Sunday, November 10, 2013

Interview with 'Asura' author Anand Neelkantan

So here we go … the interview with 'Asura' author Anand Neelkantan 


Hi Anand,

Before we begin the interview, let me tell you something. I am not (yet) a fan of your writing. I read Asura in February this year and frankly, I did not like it one bit.

I had expected the story be from the perspective of Ravana where Ravana would be glorified and his good as well as bad side be given from his perspective. What came out was Ravana being portrayed as a Stupid Guy with Big Dreams and able men around him who helped him become an Emperor. I mean literally, he has been portrayed as stupid. The book was overall a painfully slow and torturous read ... I kept reading till the end hoping it would get better in the end. The storyline made no sense at times. Ravana was not shown as a strong character ... a promiscuous man with children from his wife, another lady and even a servant ... crazy! At some point, it even felt as if the author was twisting the facts and events of the original Ramayana to suit his story-telling. This didn't go down well with me. What I expected was a different perspective to Ramayana … not a different Ramayana.

I really really wanted to ask you (at that time) why did you treat the book / story in that manner?

When I came to know of your forthcoming book, Ajaya, and the thought process around interviewing you came up; there was dual appeal to it. One, I have very recently read the book Arjuna by Anuja Chandramouli and I am also watching the 'new' Mahabharata on TV … Ajaya would give me another perspective of the same great epic. BUT, I was wary of what you did last time and did not want to read the story of the 'stupid Duryodhana'. Incidentally, I got access to your book's sample chapter and I read the 'Author's Note' which talked about the inspiration behind the book and relieved me. That gave me confidence and I am now thinking of giving Ajaya a shot and reviewing it on my blog.

So with that context set, let's begin the interview. 

Q1. Why was Ravana portrayed as stupid in Asura? Or did I mis-read it?

Ravana has been portrayed as an ordinary man with his own weakness and strength. People who were looking for a super hero in Ravana will be disappointed. My intention was not to make Ravana another Maryada Purushotham or Avatar. I modeled Ravana on various dictators and megalomaniacs of history who start with great intentions and somewhere on the way lose it, mainly due to their own insecurities and inconsistencies. We can see that in Napolean, Alexander etc. Had I made Ravana a super hero, the character of Bhadra would not have had any relevance at all. If Ravana was a great ruler, his subjects would have been happy and satisfied. The idea was, whoever rules, the common man's plight remains the same. Someone seeking for a superman Ravana was sure to be disappointed. Looking back, I can see many problems with Asura, but such mistakes are a part of growing as a writer.

Q2. I personally feel Bhadra was a fantastic creation in Asura - a character who could tell almost half of Ravana's story from an 'asura aam junta' perspective. Any such 'invention' in Ajaya ?? 

Yes, but another character in the same lines would not work. There is a character called Jara, who is very different from the cynical Bhadra, yet I hope Jara also represents common man.

Q3. Is Ajaya the story of Mahabharata with special focus on Duryodhana or it is the Mahabharata from Duryodhana's perspective … where he is the Hero and the opposing parties (Pandavas and Krishna) are villain?

It is a multi-hero story and told in third person. I do not want it to be another imitation of Asura. It will have focus on Duryodhana, Aswathama, Karna, Ekalavya and Bhishma. Pandavas are not villains but antagonists.

Q4. You say that 'It is a multi-hero story and told in third person' and not the Mahabharata from someone's perspective. Is it then just the re-telling of the Mahabharata? I recently read 'Arjuna: The Pandava Warrior-Prince' by Anuja Chandramouli which ended up as a re-telling of Mahabharata with a 'slightly' greater focus on Arjuna? So why should anyone pick up Ajaya? Asura tolda  story most people did not know. What about Ajaya?

I have not told it is not from someone's perspective. My heroes are all from Kaurava side and the perspective is that of Kauravas and all who fought along with Duryodhana against Pandavas. Ajaya is all about unknown and little heard stories from the lives of Duryodhana, Ekalavya, Karna and Aswathama. How such stories when told make the perspective of right and wrong change is what Ajaya is all about. It is Mahabharata clearly from the perspective of the losers and so it is Ajaya and not Jaya.

Q5. What is the most common feedback (honest feedback) that you got for Asura and how did that influence your writing of Ajay?

Asura has been well received and the fact that the book is still in TOP 20 in major bestseller lists even after 18 months of release is in itself a great feedback. Nothing could be more honest than a sale crossing 1.2 lakhs for a first time author, and the book coming out in 10 Indian languages within a year. Asura is not a perfect work and I am not a perfect author. Asura was my first book. My craft of telling stories is just developing and I am working hard on it. One feedback, which I took seriously, is that the story dragged in the middle portions with repetitive thoughts looping again and again. I have put more efforts in polishing Ajaya than Asura and I hope the efforts show in the book. If not, I will work harder to make my next book better.

Q6. Asura in 2012 and Ajay in 2013 after a gap of 18 months … what has changed? How much and in what way has the author in you changed / improved / matured?

Many things. I am very serious about my writing and every feedback I receive. I work hard on improving my skill. My English is not perfect. I do not come from a convent-educated background. I am from a rural village school and do not have Ivy League education. I used to learn English with a dictionary in one hand and an old note book in another, while struggling to read English Newspapers in my teens. From there to Asura, I have travelled a lot, but I know the path stretches out for miles. I have a lot of work to do, read lot many books and keep working on my writing skill. One day, I will produce a classic. I live that dream

Q7. Looking at the Table of Contents – Ajaya takes the story to the point of the game of dice. Is this going to be a trilogy? How long will it take to complete - 2014/2015?

The second and final part will be published by July- August 2014.

Q8. Ajaya is over 450 pages and it is just half of the story. What have you spent most words / space on? Events, People (characters), correlating past and future events … ?

Character influence events and viceversa. Fiction is all about interplay of these two. I am rewriting the longest epic in the world and I love to paint it in a wide canvass

Q9. Besides the Duryodhana series, what else is cooking in your mind? After Ravana and Duryodhana, any other characters (villain or hero) can we expect from you? Any non-mythological book in the pipe-line?

There is no dearth to stories in our country. Chanakya, Prithviraj etc are still there. One day, when I am confident enough of my writing skills, I would write a book for children. I believe that is the toughest thing to write.

Q10. I have always wanted to read the Mahabharata from the point of view of the longest standing member of the family; the one who has seen all the events of the Mahabharata and understands the right and wrong of it all; but most of the times, he is tied by his duties to the Hastinapur throne and can't do much. He is the mightiest of them all and yet can't as well as won't exercise his might against them or for them - Bheesma Pitamah. What are your views on having a version the Mahabharata from his point of view … his autobiography of sorts?

Bhishma is a very important character in Mahabharata. In Ajaya too, he plays one of the most important role. If you read the prelude, it starts with Bhishma. For that matter, Mahabharata can be written from any of the character's view. It is so vast and deep. Bhishma's POV will be an interesting one

Thank You Anand for your time … and all the best for 'Ajaya' and also for the shortlisting of Asura at the Crossword Book Award.

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