Amish Tripathi’s book series – Shiva Trilogy – is India’s answer to George R R Martin’s – Game of Thrones series. Shiva Trilogy, which consists of three books – The Immortals of Meluha, The Secret of the Nagas and The Oath of the Vayuputra – has become the fastest selling book series in the history of Indian publishing. While more than 2.5 million copies of the trilogy have been sold, it’s already generated more than ₹ 70 crores of revenue. The trilogy has gained a cult status and has earned IIM Kolkata alumnus Amish the tag – India’s literary pop star. While Shiva Trilogy has Lord Shiva as the main character, Amish is now in the process of writing a series five books, which are an interpretation of the stories of Lord Ram. The first book of the Ramchandra series – The Scion of Ikshvaku – already been released. In an interaction with Nation Next, Amish Tripathi, speaks about his books, Indian mythology and reveals why IIM alumni are able to market their books well. Excerpts:
Shiva’s trilogy was a roaring success and now you’re writing the Ramchandra series. Needless to say, there’s a lot of research involved. How much did you research for the Ramchandra series?
I have been researching for my books for the last 30 years! I have been reading four to eight books every month since last 30 years. My grandfather was a pundit in Banaras, and both my parents are very religious. In my childhood, a lot of discussions would take place in the household about mythological stories. So, whatever I have learnt in my life is because of my family or because of my habit of reading.
When you wrote the Shiva Trilogy, you used a lot of Sanskrit words like Halahala. In the Ramchandra Series, what are type of religious jargons you’ve used?
Tulsidas didn’t write the Ramcharitra Manas in Sanskrit, he wrote it in Awadhi, which was the language spoken and understood by people then, but he also used Sanskrit words. That’s the way I see things; one should write in modern, easy Indian English, which Indians across the states can understand but there are some Sanskrit words, which can’t be translated and they add to the charm of writing style. Even in Shiva Trilogy, I used few Sanskrit terms wherever I felt necessary but the books were basically written in Indian English.
What was your inspiration behind your first book – The Immortals of Meluha?
The inspiration was the philosophy of ‘What is Evil?’ that emerged from a family discussion. At first, I thought that I would write a philosophical book. The philosophy turned into a fiction soon, and I thought if I had to convey the philosophy of ‘What is Evil’ through a story, then the main character of the book should be Shiva – The destroyer of evil.
A trailer was released when the last book of Shiva Trilogy was in the offing. You have always actively marketed your book in innovative ways, which is a rare phenomenon among Indian authors…
A good book does not sell itself on its own; it needs marketing. I read a lot and I can give you a long list of books, which should have been bestsellers but they are not because they weren’t marketed properly.
What traits are making IIM graduates like you successful in writing?
It’s not that people from IIM are any more creative than other Indian authors. I think the only thing, which makes us different is the marketing. An IIM alumnus more often has a well-paying job. So, he’s able to invest a good amount of money in the beginning. Many of us don’t inherit money from our parents, so if one is earning well, he’s able to invest it in the book and marketing and that’s why IIM guys become more visible.
Such a hugely successful writer like you had to self-publish your first book…
A publisher has a right to say that he will not back your book with his money, and that’s absolutely fair. But he does not have the right to say that your book will never be published or no one will read it. So, I always tell authors that if the publisher doesn’t back you, to hell with it! You back yourself and publish it yourself! Others have a choice of not wanting to read it. It’s a free country but no one has the right to demoralise a writer by saying that ‘your book won’t ever be published.’
What’s the best compliment you’ve received for your books till date?
The Portuguese editions of my books have been released in Brazil. There’s a Brazilian lady called Friern Hardy, who has become a Shiva worshipper after reading my books. She came down to Mumbai with her family and met me for five minutes. She told me that she got really inspired by Lord Shiva after reading my books. She even went to see the four Jyotirlings, along with her family. That was very touching!
How have your foreign readers received your books?
To be honest, I feel that the Portuguese readers tend to get a little more passionate. When the ‘Secret of Nagas’ was launched in Brazil, people came dressed as Shiva, and they were chanting Har Har Mahadeo. It felt really nice and I tweeted the picture as well. The scenario is also different for British readers. For us, Shiva is God, but the Britishers approach the book as a story.
Filmmaker Karan Johar is making films on all of the three books of Shiva Trilogy. In which capacity are you involved with the films?
Karan Malhotra (who directed Agneepath) and his wife Ekta are writing the screenplay for the films. I’ll be there as a creative consultant but I’m not involved in the screenplay process. They will run the script through me, and I’ll be there for all the discussions. I’m busy with my next book.
What will be the genre of the film? Will it be a religious mythological film or a regular film?
When I sent my first book ‘The immortals of Meluha’ to different publishers, they all rejected it! They said that the book was religious and the youth wouldn’t be interested in it; so it wouldn’t sell. Some publishers even told me to write about college romance! They told me that they didn’t know how to classify ‘The Immortals of Meluha’ and place it under a genre; and if they couldn’t classify the genre, how would they sell it? I think we shouldn’t bother about the genre. If a film is made with all the heart and passion, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fit in any genre. No movie adaptation can be exactly like the novel. If we draw a rough sketch, one page of the manuscript translates into one minute on the screen and my books are 400-500 pages long. If word to word of the manuscript is converted into screen time, it will be a seven-hour long movie! So, obviously some changes will have to be there. As long as the soul of the book is kept intact, it’s fine.
Do you think films on ancient Indian stories is a good idea in these times?
I think ancient Indian stories can be exciting and inspiring at the same time, if they’re adapted in films. Plus, there are a lot of liberal messages that they can give. The biggest social problem India is facing today is the exploitation of women. Now, if you read our ancient stories, you’ll realise that women were revered a lot in those times. If you read the Rigveda, you’ll know that sages were given more importance than the kings. Many hymns in the Rigveda have been written by the then women sages. That was the respect given to women then! So, I feel that if we modernise the ancient stories in films, it’ll be very good for the society and the country.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I like listening to music a lot. I listen to western classical, Indian classical, rock, heavy metal, world music and regional music; especially Tamil music. I just don’t listen to rap music because I don’t understand it and it’s not music according to me. I like travelling as well. I and my wife travel a lot together in India and abroad. I love spending time with my family as well.
What would you like to say the youth of today?
Take the decision from your heart while deciding your destination, but use your brains to decide upon the road to the destination. I resigned from my well-paying job after my second book and I did it only when I realised that my royalty cheque would be bigger than my salary cheque. Before that for five to six years, I balanced life between writing my book and doing my job. One may call it boring, I call it pragmatic.