After the immense success of his first novel Asura, an engaging retelling of the Ravana legend, Anand Neelakantan quickly found a place in the hearts of Indian bibliophiles. He followed this up with two more beststellers, Ajaya: Roll of the Dice and its sequel Ajaya: Rise of Kali, both based on the Mahabharata.
His last book, The Rise of Sivagami, a prequel story to the Baahubali movies, tells the story of Sivagami, the Mahishmati queen portrayed by Ramya Krishnan in the movies. The book was developed concurrently with the movies' production. Recently, Netflix announced an ambitious adaptation of the book. The streaming giant is teaming up with director S S Rajamouli and Arka Media Works for the series directed by Deva Katta and Praveen Sattaru.
Neelakantan is handling screenwriting duties. He says the first season, comprising nine episodes, will cover the entire length of the book. "This story is set 30 years before Baahubali was born. It will be the biggest thing Netflix has done in India so far. The adaptation is being planned as an epic 40-hour series, something along the lines of Game of Thrones."
Given its massive scale, The Rise of Sivagami cannot be fit into a two-hour movie, says Neelakantan. "Rajamouli Sir had given me the freedom to expand the mythology in any way I saw fit. There are a multitude of kingdoms and characters to explore; and given the story's dark and violent tone, the current censorship rules won't agree if it were filmed as a movie."
As with all his other stories, Neelakantan drew a lot from exisiting mythology, folk tales/folk myth and customs -- including those from Kerala -- for The Rise of Sivagami. "For example, there is something akin to the Maamankam (a religious festival in Kerala) incorporated into it. In fact, some of the portions will be shot in Kerala."
There is also a plan to develop a sequel story to the Baahubali movies, says Neelakantan. "We are currently brainstorming ideas but it's going to take some time. Only after the completion of this series can I give a concrete update on that."
Neelakantan has also revealed that a Baahubali-style Tamil movie is in the works, the details of which he wouldn't currently divulge. However, an announcement on the same will be made soon.
In addition to these, Neelakantan has penned a horror-fantasy series for TV, a non-fiction book called Asuramargam, and a book on Bali and Sugriv (coming out this Diwali). He is also working on the next two books in the Baahubali trilogy. A total of ten books can be expected from the prolific author in the next four years.
So, is he a fan of Game of Thrones? "I am. I found the books much better though. A lot of things in the books are not included in the series, and I can perfectly understand why. Not everything can be filmed when there are budget limitations."