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Asoka becomes relevant in times of war - Mushtaq Shiekh

Why did you choose this film to write a book?

The first time I heard about the film was about a year and a half ago. Shah Rukh was telling me how special the film was going to be for him and how special it was going to be for Archlightz Productions considering this will be their maiden venture. And this was just one of his ideas. But it had a good ring to it and so I said why not.

24author.jpg - 5955 Bytes We didn't know how that idea could be developed because no one had done something like this before, at least not in India. So we decided to go with the flow. All I was supposed to do was to be there, like a camera, and document everything.

At that time, I looked at this project as a travelogue, following the maker of film, till it was complete. But as time passed and the idea crystallised, a concrete framework came into play. And, around this time, we realised that the history of this great king would also be as vital to the book. And sifting through the old history book and texts was a real tedious task.

While I was researching, shooting commenced and that was a tough time because I had to be on the sets 24-7. Because it's a sanctimonious subject, I had to be careful and had to have my facts correct.

Also, writing that part required me to shift from my usual tongue-in-cheek style to a more formal, structured pattern. I also had to keep the reader in mind who was going to find himself in the middle of a shoot in the 21st century after he's read reams of history.

Luckily for me, Santosh had done a lot of research as he had been simmering with the idea for a while. I ransacked my college library and, thanks to my professors, I was finally able to get a lot of matter on the king.

Is the book another promotion tool? Is that all that it aspires to be?

When we began it really wasn't even a book. It was to be a token of appreciation, a memento to all the people who worked on the film. But because of the media hype surrounding the film, you could say that it has become a marketing gimmick.

What's your favourite section in the book?

Majestic Maneuvers. That section records the travels from Bhubaneshwar to Kerala to Jabalpur interspersed with the anecdotes of what happens on the sets. That is so much more exciting than what you will see onscreen.

There are also stories in the Myth-o-logic section that are based on the lesser known but interesting fables... like the one which tells of how he had a monk for soup or how he burnt his harem.

We knew the book had to be visually stimulating. If this was going to be a Santosh Sivan film, the reader had to be provided with some great visuals. Sameer Sarkar clicked the photographs for me. With M F Hussain's painting, this has now become a collector's item.

Is it difficult trying to find buyers for such kind of literature?

Not too much has been written in cinema. A lot of that little has been written in retrospect, reminiscing and romanticizing the past. Nothing so far has been very contemporary. Bollywood is a religion in this country. It would be unfair to say that people would not pick up something on Bollywood. Provided you give them what they want.

Even if I look at 5% of the people who see the film, I'm still looking a rocking best seller. I'm presuming that a new market is now opening with Anupama Chopra's book on Sholay and Nasreen Munni Kabir's Bollywood doing rather well. People want to know what happens behind the scenes; what makes the stars tick.

Do you think this book will become some a sort of trendsetter?

Asoka releases during these troubled times. Hence, the message that the film conveys becomes even more relevant in today's context. So is the case with the book.

The reason for writing about Asoka was that it was a more reason-to-be book. The reasons for this book to exist are valid. A boy in love with a girl with a father who doesn't approve of the relationship doesn't constitute good enough reason to write a book. If you want to make the book a marketing tool, you're insane. Then it only becomes a glorified brochure. Things will change in terms of merchandising too.

Do you think the book will have anything to do with the success or failure of the film?

It would be very immodest of me to say or even think that the book will have anything to do with how the film fares. But I know that the director and the producers are absolutely in love with the book. For us, the entire process has been like the release of two films -- The Making of Asoka and Asoka.

Mushtaq Shiekh spoke with Vivek Fernandes