There is this opening scene in most period movies – the one in which the protagonist moves out the leaves, twigs and branches obstructing her view and lo behold! a jaw-dropping scene.
And that effect we take for granted in movies has been recreated for us on paper by Anand Neelankantan in his latest book The Rise of Sivagami - merely with the help of words.
Mahishmathi is no alien land to us, S.S. Rajamouli had ensured that through his epic portrayal of the ancient kingdom and the now household name of Baahubali. In the run-up to the release of Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, the one question that dodged you no matter where you went was ‘Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?’
But the Keralite author, Ananad Neelankantan, is least interested in the conclusion; instead, he has turned his back to the Baahubali movie series and trained his field glasses in the opposite direction. He traveled back decades and found himself in a different era that was yet to hear the name Baahubali.
This is the fabled land of Mahishmathi, when the queen mother, Sivagami, was but a teenager, left orphaned by her cruel fate, out to avenge her father's death by destroying the kingdom and its rulers.
Not that Mahishmathi is in want of any enemies, the palace corridors are teeming with ruthless assailants, conspirators and traitors. People, including the noblemen, shift loyalties faster than you blink your eye.
But be it a queen or a homeless kid in the orphanage, feisty Sivagami has to reach her goal and not even the rulers of Mahishmathi or the loyal slave, Kattappa, can stop her. Though the title is dedicated to Sivagami, a role played to perfection by Remya Krishnan in the movie, the book doesn't follow her revenge tale alone. It takes deviations and ventures further into the dark forests to shed light on the original rulers of the land. Even the gigantic waterfall seems to be hiding something.
As you divulge more and more into the book, the giant portrait set up by Rajamouli disappears and in its place emerges a different image of Mahishmathi. The setting remains the same but this one is a completely different tale and names like Baahubali and Devasena recede into the darkness.
And that's the biggest strength of the book by Anand Neelakantan. He has managed to create an alternative world of Mahismathi, with a whole new set of people sparing the few like Sivagami and Kattappa. That in itself is no mean task, considering the impact Rajamouli’s magnum opus had on the masses.
The 474-page book races ahead, taking dubious turns and somersaults when we least expect it. It works perfectly as a political thriller with graphic details, though set hundreds of years ago. The only reference to time we get is that the narrative is definitely set after the Mahabharata, though it seems to be heavily leaning on the epic.
Originally written in English, the names of characters and places in the book owe their allegiance to the Telugu language. But for a book set in an unknown past on an ancient land, we do get to read some new-age swear words too. I guess we can pardon the writer for that, he was probably trying to better connect with the present-day generation.
Neelakantan, who had previously given us mythological tales such as Asura: Tale of the Vanquished, seems to have taken some cues from the makers of Baahubali. The book that is said to be the first of a trilogy ends on a cliffhanger.
Just a small query to the author: when can I lay my hands on the second one?
Book: The Rise of Sivagami: tale of Baahubali from the beginning
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Price: Rs 194