The Rise of Sivagami
Westland Publications Ltd
In The Rise of Sivagami, author Anand Neelakantan attempts to add detail and depth to the mythology as seen in the film, Baahubali: The Beginning, resulting in an interesting but overall flawed epic.
Sivagami Devi, now 17, hates the “evil kingdom” of Mahishmathi for executing her father under mysterious circumstances. Inexplicably dropped off at a “royal orphanage” by her extended family, she must uncover the truth behind her father’s death and “tear down the kingdom”.
At the centre of this politically treacherous space is Kattappa, who is desperately trying to negotiate his sense of duty and honour instilled by his father and a brother who despises his family’s status and wishes to free all slaves and protect the spoiled prince, Bijjaladeva.
The story arcs of these three characters are, unfortunately, the least interesting. Despite going through perspective-altering experiences, Kattappa seems to make little progress from his servile nature. One particularly powerful moment towards the end, which could have acted as a catalyst for change, seems to be ignored entirely. Sivagami’s character has its share of interesting moments, but only progresses in the larger scope of things towards the very end.
The narrative focus for these characters is more on how they become what they are portrayed as in the future. While certain future reveals such as the circumstances of Sivagami’s marriage to Bijjala will, no doubt, be interesting, much of what they go through loses impact when one considers where they eventually end up.
Consequently, the real stars are those semi-familiar and entirely new characters that carry the story forward. With every character — from maharaja Somadeva, to the eunuchs Keki and Brihannala, to achi Nagamma, the leader of an all-women vigilante group fighting against corruption in the kingdom, the dwarf Hidumba and the pirate Jeemotha, among others — one can see the effort that went into fleshing them out. This, in tangent with gritty, vivid descriptions and the intersectional narratives of those characters, is one of the strongest elements of the book.
Despite its flaws, the book cobbles together enough good elements by the end for readers and especially for fans of the movie to await the next installment. That it only draws a few overt Game of Thrones comparisons can be seen as a yardstick for how well it has personalised monarchical and political intrigue to fit its mythology.