A few years ago, Soumitra Ranade was taking a long walk through the passageway of Lucknow’s Bhool Bhulaiya, fascinated by its architectural marvel. He was alone, but around him were children — mostly tourists — who were running around, playing a game of hide and seek.
The visual fired his imagination, like a “game you see on your device come alive”, and he played out what he saw in his mind. “When I looked at their eyes, there was a fear of getting lost and I thought: ‘What if a kid goes missing in a place like this?’ That is how I got the base idea for my novel,” says Soumitra over a phone call from Mumbai, ahead of his planned trip to Kasauli with his filmmaker-mentor Saeed Mirza.
Writing for children is familiar terrain for Soumitra, having penned short stories for several publishers including Karadi Tales and having made children’s films like Jajantaram Mamantaram. But Bhrigu and the Palace of Mirrors marks his first published novel, whose premise follows the journey of a young boy (Bhrigu) and his mission to find his missing father. The book is part mystery and part adventure. “Short stories work on the level of an idea; there is a set-up and a resolution. But that is not the case with a novel…your characters evolve as the story progresses. For me, it was important to not make it edgy,” he says.
Pages of a script
Soumitra approached the novel like how he would conceive a mise-en-scene for a film, constructing the individual parts like a screenplay. He took into account the effect moving images has had, especially on the smartphone generation, which, he says, is “more glued to dark and violent stuff”. He adds, “Today’s kids are consuming a lot of content on OTT platforms and their exposure is far ahead. That is why I wanted the novel to have the feel of moving images.”
Having written the book in stages over the course of a year and a half, Soumitra was straddling two worlds — writing and illustrating — and wanted to fill in the visual gaps, and identify places that would further enhance the storytelling.
The idea to illustrate the book was an afterthought that came while the novel was on the verge of completion.
“I had certain images in my head after I finished it. These were not definitive images but abstract. Illustrations help the readers understand the world and its characters better,” he says, adding, “When the novel goes into a slightly adventurous zone, I had to change my designs and start from the scratch. By illustrating it, I added one more layer to the narrative.”
Though Bhrigu and the Palace of Mirrors is aimed at children, one is curious to know if the novel speaks to young adults and adults in general. “I have never understood the definition of children’s literature, because, the books bought for them are read by us; we watch movies they like and there is never a sense of alienation. I wanted to maintain the innocence of the book, hoping that adults, too, lose themselves in the world of fantasy.”
Given that he is a filmmaker and an illustrator (his company, Paperboat Design Studios, has worked on acclaimed films such as Bombay Rose), did he sense a possibility of making it into an animated feature, instead of a book? “Now I think it can be made into a feature or live action film because it is a visual novel.”
What Soumitra hopes to achieve through this novel is to document architectural heritages such as Bhool Bhulaiya, Ajanta Caves, Jantar Mantar and Konark temple, and to introduce them to children. “The journey of Bhrigu will continue,” he concludes.
Bhrigu and the Palace of Mirrors is published by Hachette India