Jugal Hansraj, from child actor to author of children’s books
It’s a cold, rain-swept evening in New York City as we speak to Jugal Hansraj. The actor-filmmaker is in a good mood, with his new book, The coward and the sword has just been acquired by HarperCollins Publishers India. This is not Hansraj’s first book, however. Her first children’s fiction novel titled, Cross connection – The adventure of the great circus, was published in 2017. However, instead of switching to another genre for his second book, he persisted with children’s books. We ask him what motivates him to continue in this space. “I have always been a voracious reader since childhood, browsing the books of Enid Blyton, Sturdy boys, and more. Even now, always have a book on your bedside, ”he says.
While writing for today’s kids, with their limited attention span taken up by streaming platforms and television, comes with its fair share of challenges, Hansraj believes his storytelling style could keep them engaged. “Stories can get complex with subplots. However, I keep it simple. There is a destination to be reached through my stories, ”he explains. “Having said that, I’m not putting him down. I realize that I am writing for a very intelligent readership. Children are very conscious these days.
The story of The coward and the sword is based in the Kingdom of Kofu, ruled by the brave King Rissho and his wife Queen Kanito. However, as the land is happy and peaceful, problems are brewing within the royal family, with the 16-year-old prince Kadis being a shy and anxious boy. The story follows his adventures, as he sets out on a journey to enemy Molonga territory with his uncle, Shonin. He goes there with peace in his heart and the mystical Kofu sword in its scabbard. The saga questions whether peace will win out over war.
With children absorbing news of violence daily, this seems like a relevant question to ask. For Hansraj, who has studied Buddhism for many years, the trigger was a saying from a 13th century monk in Japan, who said that a sword is useless in the hand of a coward. “He teaches that bravery is not in the sword but in the person who wields it. The idea came from that one line, and then I developed it into 50,000 words, ”he laughs. Hansraj took his time writing the story, which could take place in a fantasy realm, but is based on very real notions of bravery, self-confidence, friendship, and peace.
Filmmaker, he extends his visual vocabulary to books. He sees the stories like a movie, with scenes, shots and angles in mind. “Often while writing dialogues, I would read them as I was typing. One day my wife walked in, thinking I had gone mad and was talking on my laptop, ”laughs Hansraj. The book is not the only thing that occupies him. With streaming platforms offering a space for experimentation and new formats, he is also developing a show in collaboration with producers in Mumbai. “The kind of subject we’re exploring may not have reached film format yet. But OTT changed all that. It’s liberating, ”he adds.