Making mythological waves: Anand Neelakantan’s new audio drama ‘Nala’s Damayanti’

Audio over the video, says writer Anand Neelakantan who is riding high on his new audio drama Nala’s Damayanti this summer

Manju Latha Kalanidhi Published :  19th June 2022 06:50 PM   |   Published :   |  19th June 2022 06:50 PM
Anand Neelakantan

Anand Neelakantan

If you get a chance to peek into Anand Neelakantan’s To-Do list for June, you would think he has 10 arms like Goddess Durga. The bestselling mythological author, columnist, screenwriter and speaker has over half a dozen things happening simultaneously this month. A book, a script for an OTT platform, a film, a podcast, a writing workshop and a column, all in various stages of completion.

You would think it is overwhelming. He says it is exhilarating. “Before I dive into my June task list, I must celebrate 10 years of my writing career,” beams Mumbai-based Neelakantan. As he speaks, congratulatory calls about his brand-new audio drama pour in. His five-hour audio drama titled Nala’s Damayanti debuted on Storytel, an audio app, this summer. Audio dramas are all the rage in the literary world and Neelakantan is in time to catch this wave.

It’s a labour of love, of five months spent writing out the script, which has been translated into an audio format by professional voice artistes. It is streaming in eight regional languages besides English and Hindi. Why audio in these times of video? He says that scripts of such a grand scale need a few thousand crores to be mounted on the celluloid. “One can record the audio as a drama for one-hundredth fraction of that budget, but with more impact. We could get the audio out in a few months. Nala’s Damayanti would have to be made on the scale of Baahubali or the recent blockbuster RRR. It may take a good five years.

Most importantly, there is no budget for imagination. Audio is like a book, only better. It helps you imagine whoever you want in any part and create your version. Also, with long commutes being a part of our lives, audio dramas seem the perfect medium to reach people,” he says. 

Neelakantan, 48, says that he wrote the script in English originally, and then it was adapted into different languages for the audio. “I had to visualise how the words sound in the audio and retouch the script,” he shares.  What other challenges do audio dramas pose? “One cannot just translate into a language and record it. For example, when it was recorded in Marathi, the background music will have to sound like it happened locally. Inserting ‘dholki’ music in between the audio here would be apt, while having the ‘veena’ play in the background would be ideal for Tamil,” he explains. Incidentally, he also got to voice the role of Rituparna in the Malayalam version. 

How did he ensure that his script was different from all that we have heard and seen before? “While the story of Nala and Damayanti, the lovers who overcame various obstacles to unite and live happily, is not new, I have given the tale, which is originally a part of the Mahabharata, a contemporary touch. There are political lessons you can learn from it,” he says.  The blurb of the audio is enticing. It says, “Now all that stands between the future of humans and the mighty Kali is a little bird and the determination 
of Damayanti. The dice start rolling and the future of humans hangs by a fine thread.”

Trust Neelakantan to understand the pulse of his readers. Well, the author of eight published books and seven television scripts has been listed as one of the 100 top celebrities in India in 2015 and 2017 by Forbes India. His debut book Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished is among the 100 books to be read in a lifetime as per Amazon. As he wraps up the three-day weekend writing retreat in Wayanad this week, he looks forward to a new week. “Busy every day, but ‘booked’ for life,” he quips.