By Kainat Sarfaraz:
Fantasy and mythological stories are on the rise in India. Along with writers, even actors are accepting this genre with outstretched arms. And no, we are not talking about Shahrukh Khan’s Atharva here. The focus today is on the mythological action thriller Warrior written by first time author Olivier Lafont. Set in Mumbai, the novel captures the journey of Saam as he tries to save the world from destruction. Incidentally, Saam is the only earthly demi-god child of Shiva.
Born in Lyon and brought up in Delhi, Lafont is the same actor who has portrayed the role of Suhas Tandon aka ‘price tag’ in one of the highest grossers of Bollywood, 3 idiots. The French indophile has also featured in films like Paa and Guzaarish. Apart from acting, this versatile 35-year-old has written the screenplay for an award winning film Hari Om and has featured in several advertisement commercials.
Interestingly, the actor is a self-confessed ‘fan of the fantasy genre’. Even his first published work, a novelette named Purgatory: Gun of God dealt with fantasy. It is no wonder that his first book is a hard-core mythological thriller. “From a young age I’ve written mostly fantasy stories, so writing ‘Warrior’ was a natural progression,” says Lafont, whose father, Dr. Jean-Marie Lafont, is an award-winning historian and author.
Despite being a French national, Lafont has imbibed in the culture and language of India. His earliest brush with Indian culture was through the classic Amar Chitra Katha comics. Along with attracting him towards the genre of fantasy, these comics also revealed a picture of India he had not known. Soon he started loving the life of a country which had initially felt foreign and strange. This is quite evident in his novel which vividly describes parts of India and its people. Lafont himself admits to this. “I think ‘Warrior’ is evidence of how much I love and connect with India and its phenomenal stories and mythology.”
The ease with which Lafont pens mythology is commendable. And according to him, it is his acting career which helps him in expressing his thoughts so intensely. Maybe that is the reason why along with being an action-packed thriller, Warrior also expresses the subtlety of human emotions. Love, despair, enmity, wrath, loyalty and friendship: the protagonist Saam encounters each of these on his journey throughout the book. When asked about his favourite characters in the novel, the writer confesses, “My two favourite characters are Saam and his half-brother Ara. They’re linked in a very intense, twisted way because of their family history. There’s a lot of emotion between them, hate and anger, jealousy and bitterness, alienation and resentment, which is all somehow refracted from a very deep love.”
Lafont also tries to integrate Indian mystical thoughts to science and physics by introducing the idea of multiverses in his book. “I first encountered the multiverse concept in legendary fantasy writer Michael Moorcock’s many works. The multiverse concept you find in ‘Warrior’ was particularly interesting and useful in highlighting and underlining certain ideas, as well as creating significant drama and scale. To me it seemed to reflect philosophies and ideas we find in Indian mystical thought, such as the well-known ‘everything is maya’.”
This, however, is not the only unusual thing in the book. Being a mythology, the story demanded occurrences which would not happen in our day-to-day lives. And the author has successfully provided his readers with such imageries which are not frivolous imaginings of a novice mind. They are well-researched. “Creating the world of ‘Warrior’ was like inventing a whole new cuisine from familiar elements and brand new ingredients. The research was fairly extensive into various subjects, from metallurgy to philosophy, physics to ancient weaponry, geography to history…”
The hard work paid off when the book was shortlisted for the Tiber Jones South Asia Prize, an annual literary prize to encourage unpublished and unrepresented South Asian writers. This turned out to be a pleasant and unexpected surprise for Lafont who works without expecting awards in return. The young actor, writer and director believes in pushing himself to new limits without basking in the success of his former endeavours. This is evident as he concludes by telling us about his next project, “right now I’m completely focussed on ‘Warrior’, but once it’s on its way I’m going back to my film project. For the first time I’ve written a film screenplay for myself as the main character, and I’m looking for a producer to partner with on it.”
To know more about the Warrior, check out Kainat’s review of the book.