Anand Neelakantan, the author of the “Baahubali” series, loves to explore stories hidden inside epics and penned his new book “Vanara” to tell the tale of honour, pride, jealousy, love and betrayal involving Baali, the undefeated hero of the Ramayana; his wife Tara and his brother Sugreeva.
The book was born as a short story first. Neelakantan had written a 5,000-word story on Tara as a labour of love but his publisher wanted to commission it as a book.
Though he was sceptical about making it a novel, he promised to get back and started reading various versions of the Ramayana once again.
“And to my fascination, I found that a remarkable epic is hiding inside the great epic. The characters of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara were never explored in detail. Baali is the undefeated hero of Ramayana, who had defeated even Ravana. His story deserved to be told, especially since he had a tragic end,” Neelakantan says.
And thus “Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara” was born.
“Known, yet unexplored in depth so far, Vanara’ would offer new perspective about well-known characters and would make readers think, like how my other books such as Asura’ or Ajaya’ series had done, the author says.
Neelakantan tries to keep his story telling engaging.
“I want my stories to be relished. I do not want my readers to rush through the book and fling it to one corner or use it as a mid flight read that would be forgotten the moment they read the ending,” he told PTI.
Neelakantan, author of the Baahubali trilogy, the prequel to S S Rajamouli’s movie; Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, which told the Ramayana from Ravana’s point of view; and the Ajaya series, says his retelling works are all based on characters.
I work on characters. I become the characters when I write in their voice. The character could be Ravana as in Asura’, Baali as in Vanara’, Duryodhana as in Ajaya’ or Sita or Hanuman as in the series I wrote- Siya Ke Ram’ or Mahabali Hanuman’. I go away from the conventional telling and bring in many folk elements to add depth of perspective, he says.
According to him, Vanara: The Legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara, published by Penguin Random House India, is arguably the world’s first love triangle.
Research is very important for Neelakantan’s stories.
“In books based on Indian Puranas, research is the most important part. The variations in the stories are mindboggling. A wide repository of research material would fire my imagination and help me in taking the story the way I want. Since I work from the perspective of unconventional heroes (villains), research becomes the driving factor in my novels,” he says.
Neelakantan is now working on the second part of the Baahubali series.
Baali and Sugreeva of the Vana Nara tribe were orphan brothers who were born in abject poverty and grew up as slaves like most of their fellow tribesmen. They were often mocked as the vanaras, the monkey men. Sandwiched between the never-ending war between the Deva tribes in the north and the Asura tribes in the south, the Vana Naras seemed to have lost all hope.
But Baali was determined not to die a slave. Aided by his beloved brother, Sugreeva, Baali built a country for his people. The capital city, Kishkindha, became a beacon of hope for emancipated slaves from across the world.
It was a city of the people, by the people, for the people, where there was no discrimination based on caste, creed, language or the colour of skin.
For a brief period in history, it seemed as if mankind had found its ideal hero in Baali. But then fate intervened through the beautiful Tara, the daughter of a tribal physician.
Loved by Baali and lusted after by Sugreeva, Tara became the cause of a fraternal war that would change history for ever.