process the story and understand the nuances that I try to bring in. Many readers have told me that every re-reading of my books gives them a fresher perspective about life. I am afraid the binge-watching may kill the layered storytelling approach that I have adapted in my novels
Have you been in Kolkata before? Or have readers from the city reached out to you?
I have attended literature festivals in Kolkatta before and I have my dedicated readers from this intellectual city. Satisfying the serious readers of Kolkatta is a challenge and I am happy the people who come to hear me have always encouraged my rational take on Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Who are some of the authors who have inspired you?
I am inspired by the oral storytellers and I try to follow their timeless styles. Besides, from Vyasa to Tolstoy, there are many I admire.
Can you reveal anything about what you're working on next?
The second part of Rise of Sivagami will hit the stands soon. A children's book is next after that. There is a non-fiction book that I am working on.