Interview Authors

On a planet called Arthaloka

Ashok Banker   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Among the most notable works by author and screenwriter Ashok Banker are his Ramayana and Mahabharata series, widely read for his lucid narrative style. His latest work titled Burnt Empire Saga, is a spin off of Mahabharata, and targets the global reader. In this email interview, the author who divides his time between Mumbai and Los Angeles discloses that this is his first serious attempt to write an epic fantasy for a global audience. Part one of Burnt Empire Saga titled Upon a Burning Throne is available as two paperback volumes in India, published by Simon and Schuster India. Ashok has written more than 70 books and this is his first from a US-based publishing house.

The Burnt Empire or Krushan Empire is uneasy after the demise of emperor Sha’ant. In its capital Hastinaga, Dowager Empress Jilana and Prince Regent Vrath have the task of holding the kingdom’s reins until Sha’ant’s sons — Adri (who is blind) and Shvate (albino) — are ready to rule. They pass the crucial test of the burning throne, but have an unlikely competition from Krushita of the desert kingdom of Reygistan. From sage Vyasa to Kunti, Pandu, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra, it’s easy to draw a few parallels between the characters of Mahabharata and Krushan Empire in volume one. However, the author discloses that in volume two, the events and characters take a different turn.

Ashok explains, “The Burnt Empire Saga has been conceived and written with elements that any epic fantasy reader (like myself) would enjoy — battles, a massive cast of characters, a quasi-historical setting with magical elements, exotic cities and cultures, terrifying creatures, sorcery, magical powers, political conflict, and larger-than-life heroic protagonists.” Going by the positive reviews from trade publications in the US, he feels that all this has worked in favour of the book.

Cinematic adaptation?
  • Asked if there are plans to adapt Burnt Empire Saga into a film or digital series, Ashok says most of his work is too ambitious and expensive to adapt: “Many Hollywood producers and studios have optioned my previous books and even bought the rights to a few, but the daunting budget and the prospect of adapting them well makes them balk. In India, we don’t have the budgets to adapt our epics well to the big screen.” Ashok points out that “each episode of Season 8 of Game of Thrones cost between $15 and $25 million to produce. The highest budgeted streaming shows in India are spending barely ₹2 crore now.” He feels the Burnt Empire Saga can be adapted in the West but prefers to wait until he has two or three more books out.

Ashok states that he had very little exposure to Hindu epics as a child. He was aware of books and characters inspired by Greek, Roman, Egyptian mythology while growing up and discovered a treasure trove of stories from Indian epics much later. When he became a novelist, he was determined to revisit these stories and present them to a global audience. “It took me a long time and a great deal of struggle. But today, I’ve played some small part in introducing world readers to a taste of Indian mythic storytelling in my own small way,” he says.

Seven times larger

To write the Burnt Empire Saga, he used “the tools of science fiction, and of science to conceive a planet with unique geographical features. I then created alien races to populate the planet, and developed cultures.” The story unravels in planet Arthaloka, described as several times larger than Earth and has a super-continent about five times the size of all Earth’s continents put together: “It’s like a gigantic Pangea, the ancient super-continent which broke up into the separate continents we inhabit on Earth today. The Krushan are descendants of an ancient alien race that visited Arthaloka, and are symbiotically linked to this organic rock that came from their own world, called Stonefire,” the author explains.

The opening chapters introduce readers to the Stonefire throne that can burn anyone who comes into contact or proximity. Only descendants of the Krushan empire can pass the test of fire.

While there are parallels to Mahabharata, Ashok emphasises that the characters in his book are not human, and the culture is not Vedic. “It’s another song in the same raga, but the words and meanings are different. The Burnt Empire Saga is a Mahabharata-like epic for our time and generation.”

On a planet called Arthaloka

Upon a Burning Throne, says Ashok, cracks open the door on the larger castle of adventure. The real story will take off in the next book, A Dark Queen Rises, when Krushni takes centre stage. “Krushni is an amalgam of two Krishnas in the original Vyasa epic: Krishna Vasudeva and Krishna Draupadi. She is a mythic warrior-goddess. The five children of Karni are not all male like the Pandavas — they are of different genders and sexual orientations, and their personalities are unique. While they all feature prominently from book two, their roles are subservient to Krushni’s story,” explains Ashok.

As an author, who has extensively worked on stories from the epics and mythology, what fascinates him about the subjects? “These are eternal stories. As long as human beings exist, they will read, write, and share myths. These are the lifeblood of human history,” Ashok sums up.


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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 4:56:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/author-ashok-banker-discusses-his-new-series-the-burnt-empire-saga-inspired-by-mahabharata/article29143811.ece

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