Inspired by S. S. Rajamouli’s Baahubali franchise, Anand Neelakantan’s “The Rise Of Sivagami” captures multiple shades of the warrior mother
It is usual to find great characters from literature coming alive on big screen. But a fictional character from a screenplay has seldom inspired a novel. Moreover, the author tries to nourish it with traits of some real life success stories. Well, Anand Neelakantan has managed to create on paper the epic sweep that S. S. Rajamouli conjured up in Baahubali: The Beginning on celluloid. A prequel to Rajamouli’s blockbuster, Neelakantan’s “The Rise Of Sivagami”, was recently released in Delhi in the presence of the director and lead actors of the film.
Planned as a trilogy, the book has come out just before the release of the sequel of Baahubali, creating flutter in the media. Rajamouli, who expects the book to enhance the viewing experience of the sequel, says, “Revolving around Sivagami and how she became a powerful Rajmata, the book gives glimpses to many shades of her character. Reading it will amplify the experience.”
On focussing on Sivagami and not Shivudu, as many would expect, Neelakantan says, “The scene where she kills an assassin who attacks her while she is feeding the children was the clincher. That combination of being a mother and a warrior was terrific. The books are on her journey, purpose and why she wants to destroy Mahishmati.”
Having so far weaved his stories around powerful male personalities as the pivot, Neelakantan, whose last book “Asura: The Tale of the Vanquished”, was well received, says he was keen to break away from a pattern. “I wanted to write on a powerful woman and with Sivagami that opportunity came.” Wanting to imbue her with strong traits, the author did not have to look far. “The women who have made a mark for themselves in history, like Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Razia Sultan and many others inspired me to create plot lines in Sivagami’s life. So she will come across not as a sati savitri but somebody who has admirers and detractors. I did not want her to be all noble at heart and action but also show her as a ruthless, shrewd and strong woman who hasn’t given up on endearing qualities like maternal love and tenderness.” Commenting on being at the centre of the books series, Ramya says, “I am overwhelmed and feel deeply honoured. Moreover, I feel Sivagami’s role is one of the best so far in my career.” One of the rare complex character that she has essayed, Ramya gives credit to Rajamouli for having made it so easy for her to enact it on the screen. “His methodical style of eliciting performance takes way the burden of acting.”
Reflecting on his conversations with Rajamouli, Neelakantan reveals that the filmmaker on realising that his two Baahubali films could not do justice to all the characters wanted him to bring them alive through a book. “He gave me a lowdown on the characters and also one-page sketch on them and asked me to go back in time to create their back stories and add additional characters. His idea is to make a mini series on the trilogy on the lines of Lord Of The Rings and Game Of Thrones.” The writer reveals that during their first meeting Rajamouli asked him to pen down some scenes. “Liking the way I wrote, he told me to go ahead.”
Bold and decisive
Neelakantan clarifies it is not just Sivagami but other characters too have been explored in the novel. “Kattappa is an enigma in his own right. I have tried to throw light on what goes behind the mask he wears, how he is torn between his loyalty to the throne and his love for his younger brother, Shivappa.” Rajamouli who asked him to create more characters set the parameters for three. “He wanted Sivagami, Kattappa and Bijjaladeva, father of Bhallala Deva (essayed by Rana Daggubati) to be moulded in a certain way. Like he insisted that Kattappa has to be loyal and honest and likewise Sivagami bold and decisive.”
Matching the film, the book too has grand portrayal of the era, places, people, culture and customs it depicts. Rajamouli feels the visual and special effects help in conveying this effectively on the screen but on paper it is tough to create that grandeur. Particularly, when people have seen the film. Agreeing with him, Neelakanthan, citing an example says, “A war scene in the movie encompassing all activities makes the viewers a part of it but in a story in order to involve them I give back story and reasons for what is happening. Like if someone hesitates to kill, I provide a reason for it at length to make the effect telling.” Stating that it is not a novel method, he avers, “In the epic Mahabharat too, Ved Vyas uses this to bring out the finer nuances and details through stories connected with different people caught in different situations.”
Neelakantan has been hugely influenced by Mahabharat, Ramayan and folk tales. “As a child these two epics left a deep imprint on my mind which comes across in my books. I feel that we have not even scratched the surface of our indigenous texts. As both the epics have several versions, one can choose varied elements from these for storytelling.” Known for providing a new perspective to his antagonists like Duryodhan and Ravan, Neelakantan says, it is required. “Ram, Krishna and Arjun have been already dealt with extensively by leading writers and I do not think I can better them. Shedding a light on Duryodhana and Ravan provides intellectual stimulation. In fact, it is part of our tradition as I have attended discourses where scholars debate on characters explaining their actions.” In the novel, each chapter delves on a particular character summing up his or her actions while providing justification for them. “You will read about an evil character whose actions are all for the love of his daughter. It is the perspective of negatives actions which I give and not characters.”
The engineer-turned-writer, who writes for television too, describes writing as a passion. “Engineering was an insurance which my parents took for me to ensure I do not starve,” he jests. The voracious reader and a history buff says though he has written satire in Malayalam, it is historical fiction which has been his mainstay in English. “Historical fiction is easy to make believable. Take historical facts and fill in the blank areas which are bound to be there with imagination and you have a great story,” he says with a chuckle.