Ashok Banker

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Ashok K. Banker
Ashok Banker (3rd from L).jpg
Ashok Banker Kamal Haasan Ten Kings Book Launch Chennai 15 November 2014]]
Born Ashok Kumar Banker
(1964-02-07) 7 February 1964 (age 50)
Mumbai, India
Occupation Author
Nationality Indian
Period contemporary
Notable works Blood Red Sari (2012)
Slayer of Kamsa (2009)
Prince of Ayodhya (2003)
Vertigo (1994)
The Iron Bra (1992)
Spouse Bithika Banker
(m.1987–2012)
Children Ayushyoda Banker, Yashka Banker
Website
akbebooks.com

Ashok Kumar Banker (born 7 February 1964 in Mumbai, India) is an internationally acclaimed and bestelling contemporary author and screenwriter. His writing spans crime thrillers, essays, literary criticism, fiction and mythological retellings.[1] The author of several well-received novels including a trilogy billed as "India's first crime novels in English",[2] he became widely known for his retellings of Indian mythological epics, starting with the internationally acclaimed and best-selling eight-volume Ramayana Series, which has been credited with the resurgence of mythology in Indian publishing. The New York Times credited him with making mythology the most successful category in Indian publishing, describing his work as being "better written than many books in the genre that have followed – introduced the Ramayana to a new generation of readers."[3] His books have sold over 2 million copies and have been published in 16 languages in 58 countries.[4] His Epic India Library is an attempt to retell all the myths, legends and itihasa of the Indian sub-continent in one massive story cycle comprising over 70 volumes, "an epic library of India".[5][6] He is frequently nominated and shortlisted as one of India's top thinkers and celebrities.[7][8]The upcoming two-film adaptation of his Mahabharata is expected to be the biggest Indian film production to date.[9]

Early life[edit]

Parentage[edit]

Banker was born to an Anglo-Indian Christian mother and a Gujarati Hindu NRI father. His parents were estranged before he was born and he was subsequently raised by his mother and maternal grandmother but due to his biological father having been a Hindu, he was given the freedom to decide which religion he wished to pursue, if any. His mother entered "Indian" in the then-contentious column for Religion/Caste in his birth certificate. As divorce was rarely granted at the time, she was compelled to convert to Islam to secure a divorce from her Hindu husband. Banker was raised in an Anglo-Indian Christian atmosphere. Subsequently, Banker has said in numerous interviews that when the time came for him to choose which religion he wished to belong to, he chose simply "to stay human".[10][11]

Childhood[edit]

Ashok Banker age 15 (far left).

His British grandmother, May Agnes Smith, was the only one of her family to migrate from her birthplace Sri Lanka to India, with the rest of her family choosing to claim British citizenship and return to the UK or migrate to other countries. She married D'Souza a Portuguese-Goan and settled in the neighbourhood of Byculla in Bombay as it was then known. After Banker's mother fell prey to alcoholism in the wake of her second failed marriage to an abusive husband who subsequently abandoned both her and her young son, it was his British grandmother who effectively raised and supported him. Banker has mentioned in interviews how she not only encouraged him to write but even financed the publication of his first book, a collection of his poetry titled Ashes in the Dust of Time, which he self-published at age 15 and which was selected to represent Young India at the World Book Fair in Paris, France that year.[12] He also found early support from his school Principal, Miss Sophy Kelly, a prominent patron of the arts and leader of the Bene Israeli Jewish community in Mumbai at the time, and among his first literary efforts was an ambitious play based on the Book of Revelations of St. John from the Bible, produced by Kelly and performed by Banker and other students at their high school auditorium, Hill Grange. The school itself was the alma mater of many prominent personalities.[13]

Abuse Due to Racial, Religious and Caste Prejudice[edit]

Banker has often commented publicly about abuse he faced growing up on account of his lack of religion, caste or racial identity. Describing himself as a 'post-racial post-religious' Indian. His refusal to identify himself as belonging to a caste, religion or community has caused many conflicts, since it is at odds with India's traditional caste-based social structure and has resulted in his being ostracised by his peers. This culture of segregation and systematic bias has turned him away from his estranged biological father's religion Hinduism, and Banker grew up with little or no exposure to Hindu culture, religion or literature. He identified himself with other minorities and his closest friends were Muslims, Parsis, Christians and Jews. He took Farsi and Urdu lessons for a time and even won a college-level prize for Urdu-Translation in collaboration with a Pakistani friend. The son of an Iranian dissident fleeing the Shah regime stayed briefly with Banker's grandmother in Byculla, exposing Banker further to radical Islamic thought and culture. Among his close friends were the son and daughter of the Rabbi of the Magen David Synagogue in Byculla, who also studied at the same high school.[14]

Career[edit]

Journalism[edit]

Ashok Banker worked as a successful freelance journalist and columnist for several years, breaking front-page news for publications such as The Times of India, Mumbai, and cover stories[15] for Outlook magazine, New Delhi. He was earlier also known as a prolific reviewer and commentator on contemporary Indian literature, and as a candid essayist with a particular focus on media hypocrisy in India, and the western racial bias against South Asian writers.[16] He was a prolific literary critic and reviewer, known for his candour and bluntness in reviewing books by Indian authors. His views often veered from the outright derogatory[17] to effusive praise.

Literary Contribution[edit]

Banker is a contemporary Indian novelist often counted among the significant literary names in post-colonial Indian literature His work is the focus of several academic studies[18] for its cross-cultural themes and realistic portrayals of Indian urban issues.[19] He is one of few contemporary Indian authors writing in English to be included in prestigious anthologies such as The Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature[20] and The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature.[21] His work has been the subject of dissertations, course study material, and is frequently included in the syllabi or reading lists of management institutes and studies of modern Indian English Literature. He is credited as having introduced Indian mythology to a new generation of readers with works that have been described as "better written than many books in the genre that followed", "well paced" and "breathes humanity into characters that most Indians consider deities. This brings freshness to the old stories and makes their intricate, discursive narratives more accessible to an audience that has been bred on the linear plots of Hollywood and Bollywood movies."[22] His novel Vertigo is considered a "remarkable" fictional representation of the new Bombay; it is "an autobiographical novel about a young man in advertising who lives with his disturbed Christian mother". First published in 1992, Vertigo was highly praised by critics and readers alike at the time, including the late Dom Moraes, and has often appeared on readers' choice polls as a favourite contemporary fiction on post-liberalisation India yet is one of Banker's lesser known works.[23]

Crime Fiction[edit]

Banker (far right) at a panel discussion in November 2012

Banker has published in several genres, ranging from contemporary fiction about urban life in India to multi-volume mythological epics, as well as cross-genre works. Three of his early novels to be published were crime thrillers, claimed to be the first written by an Indian novelist in English. They gained him widespread attention and still continue to be regarded with critical approval. Most recently, literary critic Zac O'Yeah wrote: "Slimmer and much more hard-boiled are three striking crime novels written by Ashok Banker many years ago. I still remember reading The Iron Bra, a blood-soaked story of a female investigator, Sheila Ray, whose finger rests lightly on the trigger as she defends her family’s reputation and takes on gangsters in a particularly unforgettable shootout. The growing city’s construction sites were a crucial component in the tight plot. Tragically, my own copy is long lost and second-hand copies cost $129 (approx. Rs6,000) plus shipping on an online bookshop, so it looks like it’s high time to have this gem of a crime novel reissued in an omnibus edition along with Banker’s Ten Dead Admen and Murder & Champagne (all three originally published in 1993)."[24] His Kali Rising is a contemporary radical feminist thriller series featuring only women protagonists. The first book, Blood Red Sari, was launched at the Tata Literature Live! literary festival in Mumbai in November 2012.[25]

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror[edit]

The stories of his "Devi" series are short works featuring Avatars of the Hindu goddess Devi, and have appeared in various science fiction, fantasy, and horror magazines. Several of these genre publications have claimed that his was the first speculative fiction by an Indian Author writing in English to be published. Due to his early association with the scifi genres, his work is often found on several recommended reading lists and discussed in seminars, conventions, essays and books. His Gods of War was released by Penguin in 2009.[26] But it was his recasting of Indian mythology in the mould of "western-style fantasy" that got him international attention and made him an important addition to the history of post-Independence literature.[27]

Autobiographical Work[edit]

Three of his novels contain autobiographical elements and are closely related to one another. His first novel (though the fifth published) Vertigo is about a man struggling to make a successful career and home life in Bombay (the former name of Mumbai). Byculla Boy takes its name from the Byculla suburb of Bombay where he and his mother grew up. Beautiful Ugly and the complementary documentary of the same title are a tribute to his mother, portraying the tragic events of her life.[28]

Mythological Retellings[edit]

Banker is best known for his Ramayana Series, a freely imaginative retelling of the ancient Sanskrit epic poem. The series is ranked at No.1 on the "Internet Book List".[29] The eight-book Series was published in 56 countries and 7 languages to considerable critical acclaim. In India, the Series continues to enjoy popularity and sales. It is often credited with being either directly or largely responsible for the current resurgence of interest in mythology. It has been called "super-cool" (The Hindu), "a milestone" (India Today) and "a magnificent labor of love" (Outlook) and appeared on most major recommended reading lists during its publication. The first series fiction to find such success in Indian publishing, it has since been followed by numerous imitators, spawning the burgeoning mythology genre. At least one Indian publisher, Westland Books, has capitalised on the success of Banker's Ramayana Series by publishing other authors such as Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi, finally signing on the "epic Indian storyteller" himself in 2012[30] for his 18-volume Mahabharata Series.

Television Work[edit]

Banker has been credited as the creator and sole scriptwriter (story, screenplay and dialogues) for A Mouthful of Sky, India's first television series in English, originally aired on DD Metro in the Indian sub-continent, retelecast on Star World. Subsequently, the series was telecast in over 30 countries worldwide and ran for 252 half-hour episodes. Banker was also co-writer of Malaysia's television series in English, titled City of the Rich, produced by UTV. The creator of several dozen successful and award-winning advertising commercials, documentaries and docudramas, including the multiple award-winning Whose World Is It Anyway, for which he also wrote several original songs. Writing sporadically for television from the mid 1980s onwards, Banker scripted over 520 episodes of broadcast television for various series. He is also credited or thanked in numerous Hindi language feature films and at least one English-language animated films for his contributions to story, or script.Banker has also contributed creative consultancy or story and/or screenplay inputs to several historical or mythological series. His work has been optioned for adaptation to television or film several times over the years, usually with Banker himself attached as screenwriter. He is reported to have several television shows in development and production, including the upcoming Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat on Colors.[31]

Feature films[edit]

Many of Banker's original screenplays have been optioned or purchased for production but remain unproduced to date due to the daunting budgets required to bring his epic stories to the big screen. His original English-language screenplay Sid is an inspired retelling of the life of Gautama Buddha reborn in present-day America; it was optioned in 2009 by Excel Entertainment to be produced and directed by Farhan Akhtar. His original graphic novel script titled Becoming Kali was purchased by DC Comics in 2010. The film rights were purchased for development by Warner Bros in 2011. In June 2013, Disney UTV purchased the rights to Banker's ongoing Mahabharata Series, with Banker commissioned to adapt the epic himself in an original screenplay intended for a big-budget live-action feature film adaptation in Hindi and Sanskrit, to be split into two parts for release in 2016/17. Disney India CEO Siddhartha Roy Kapur is attached to produce and Director Abhishek Kapoor is signed to direct the film.[32][33][34] Banker has also confirmed that he has been commissioned by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra to write the script for his forthcoming film, tentatively titled Raja. It was also reported that the rights to his historical fiction novel Ten Kings have been sold to Global One Studios.[35]

eBook success[edit]

One of the first Indian authors to embrace changing technology, Banker began sharing his work online with readers as early as 1995, when public internet access began in India. He has been credited as the author of the first ebook by an Indian author, the first online serial novel, the first multimedia novel, and numerous other early experiments with digital publishing. In response to increasing demand from his readers and the considerable delay by Indian publishers in embracing electronic publishing technologies, Banker began publishing and distributing ebook editions of his own work through his website and later through a dedicated ebookstore. The result was India's first ebook best-sellers and first successful independent ebookstore. As of May 2014, AKB eBOOKS had sold over 180,000 ebooks accounting for about 9% of Banker's total book sales.[36][37] As a result, Banker has said he intends to use the knowledge he has acquired in the course of researching and writing his epic mythology series into creating "informative, interactive books for the iPad".

Select bibliography[edit]

Poetry[edit]

  • Ashes in the Dust of Time (1979)

Literary Fiction[edit]

  • Vertigo (1993)
  • Byculla Boy (1994)

Young Adult Novels[edit]

  • Amazing Adventure at Chotta Sheher (1992)
  • The Missing Parents Mystery (1994)
  • Vortal Shockwave (2013)

Ramayana Series[edit]

  • "Prince of Ayodhya: Volume I, The Graphic Novel" (2010)[38]

Collected as omnibus volumes[edit]

  • Prince of Dharma (2007)
  • Prince in Exile (2007)
  • Prince at War (2007)
  • King of Dharma (2011)

Krishna Coriolis Series[edit]

Mahabharata Series[edit]

Prequel Series

Mahabharata Series

Epic Love Stories[edit]

Kali Rising[edit]

Crime Fiction[edit]

  • The Iron Bra (1993)
  • Murder & Champagne (1993)
  • Ten Dead Admen (1993)
  • Rafiyana (2014)

Itihasa Series[edit]

Future history[edit]

Non-Fiction Books[edit]

Romance Novels[edit]

Other works[edit]

  • Gods of War(novel) (2009)[39]
  • A Mouthful of Sky -TV Series created and written by Banker (1995–96)[40]
  • "City of the Rich" -TV Series co-written by Banker (1996–98), credited as Malaysia's first Television Series in English.
  • Bad Karma Online serial (first published on Top Write Corner website) (1998)
  • Brandwarriors Magazine series published in The Advertising Brief, now defunct ad magazine published by Mid-day Group (1999)
  • Swing City (2000) Book-length novel published as an online serial on Rediff.com
  • Vortal (2000–01) Multimedia serial published in CD-Rom magazine "Mahazine"

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ashok Banker on real art, honest emotions Times of India, 6 April 2012
  2. ^ Mystery of the missing jasoos Times of India 16 May 2010
  3. ^ Does Indian Mythology Dominate Contemporary Fiction in India?
  4. ^ On the Comeback Trail, The Pioneer, March 23, 2013
  5. ^ The Forest of Stories The Telegraph, 15 March 2012
  6. ^ An epic undertaking The Hindu, 21 March 2012
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ India Celebrity 100 Nominees List
  9. ^ http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140324/entertainment-bollywood/article/disney-india-bring-mahabharata-life-celluloid
  10. ^ "I have no caste, I am an Indian.", Interview in Hindustan Times, May 27, 2012
  11. ^ epic rediscovery, Feature article in The Telegraph, April 14, 2013
  12. ^ Bollywood, the worst example of storytelling DNA, 22 April 2012
  13. ^ Writing epics was healthier and more sustainable Bangalore Mirror, 22 April 2012
  14. ^ epic rediscovery
  15. ^ Star's Final Assault|Ashok K. Banker Outlook, 15 March 1999
  16. ^ "View from the top : Colours of fiction", Banker's views about bias: article at the Times of India website.
  17. ^ Derogatory book reviews: article from the New Statesman website.
  18. ^ The Great Indian Novelists on English Literature/Naval Kishore Singh. Delhi, Manglam Pub., 2008, viii, 268 p., ISBN 978-81-906650-2-5
  19. ^ Sistla, Lakshmi, Towards Integration: Childhood in Ashok Banker's Byculla Boy (6 December 2008). The Icfai University Journal of English Studies, Vol. III, No. 4, pp. 29–35, December 2008. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1312203]
  20. ^ "The Vintage Book of Modern Indian Literature": Random House Academic Resources website.
  21. ^ "The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature": Pan Macmillan website.
  22. ^ Does Indian Mythology Dominate Contemporary Fiction in India?
  23. ^ Flights of the imagination
  24. ^ "Murder in the city" Article on Indian Crime Fiction at Livemint, Wall Street Journal India website.
  25. ^ "Blood Red Sari by Ashok Banker book review"
  26. ^ http://www.flipkart.com/gods-war-01/p/itmczyrphpzyhpkp
  27. ^ http://books.theguardian.com/quiz/questions/0,,2147971,00.html
  28. ^ My mother and I: An intensely personal note by Ashok Banker on his film project Beautiful Ugly (Expanded and Revised by Ashok on 22 June)
  29. ^ "Internet Book List": Internet Book List website.
  30. ^ An epic undertaking/The Hindu
  31. ^ http://www.bestmediainfo.com/2014/10/colors-announces-magnum-opus-chakravartin-ashoka-samrat/ | bestmediainfo.com 10 September 2014
  32. ^ http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Entertainment/Hindi/Bollywood/News-Interviews/Now-the-entire-Mahabharata-on-the-big-screen/articleshow/32548375.cms
  33. ^ http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140324/entertainment-bollywood/article/disney-india-bring-mahabharata-life-celluloid
  34. ^ http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/news-interviews/This-will-be-my-Lord-of-the-Rings-Abhishek-Kapoor/articleshow/32585485.cms
  35. ^ http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/Narrating-a-Travelling-Tale/2014/11/17/article2526312.ece | New Indian Express, 17 November 2014
  36. ^ Your favorite books, on the digital highway – Business of Life – livemint.com
  37. ^ [2]
  38. ^ Epics reloaded in a modern avatar/The Asian Age
  39. ^ Penguin Books website website
  40. ^ A Mouthful of Sky (1995 TV series): IMDB.com website, credited as India's first Television Series in English.
  1. Sunday, article in issue of January 1993.
  2. Society Magazine, cover story titled "Byculla Boy", August 1993.
  3. The Week, cover story, August 1993.

External links[edit]