Tale Of Two Thrillers
Tale Of Two Thrillers
I have always been fascinated by historical fiction. I have read many and seen many historical movies. While most of them are based on actual events fictionalized for drama, some of the books are pure imagination, even fantasy, while setting in real historical background.
Though Game of Thrones does not claim to be historical fiction, it is an epic tale written by George RR Martin and immortalized on TV by HBO. Martin began writing the story in 1991 and planned it as a trilogy. However, he ended up writing and publishing five books so far, with two more still being written and waiting to be published! More weird is the fact that even before the seven books have been published and the story completed, HBO chose to turn it into a web series. Beginning 2001, there have been eight seasons with the final season-ending in 2019, even before the sixth and seventh books were completed by the author.
What makes Game of Thrones fascinating is the basic story-line about the fierce wars for the Iron Throne, and the multitude of characters, each one with a fascinating background and characterization. It is violent, brutal, and compelling.
Let us cut to India and our own homegrown historical thriller “Ponniyin Selvan” written by Kalki Krishnamurthy in Tamil. Though I had heard a lot about the story, I did not read it because I cannot read in Tamil. It was by an accident that I stumbled upon the Kadhai Podcast, featuring “Ponniyin Selvan”. The story is narrated by Kavitha and as I tuned in to the first episode, her performance and narration grabbed my attention.
Ponniyin Selvan was first published in Kalki magazine as a serial from 1950 to 1954. It was later published in five volumes containing over 2000 pages! The story is long and the plot very complex. Like the Game of Thrones, Ponniyin Selvan has a multitude of fascinating characters, suspense, political intrigue, and violent and sudden twists and unexpected turns.
Unlike Game of Thrones which is set in imaginary places like Westeros and Essos, Ponni is set in 10th Century South India, during the reign of the Cholas. It has real characters for its story, which makes us wonder if it is actually part of history or mere fiction! The author masterfully creates situations and events leading to a virtual war for the throne with several contenders conspiring in their own ways. Add to this a revenge plot by the Pandiyan conspirators, who are plotting to avenge the beheading of the PandIyan King by the Chola crown prince Aditya Karikalan.
Keep in mind that while Martin wrote his books in the nineties (and is still writing), Kalki wrote and published the series over a period of seven years which included three years he spent in researching in Sri Lanka! Kalki passed away in 1954.
Comparing the two epics may not seem justified, for they are as different as chalk and cheese. Yet, I cannot overlook the similarities in the basic plots and the broad sweep of the two titles. A power struggle, conspiracy, intrigue, and the mad rush for attaining the throne is what makes the two stories similar.
While I am not saying that Kalki is better than Martin, I cannot help feeling proud of the fact that an Indian writer has produced a gem of a thriller way back in the 1950s! I rate Kalki’s efforts superior to Martin’s for the single reason that Kalki’s story is grounded in reality, with real-life characters which makes it easier to connect for people; while Martin has produced a brilliant fantasy.
I am ashamed that “Ponniyin Selvan” could not be made into a movie thus far, though many including MGR desired to. It is now left to Mani Rathnam who is planning to release the movie in 2021 in two parts.
I hope Amazon Prime and Netflix do research to dig out gems in our country and bring them alive as a web series for the world to see!
Meanwhile, for those Indians and story lovers who are yet to read the book, please grab the volumes in Tamil (if you can read), or English (English translations are available) or just listen to Kavitha on Kadhai Podcast (if you understand Tamil but cannot read).
I wish it could be translated into other languages too! It is a gem and cannot be missed for anything.