(Trigger warning: this article contains material related to suicide and mental illness. Discretion is advised.)
2014 was, in a way, the most important year in Akshat Gupta’s life. It could have been the last year of his life. It was the year his wife left him, taking with her their young son.
“At 33, when your six-year-old son and a 14-year-old relationship are gone, you are left with a childish mind of 13 years. Because the meaningful 20 years of life have been taken away from you,” he recounts soberly.
The “childish mind” could not take the suffering. It wanted to end everything. Akshat tried taking his life.
Fortunately, he failed. He was rushed to the hospital. The doctors were not sure whether he would make it. But five days later, he returned home, still struggling to find a reason to live.
He, then, found it. A dozen fresh drawing sheets.
“My son would tell me, ‘Akki, get me a new drawing paper,’ every time he finishes drawing on one. So, I used to get him a dozen. Now, those papers were waiting for him. Every time I saw them, I cried.”
Akshat was in pain. But the possibility of reuniting with his son kept him going. “I thought in a few days or weeks, my wife and I would sort things out and she would come back with our son.”
If and when his son returned, Akshat wanted to tell him a story. The little boy loved stories, especially ones that involved elements of fantasy. Akshat harked back to his own childhood. “As a child, when I heard stories of immortal people like Hanuman, I used to wonder, ‘If these guys are immortal, where are they now? Are they living amidst us?’”
These questions opened up a portal for Akshat to enter. He started researching Hanuman, Ashwathama, and the other immortals from the Hindu mythology he had heard about. As he dug deeper, he realised the bed-time story had the potential to be an epic.
Eight years later, Akshat has released the first of the three parts of The Hidden Hindu (Penguin eBury Press), a mystery-mythology fiction set in 2041. The story helped him move to Mumbai, enter the film industry, and start a new career. It came to him when he thought he lost everything in life.
After finishing the first draft, Akshat narrated the story to the people close to him. His father told him he has never heard anything more intriguing. He also told him to leave his hometown, Indore, where he was running his family’s restaurant business. Akshat had nothing to lose. With his story, he moved to Mumbai to see if it would interest the film industry.
Many producers he met liked The Hidden Hindu but it was too big for them to produce. They also did not want to bet big on a newcomer. “Fair enough,” says Akshat, “It made me realise I cannot sustain here with just one story.”
So, he was parallely working on a few smaller stories, specifically for the screen. Screenwriting, Akshat realised, was tougher than working on a novel. “It’s like writing inside a box,” he says, “You need to write a story that can be told in two and a half hours. You can’t write something that will exceed the film’s budget. The hero can’t jump off a plane if the budget is not big, he will have to come out of a Maruti car.. So, you have all these restrictions. Whereas, with a novel, you can just fly… you can take the story anywhere.”
The smaller stories soon found a producer. T-Series signed him for two projects. But no one was willing to take the big bet – The Hidden Hindu – until he got a call from Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s production house, Dhoni Entertainment.
He found an audience with the man himself. “I’ve met a lot of celebrities. Usually, a lot of people have two faces. Dhoni doesn’t. He is the same everywhere,” he says of the former Indian captain. More importantly, he impressed Dhoni with his story. “He was convinced the story was good. He told me ‘We have to do it.’”
It is still not decided if The Hidden Hindu will be a film or a series but the scale, Akshat says, will be epic. The books, too, will be intriguing till the last paragraph of the last page of the last book, he adds.
2014 now seems a long time ago. But Akshat still waits to narrate the story to his original target audience – his son.
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