No controversy with my books because I write with respect: Amish Tripathi on upcoming book ‘War of Lanka’ | The Financial Express

No controversy with my books because I write with respect: Amish Tripathi on upcoming book ‘War of Lanka’

Amish Tripathi talks about his forthcoming book, War of Lanka, turning film producer and why he has never faced any backlash on any of his books

No controversy with my books because I write with respect: Amish Tripathi on upcoming book ‘War of Lanka’
My books aren’t really a secret. Have you ever heard anything controversial about me? My learning is that Indians are open to different interpretations of gods and their stories, as long as you write them with respect.

Can readers expect some new revelations or a new narrative of the same story in your new book, War of Lanka (fourth in the Ram Chandra series)?
The version of Ramayan most Indians identify with is based on Ramanand Sagar’s television series. There are many other ancient versions of the Ramayan, and any interpretation from any of these would be something new. For example, in Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku, I wrote about a war between Lord Dashrath and Raavan close to the sea that finds mention in the Ananda Ramayan, which is a very ancient version of the epic. But most people are not aware of it, so they see it as something different. War of Lanka is the same way— some of it will be my interpretation, some of it will be interpretations from lesser-known versions of the Ramayan.

In this age of intolerance and cancel culture, have you ever feared any backlash to your books, which interpret epics and mythology in a completely different way, humanising gods instead of super-humanising them? Any hesitancy in creative expression? Especially as we see that the mere mention of religion incites so much.

I have been in this field for 12 years now, with my 10th book out soon, and they have sold some 6 million copies together. My books aren’t really a secret. Have you ever heard anything controversial about me? My learning is that Indians are open to different interpretations of gods and their stories, as long as you write them with respect. And I have done that with my books. I genuinely worship the gods and goddesses and I am very proud of our culture. That doesn’t mean I hate any other culture, but I am a very proud Indian, a very proud Hindu. So there is no reason for any controversy. For instance, in the film Baahubali, there is a scene where the hero breaks the base of a shivling and lifts it up on his shoulder. It could have created a huge controversy, but actually it was one of the most powerful and most popular scenes, because it was a scene of such devotion.

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So you are saying that because you write and interpret with respect, that alone sails your books through?
Partly that, partly also, to be honest, I don’t mean it as any disrespect, but often artists themselves create controversies with the help of the media, because it’s an easy way to market. If you yourself avoid controversy, as I do, then it doesn’t happen. I have a clear guideline for my publishers, that I genuinely worship the gods and goddesses. So, we will always market books with respect. And I’d rather the book doesn’t sell than sell through controversy. Controversies are a very cheap marketing tool. It’s harder work to sell without controversy, because you don’t get easy publicity. But I believe if you actually want to have an impact, you should want to stay away from controversy. The moment you become a controversial figure, then you’re thought to be on one side or the other. Then you’re only making money, which can be done in any other profession too. Artists are not in it just to make money; money is a happy byproduct. It is about a voice of our soul. And we are hoping to have an impact. We try our best, we may fail. But for artists, that’s what gives us the better, bigger high that we are having an impact, of making people think about something. And you will not have any impact if you are a controversial person.

Sita has been the only female character you have devoted an entire book on. Will Sita’s story resume in the fifth book of the series?
Stories essentially move on the shoulders of the characters. War of Lanka will be a common narrative that begins where three multiple parallel narratives of Ram, Sita and Raavan end with Sita’s kidnapping and ends where the traditional Ramayan ends, which is the death of Raavan and the return of the royal couple to Ayodhya and the first Diwali being celebrated. The fifth book will also be a common narrative, like an uttar kand, or an epilogue. And Sita has plentiful airtime in both War of Lanka and the fifth book. In fact, I have disclosed the title of the fifth book at the end of War of Lanka’s manuscript.

Have you given a thought to writing about more female characters? And, if you were to pick any names from mythology and epics, which would those be?
I want to pick stories both in the historical space and in the religious/mythological space, because there are many goddesses and they have fascinating stories, but we have fascinating queens as well who have ruled in their own name. They have been warriors who have defended dharma, defended their people, someone like Abbakka Rani, who I would love to write about.

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Reportedly, the Mahabharat is going to be the next project for you. In that case, would it be a story based on characters or on issues like dharma?
I don’t know if the next would be Mahabharat. I have another story idea in mind that is set in modern-day London. I might take that up too.

You’re saying London has influenced you as an author and your next book might be set in London. So would that be influenced by western culture or something Indian?
I have this idea, which is based in the modern day. But what drives me is Indian culture, so, of course, Indian culture is deeply rooted in it. But I’m bringing in elements of London and the West as well, which I think might be worth exploring. And this is what I meant when I said new experiences enrich you. One of the things I would strongly suggest is, that every few years put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. London is very cold and it’s a different culture, a different way of life.

You are now a film producer with an adaptation of Suheldev and a web series being made by Shekhar Kapur on the Shiva Trilogy. What else is in the works in the audio-visual space?
I have my own company, The Immortal Studios, and two partners—Wakaoo films and Pranav Chaturvedi (Casa Media) —and we’re working with Viacom 18 as studio partner for Suheldev, for which the script has been finalised. For Shiva Trilogy, the scripting has started and Shekhar Kapur is helming the project. Both are very, very massive projects. I don’t think I have the capacity to do more. Not on movies. But much is happening on documentaries. A recent documentary was released a few months back on Discovery TV, called Legends of the Ramayana With Amish, which apparently is one of their biggest hits ever among India-produced programmes. This is a new avenue and I never thought I’d be doing this, but it’s good fun being in front of the camera, speaking of things which I love, traveling to places and actually getting paid for it. There is another documentary of mine coming out this month.

Are you a part of the screenwriting process when your work is getting translated on screen?
Yes, I am involved, but I should clarify that I’m not writing it. It is best if someone who’s an expert at adaptation writes it.

What do you prefer more: web series or film? You have said that web series do more justice to a book, by being longer.
As a novelist, one would obviously prefer web series a lot more. Writing a web series is closer to the art of novel writing, but a movie script is a different set of skills. And often novelists aren’t good at that. I would enjoy writing a web series much more. Having said that, there are some stories that are perfectly made for a movie. You don’t need to spend too much time developing a character, you just need to kind of blow people away for those two hours. Like an RRR or a KGF. They’re not web series material. They are movies. A web series can never shock and awe, unlike how watching KGF on the big screen awes you. TV screen doesn’t have that impact. There’s a plus and minus of a movie; it’s just that I might not have the skills to write a movie script.

A transition to the visual medium was a natural step, but aren’t you a late entrant in this space?
There was a deal done with Karan Johar, but unfortunately, for various reasons, it didn’t work out. We continue to remain friends though. But when the rights came back to me, there was a discussion for a documentary four years ago. It, too, didn’t work out. So, I guess things happen when they’re meant to happen.

Bollywood films recently have not been received well. With your books being adapted onscreen, what do you think should be kept in mind, especially since a lot of larger-than-life films too have not worked out well this year and the audience’s taste has also changed?
Many in the Indian film industry are revaluating things right now. There have been various shocks. Audience’s taste has updated. One of the benefits of my books is that it is a story that has already succeeded. They have an audience profile— six million readers—and there’s a story that has worked. There’s no reason it shouldn’t succeed. If you get it right in today’s India, there’s enough of a market for big-budget movies as long as the budget shows in the movie itself, rather than spending too much on the actors. In something like a movie as massive as Baahubali, RRR, KGF, everything is grand. You couldn’t have imagined budgets like these 10-15 years ago, but now the Indian movie market is big enough to justify these budgets. If we can get that creative thing right, we have budgets to crack it well. We should ideally spend the budget on sets and special effects rather than anything else. That’s what many south Indian movies get right.

Have you approached Rajamouli to direct any of your films?
I would love to meet him whether we work together or not. He is the pride of India, and not just the Telugu film industry. But he makes movies on scripts written by his father as far as I know.

Is your experiment with Immortal Writer’s Centre that you did with Suheldev likely to continue?
Yes. In fact, you will see more works on that coming up soon as well. There are other subjects that are also in the works.

Author, diplomat and now a film producer… does the author still reign supreme?
What reigns supreme always is that I am a Shiv bhakt and I love my family. But below that, yes, author is always ahead of everything else. This is the first time I have lived outside India and my experience in London will hopefully make me a better author.

War of Lanka (Ram Chandra Series Book 4)
Amish Tripathi
HarperCollins
Pp 500, Rs 380

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