A recent study concluded that filmmaker S S Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Conclusion is the most awaited Indian film of 2017. Surprisingly, it comfortably edged out films powered by superstars like Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. The question that’s been haunting Baahubali fans since 2015 is of course - Why did Kattapa kill Baahubali?
Before you find the answer to that in April, author Anand Neelakantan will release his book The Rise of Sivagami, a prequel to the movie next month. Published by Westland, the book is the first of a trilogy that will explore the early life of queen Sivagami and royal servant Kattapa. The last book will stop at the point where the 2015 film begins. Neelakantan, who is known for his best-selling books like Asura that re-interpret Indian mythology, unveiled the cover of his book at the 10th Jaipur Literature Festival. He speaks to Film Companion about the challenge of writing characters that are already popular and how his trilogy will add to the Baahubali experience.
You’ve said that S S Rajamouli would grade you after each chapter. Sometimes you got as less as 2 out of 10. Were you comfortable with this writing process?
SS Rajamouli is a big director and this is great exposure for me. He read my book Asura and called me. He asked me to imagine certain scenes and write them. Then and there I sat and wrote some random scenes about new characters. In fact, 80 per cent of the characters in the book are not in the film. I wrote about 20 scenes and then he started marking. I shouldn't tell you how bad the ones I got a 2 for were. Rajamouli asked me to include only the scenes that were a 7 on 10 and above.
Since I write for TV, I am used to working like this. It’s very normal for me. I have written TV shows like Siya Ke Ram and Ashoka and there you write for TRPs.
Is it harder to write the back story of characters that already so popular and well loved?
It’s definitely more tough. But in one way it is easier too. Asura took me almost 10 years of research because you’re playing with mythology and you have to use all your imagination. No body is going to come and tell you that this is not the real story. But here I got exactly 100 days to type out 1,30,000 words.
This is roughly based in 9th century south India. I had to think about what kind of swords they had to use. I try to give some depth in my books so the detailing is very important for me - that’s the only way I can match the 250 crore set that the film has.
Baahubali the film is a visual treat. It’s now being made in VR as well. While writing did you think a lot about recreating that grandeur for the book?
The challenge is to create visuals with words. Books have many advantages over film. One of them is that you can imagine your character whichever way you want. Secondly, a film has a budget constraint - even if it has a 500 crore budget. But for the imagination what is the constraint? You can make a 5 lakh crore film in your mind. I can say a thousand ships came to attack. But if one was to show that, the director’s had it - how do you show that visual? But in a book, you can.