This summer, it will be impossible to escape Ram. No saffron plot this, a rather beefed up Ram will be chasing Sita in the jungles and shooting unidentified flying objects with his bows and arrows. And this at a theatre near you. Courtesy Amish, Lord Shiva is out and the political god Ram is in.
Everything in his world is size: limitless. Larger than life, Amish writes about the immortal, firmly believes in his characters—always prefixed with Lord—and their powers. The next series, the Ram Chandra chronicles, is, as he says with earnestness, about Mother Sita and Lord Ram.
“No one will defend what happened to Mother Sita,” he says, as he sips green tea. The idea of the book was born out of an argument at a literary festival when a reader asked him how he could even talk about Ram who had been so cruel to his wife. Amish, in an attempt to bolster his argument, decided to write a series on India’s most-often thundered about god at rallies.
It is a hot summer afternoon. Amish, dressed in a T-shirt with the Scion of Ikshvaku printed on it, is in Delhi to promote the book. He released an excerpt, which is downloadable, a day earlier. The budget is of a mid-sized Bollywood film. The trailer, shot with a drone camera, had a fight master train the actress to play Sita for ten days. “To get her hand movements right,” says Amish, as he streams the trailer on his phone. “If it has to compete with the other trailers, it has to be good.”
As usual, there is research. Tonnes of it. Amish comes from a family of pundits—his grandfather was a Sanskrit scholar and his parents read the language, too. He can read basic Sanskrit, but relies on a young scholar, Mrunalini, to work with him. Even the hymn that starts the book—and is played over loudly in the trailer—is what he believes Ram Rajya should be. “The core philosophy is: what is an ideal society? The answer is not simple. Every choice will have a negative and positive impact. This is a debate I want to trigger. This is a social debate,” he says. In a country where Ram, and certainly Ram Rajya, are politically loaded concepts, does the 'p' word come to his mind? “I stay away from politics,” he says. “I don’t think [we are becoming more intolerant]; it is not at the level of mass India. Ninety-five per cent of the controversies are self created, whether they are paintings or books. I know this might sound sugary but I avoid controversy,” he says.
His blockbuster Shiva series is resolutely stuck on the top ten list years after it released. If the act of writing the book, which brought him back to faith, hadn’t made him a believer, the publishing of the book—rejected by every publisher in India—becoming a rage, the kind that Karan Johar wanted to acquire, does seem like divine intervention. Even his critics would admit the success of the book is a miracle. “It isn’t that Lord Shiva changed the world for me,” he says. “He did a bigger miracle. He changed me. He redefined my life for me. I realise how lucky I am. What a wonderful family I have. I am still competitive; some things don’t go away. I am not as hyper competitive as I used to be. I think that is the bigger difference. I wouldn’t lie and say that success and money do not matter. They are welcome. But even if they go away, I know it won’t make a tangible difference in my life. What has [made a difference] is my rediscovery of faith, how much calmer I have become.”
It is this sort of firm belief and his fast-paced narration that have scripted his formula for success. The Ram Chandra series will be sold as pre-orders before it hits the shelves. And there are more than four planned.
For Amish, it is like being Lord Ganesh, who wrote down the Mahabharat as sage Vyasa narrated it, and he takes this role seriously. It is like slipping into an alternate world; seeing what happens and writing it down faithfully. “I attempt to write every day. Some days, Lord Shiva is busy with someone else. I read another book. [Or] go see a movie,” he says. “The thing is that you don’t go into a negative spiral. If it does not flow, it will flow the next day.” But he does need cream biscuits. “It can be anything. Pineapple cream biscuits, orange or Bourbon,” he says, smiling. That and music. “For battle scenes, heavy metal helps,” he says. “Listen to Metallica. It gets you into the mood, man.”
Amish’s Ram is not the only avatar—on screen or on bookshelves. The oldest stories in India have always been bestsellers. The Ramayan is coming back on Star Plus. There is Buddha. Even Karna has his own show; he was the most interesting character on Sony. Shiva, of course, rules the air waves. In cartoons, Chhota Bheem is as big a hit with children. And history is being reinterpreted as myths; Bharat Ka Veer Putra: Maharana Pratap on Sony has galloped across time zones on his horse Chetak than he did in reality.
So, why has life come full circle? To put it simply, because it works. On its first show, Mahabharat on Star Plus brought together 8.5 million viewers. Going beyond just the idiot box, myths also have the same opening reaction with books. Amish may have sparked off this rage of mythological blockbusters post his Shiva trilogy, but Amar Chitra Katha—the comics that kept pre-liberalised India entertained—has always been a hit.
“This is not a new trend,’’ says Amish. “Mythology was always popular. The concept of reinterpreting myths, I think, we didn’t forget it for the last 200 years or so. Our confidence of society had been smashed because of the colonial experience. It is true of a country as it is of a person. You tend to look at yourself with insecure eyes. You are not comfortable with yourself. I think it has changed post-1991 as we have become more successful as a nation. Therefore, we are willing to look at a reinterpretation of our past also. This is a revival of our ancient traditions.”