How Anand Neelakantan came to write a prequel to the mega-budget Bahubali film. And why he thought SS Rajamouli was a prank caller.
When author Anand Neelakantan (43) first received a call from director SS Rajamouli, he suspected it was a friend prank calling him. “The person on the line said he liked my book, Asura, and would like to meet up. I was quite hesitant to talk as I kept wondering which of my friends it could be,” Neelakantan says. Rajamouli wanted him to write a three-part series that would serve as prequels to his super-hit movie, Bahubali. Neelakantan’s track record of writing character-driven Indian mythological fiction had appealed to him. Neelakantan’s debut, Asura, turns the Ramayana on its head, while his Ajaya series depicts Mahabharata’s Duryodhana as a hero.
Watch: The trailer of The Rise of Sivagami
It was only when Neelakantan received an official email from Rajamouli that he was convinced it was the real deal. Rajamouli is known for the 2015 epic, Bahubali: The Beginning, a revenge drama set in the fictional Mahishmati empire, in southern India. The movie ends at a cliffhanger, with Katappa (a trusted royal slave) revealing that he killed the former king Amarendra Bahubali.
The background to Katappa’s act will be revealed in Neelakantan’s book, The Rise of Sivagami (out for pre-order), the first in the prequel series. The novel follows the journey of Sivagami, an orphan who is Mashishmati’s powerful and respected queen in the movie. The novel is set 30 years before the timeline of the movie. “It’s a coming-of-age story, as well as a spy thriller. Other characters from the movie, such as Bijjala Deva (Sivagami’s husband) and Katappa, also feature in the book. I have also created almost 40 new characters,” Neelakantan says.
Watch: The teaser of The Rise of Sivagami
After he was done writing, he sent the draft to a few close friends for feedback. “They said it’s as good as western fantasies such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. They might have meant it as a compliment but I was extremely worried when I heard that,” he says. As Bahubali is moored to Indian culture, he did not want The Rise of Sivagami to read like a western adventure.
He then revisited the plot. “I deleted almost 50% of what I’d written,” he says. “I had only 100 days to plot and write a 500-page novel. By the end, it was as good as writing two books.”
The Rise of Sivagami, by Anand Neelakantan, is out for pre-order. Price: Rs 300; Publisher: Westland