Valmiki emphasised feminist views in Ramayan: Author Anand Neelakantan

TNIE caught up with Anand, who was recently in his hometown to attend the inaugural ‘Write Circle’ event of the Prabha Khaitan Foundation’s Kochi chapter.
Anand Neelakantan
Anand Neelakantan

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Anand Neelakantan stands out for his unique takes on legendary mythological tales. He ranks among India’s best-selling authors with more than 13 books that have been translated to various languages around the country. 

The Mumbai-based Malayali is also a screenwriter, columnist, and public speaker. His debut, ‘Asura: The Tale Of The Vanquished’ drew nationwide attention for presenting the Ramayan from Ravan’s perspective. Thereon, every work of his, including the latest ‘Nala Damayanti’, has been a talking point in literary circles. Notably, Anand also penned the official prequel trilogy for the Baahubali film series. TNIE caught up with Anand, who was recently in his hometown to attend the inaugural ‘Write Circle’ event of the Prabha Khaitan Foundation’s Kochi chapter.


You often embed discreet messages in your books. Is it to prompt readers to delve deeper? 
I believe writing shouldn’t be plain, especially not in books. While television scripts might be straightforward, crafting a book offers a distinct experience. I always try to add layers that allow one to go into the minds of characters, firing the readers’ imagination. This depth is vital. When you talk about ‘Mahishmathi’, the image that comes into our minds is what S S Rajamouli created [in Baahubali]. But when you read about it, every person visualises a unique imagery of Mahishmathi.

Have you faced criticism for your distinctive interpretation of cultural tales?
Indians, in general, seem to possess the ability to embrace diverse viewpoints. Historically, religion has always included a lot of stories and perspectives. It keeps evolving with time. Criticism is an important part of this process. Some people may disagree with my views, which is completely acceptable. I, too, find myself at odds with many opinions. In a democracy, every voice has a place. 

How important is it to explore unconventional narratives and viewpoints?
A writer’s dharma is to give voice to the voiceless, to resonate with the struggles of the overlooked and oppressed. The individual who feels the pain of others is a genuine writer. Regardless of the medium – be it films, books, or journalism – this principle should be the foundation of writing. While everyone’s circumstances and bravery differ, writers should strive as long as they can for authenticity and empathy towards those who truly need it. Catering to or pampering the powerful is easy; one doesn’t need the challenging profession of writing for that.

Is writing nowadays constrained by fear?
Writing has always faced limitations. Historically, all significant writers have often challenged societal norms. Take Vyasa, who highlighted the Pandavas’ flaws, aiming for utmost objectivity. Similarly, Valmiki could have glossed over Rama’s actions concerning Sita, but he chose to depict events honestly. A writer’s primary duty is to reflect the truth, acting as society’s mirror. True significance in writing emerges when one overcomes fear. 

What are your views on giving voice to the women in mythological stories?
My book Valmiki’s Women discusses the perspectives of women like Manthara, Tataka, and Shantha. In the Ramayan, Valmiki portrays Sita as a symbol of feminism. I believe she’s one of its most formidable characters. She’s depicted as making independent choices, like yielding to the request of Ravan masquerading as a hermit. She did so, despite Lakshman’s warning, as helping the needy was her ‘dharma’. Similarly, even when Hanuman offers to rescue her from Lanka, she insists that Rama reclaim her, ensuring he personally confronts the injustice done to her. Many such instances highlight the profound feminist views Valmiki emphasised in his work.

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