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Interview with Vinod Raman Nair

Vinod Raman Nair


He is a notable filmmaker, researcher, writer, producer, and thinker, having had his exchanges with talents across the globe. Documentaries have triggered his fascination with world history; he is perhaps one of the first Indians to shoot across the war-torn Gaza Strip. 

Having worked with the legendary Turkish film-maker Mustafa, Altioklar, Stanley Huntsman, British actor Alex Goldwin, prolific Korean film-maker Kwon Taek, he is also a prolific writer, having ventured into 6 languages in the film arena. 

He is an avid traveler and a student of history, having traveled across 16 countries, exploring the best vantage point to a historical event that potentially created a ripple effect all across the planet.


Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
A.
I am a decent cook, especially in Indian cuisine. In addition, I have been a sportsman in my early youth.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
A.
I am almost ready with another manuscript. This time it’s a bio fiction named The Ghanekar Diary timed to the Agra Summit when Mushraff visited India to meet PM Vajpayee. This should be out in March. My research trip to Iran got delayed due to Covid as I am working on the 2nd installment of The 3 Trilogy: 3 And The Beads of Zoroaster. This is slated for an August launch.

Q.3 What inspired you to write 3 & The Emerald Stone of Irene?
A.
The idea germinated inside me when I was on a research tour to Turkey. This was regarding the documentary film on the Warsaw Pact for which I was researching the Ottomans. I stumbled upon a book called the Jabirian Corpus written by Jabir ibn Hayan at the University Library in Istanbul, which had excerpts of the 9th-century translation movement in Baghdad. The Islamic empire is known to be brutal, and with the modern-day Islamophobia floating around post 9/11, I pursued a completely different perception of this civilization. And what furthered my reason is current-day India. Sadly history has turned people into foes. 

History for some is abusing a few personalities who have stood the test of time. History for others is demonizing a section of society. A large percentage of youth is so oblivious of their own history that they can be fed with any misinformation via a mere WhatsApp message. And the responses are robotic. Some brilliant writers and academicians did try to diffuse the demons with their various books. But the issue here is most of these books are highly academic and can resonate only with the elite. The real vulnerability lay at the bottom of the pyramid. I wanted to do something which could try and upturn the idea of history. 

My argument is that history is not about timelines or personalities. History is about great civilizations that walked this planet, their rise and fall. It’s about their contributions that took the world from where it was to where we stand today. And I wanted to tell it like a story so that even a 13-year-old can enjoy it. And when the story started taking shape, I was in a dilemma. Lots of details I was bringing in facing the danger of getting lost in transit if it was turned into a film. And it was my dear friend Kashyap Chandhock, who motivated me to turn it into a book. He made me realize that a film could only be an extension of this story.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A.
Hahaha! Well, I have never thought about it in that way. A woman is a universal concept. But being born to Indian roots, I do struggle while creating women characters from a foreign land. Generally, any story or characters that you weave it with will have reflections of your own or the people you have met and understood. One can’t escape that. If I have to point at one more area where I struggle it would have to be costumes.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A.
‘Paradise is the prison for the sages like the world is to the believer’. I believe in a free world and I don’t believe in methods. The characters form themselves when the story is in the incubator. I normally flow with it. And yes, there is never a black or a white. It has always been grey. Every character has its weaknesses and strengths. But I normally pull my characters away from misogyny and abuse. I see my characters as very progressive.

Q.6 What’s your writing schedule look like when you’re working?
A.
Writing takes the least time. The maximum time is spent in research and ideating. When I am completely into my story I drift away from the urban chaos. I am an earlier riser. So, my writing schedule starts from morning 8.30 to 1 PM. Then I start again at 3 PM and take a break at 7 PM. Then I start again from 10 PM to 12 PM.

Q.7 What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Well, the toughest part of the book was finding the right sources. Most works were in Arabic. The best I could get was a Latin translation. Getting it translated into English was a harrowing task. 

Further, as I wanted the book to be readable to even a 13 year old, I had to refrain from intellectualizing. Saying something as serious as the 9th century power dynamics of Baghdad in an entertaining way was most challenging. I remember spending days creating the puzzles and riddles in my book.

Q.8 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
A.
The history of languages precedes the history of writing. People used to speak and recite before writing was actually discovered. Well, if in the future, if I no longer write, maybe I will be trying them.

Q.9 What are the three things a reader can expect from your book?
A.
Thrill, Marvel, and History without prejudice.

Q.10 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
A.
Of course… that is a very important dynamic. At first, convincing the publisher that the book would resonate even with a 13-year-old was a challenge. Reaching the ultimate audience is a real struggle with the majority of people drifting away from reading. 

My marketing campaign was a clean one where we refrained from any controversies. I would have failed as a writer if I had to rake controversy to sell my book. My marketing and PR was handled brilliantly by 2 young teams Connekting Dots and Talentela. They had such innovative ideas for my book. They took away all the pressure once the book was published.

Q.11 How do your friends/family feel about your book or writing venture in general?
A.
Oh, my parents and my wife were very proud of me. My 12-year-old son, who himself is a voracious reader, was my first reader. Friends have been very supportive and feel happy for me.

Q.12 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
A.
Who am I… but a mere mortal? How do I offer advice? Every man is born with a gift. I can share one thing that I have believed in my life. ‘Great writers have 2 things in common. They don’t want to be praised, they want to be understood. Secondly, they never write for the upper elite class.’

Q.13 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A.
You could have certainly taken a few more risks.

Q.14 If your book is made into a film, whom would you like to play the role of Ajay, Kabeer, Meera, and Samyukta?
A.
This is like asking me for a wish list… hahaha! Well if the movie would have been made in the 70s-80s my wish list would have been Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, and Rishi Kapoor as ‘3’. The girls would have been Zeenat Aman, Mumtaz, and Neetu Singh. If it is made today then Hritik Roshan/Shahrukh Khan, Rajkumar Rao, Ranveer Singh as ‘3’. The girls, I am all confused…

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How did you select him/her?
A.
It was designed by Sachin Rajan, a young VFX supervisor who has worked on projects like Hellboy, Narnia, and Sin City. I have known him since he was a boy. He understands my concepts and tastes. I did not select him, we have been a team for a long time.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
A.
Oh, that’s a tricky one. I learned this from the legendary Ritwik Ghatak. Any character starts with his/her name. The name should have a meaning, which keeps inspiring you to justify it. Ajay, Kabir, and Michael were also conceptually borrowed from Manmohan Desai's classic ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. I told you before I wanted to say this in an entertaining way.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
A.
Of course, I do read book reviews. When I read a good review, I feel satisfied as a storyteller. When it comes to a bad one, I take it with the stride. I respect that view and it helps me to introspect and grow as a writer.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
A.
Of the dead; Charlie Chaplin; to know how he deciphered the code that man laughs only at other people’s pain. Leo Tolstoy; to ask him how he envisaged ‘Anna Karenina’. Adolf Hitler; to understand what made him go crazy. And Gandhi; to tell him how much India needed him today.

Of the living; Obama; for his sheer wisdom which is a rare attribute in this modern day.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
A. Leo Tolstoy
, Dostoevsky, RK Narayan, Sarthchandra, Manto, or for that matter Premchand, I was in complete awe of them. Their works were compelling, an intricate dissection of an era, laced with a deep understanding of the socio-economic challenges and most importantly standing up to the spirit of man. What else is history but a testimony of an era, events that happened around it, and effects it had on ordinary lives? I loved every bit of it.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A.
It has been an exciting journey. When my book got approved by a seasoned publisher Notion Press, who believed my work in testing times, half the battle was won. I always wondered if my book would pass the test of controversies with the publisher. Islamophobia is the new norm. 

Further, I had not tested the book with a reader. So I tried it with my 13-year-old son. I did not brief him anything about the book and just told him it was an adventure. Those were the two nervous nights by the time my son read it. He told me the action sequences and thrilling moments were great. He also told me he was learning about the Abbasids in school. 

He was excited to know that Algebra was originally Al Jabr, a contribution of the Arabs to the world. I felt happy that he could understand the tool I had used to tell history. The next was the formal launch and I should tell you I had a wonderful young team handling this for me and absorbed most of the pressure for me.


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