Malayalam Interviews

‘Not All Books Can Be Adapted, But If They Can, Why Not!’: The Manu S Pillai Interview

Baahubali producer Shobu Yarlagadda’s production house Arka Mediaworks will adapt Manu S Pillai’s award-winning book The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of The House of Travancore into an original series. Published in 2016, the book is about Travancore royalty, matrilineal customs, and more.
Not only was the book well received, it also catapulted its author, who was in his mid-20s at the time of publication, to fame. The book has now been optioned – a process whereby the rights of the book have been handed over by the author to the producer for a stipulated time for him to convert it into a script. In an e-mail interview to Silverscreen, Manu speaks about about the deal, why he thinks the series will resonate among all and how he’s always thought that Parvathy and Rima Kallingal would essay the two principal female characters if the book ever became a film or series.
Were you approached by other media houses for adapting the book? What led you to pick Arka Mediaworks? 
Yes, the first discussion was in 2016, but, sadly, that did not work out. Last year, there was another studio in the picture, and we were quite close to signing. That is when writer Anand Neelakantan got in touch with me. He had given Shobu Yarlagadda of Arka a copy of The Ivory Throne. When Shobu was in London in the summer of 2018, we met and got talking. I was thrilled by his interest. The book has a  fascinating setting, with its matrilineal queens and a princely court, all of it in enveloped in colonial dynamics, and I understood that Arka, with its tremendous resources and expertise, would be able to pull off something amazing with the story. My idea was to always have my protagonist Sethu Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore brought to life on screen in a manner that did not compromise on quality – and Arka offered the best home for this idea, with great sincerity and a genuine interest.
What factors did you consider before optioning the book to the company? 
I am a writer, and my knowledge of how the industry works is minimal. The advantage was that Arka was extremely professional and transparent – and willing to be very patient. The rest was done by Kwan, which represents HarperCollins, and my excellent lawyers at ANM Legal, and their legal advisers.
Did you have apprehensions while optioning the book to a media house outside Kerala, given that the book is about Travancore royalty? 
With its tale of power, wealth, intrigue, history, and the rise and fall of a queen, The Ivory Throne holds content that will appeal to all, across the board. And though the setting is Kerala, I think the story will also attract an international audience. The book was never only for Malayalis, and, in my opinion, any on-screen rendition will also seek as large an audience as possible.
Do you think a series would serve the book well rather than a movie adaptation? 
In my opinion, yes, and as Shobu tweeted this morning, he shares this view as well. There is too much happening in the book for it to be convincingly portrayed in a feature film. But, there are parts of it that can certainly be used to make separate feature films.

Are there portions you think are better on text than they might be on screen? 

Not as such. It depends on the scriptwriter’s magic and the producers’ vision as well.
Do you have a preferred director or actor for the story? 
Several years ago, director Anjali Menon and I were chatting over coffee in Mumbai. And, out of the blue, we got discussing who could possibly play the two principal female characters if the book ever became a film or series. Parvathy and Rima Kallingal are who I’d thought of then, and the picture has remained in my head. But, of course, this is for Arka to decide, and there will, no doubt, be many factors to bear in mind when it gets to that stage. I am happy to trust the experts in things like this – I do the history, and they know best when it comes to making movies and series.
Personally, are you in favour of adapting books to the screen? 
Not all books can be adapted, but, if they can, why not! There is a growing appetite, especially for history, among young people in the country, and there is no reason why this should not translate into a well-made adaptation on screen. The space will only grow.
The Manu S Pillai interview is a Silverscreen exclusive 
Image Courtesy: Mid Day