Monday, January 6, 2014

"Main Hoon Na"

While I was trying to get a handle on some of the themes in To Touch the Sun, I happened to watch a Bollywood movie starring my favorite Indian actor Shahrukh Khan titled "Main Hoon Na." The 2004 movie, directed by Farah Khan is what's termed a "masala mix": Drama, comedy, romance, action and of course music and dancing. Khan plays Ram Prasad Sharma, a major in the Indian army who must go undercover at a college to protect from a terrorist the daughter of a general involved in a prisoner transfer between India and Pakistan. It's decided that rather than pose as a teacher, Major Ram, a few years older than the students, will pose as a man returning to college after previously having to give up his studies to help his family. This way he'll be able to get closer to the girl he needs to protect. Part of the fun of this movie was watching the young soldier, raised by a general, having to move about outside his element. Ram can often times be strict and regimented, unlike the college students he's being charged to protect. His relationship with the students he befriends loosens him up during the course of the movie as he discovers a playful side to his nature that he perhaps never realized existed.

Watching this movie I suddenly realized one of the elements I wanted for my vampire. I wanted to explore someone thrust into an unexpected situation and feeling very much outside their element.

I didn't want to write about a vampire brooding over his existence. Nor, for that matter, did I want the star of this novel to necessarily be reveling in his vampiric existence. I wanted to write a novel where the vampire's moral compass doesn't alter simply because of the condition. A man good or evil before the change will be so after, but he must adjust to all that the vampire condition brings to him. I guess I kept thinking of those legends where the vampire has become such through happenstance. A young man, a brother, a son, a friend all of a sudden wakes up in a very different life. All that he's known has been taken from him, his life drastically altered and he must do things to survive which might weigh heavily upon him. What would that be like for a man decent at the core?

Attacked by ferals in No Man's Land, Narain Khan is thrust into a bizarre situation and a life he never even imagined could exist. How would he reconcile who he is at the core with what he became physically and what he must do to survive? What extremes would he go to, to protect those he loves?

Like Ram, Narain takes on a lot of responsibility. Perhaps it's a little bit of an older brother syndrome (or even a super hero complex). But neither hesitates when someone needs help. It's what leads Narain to become Fred Blythe's champion in the trenches when Reginald Jameson tries to bully him. It's what made him enlist in the war rather than seek the money for school from his father.

Of course, Narain feels the added responsibility of protecting people not only from outside forces but from the realities of his own existence. In one line, during a talk in which sunlight's deadly affects on vampires comes up, Dom Amato tells Narain, "You know sometimes I forget how logistically complicated your life can be." He forgets this fact because Narain does his best to protect Dom from the negative aspects of his condition.

Unlike Ram, who could be naturally stoic and reserved, Narain readily showed his playfullness and passion for life daily. Life changed for him when he got to France and entered a war that drained the color from everything. After he became a vampire, his life was indeed drastically altered, his fears of losing control and what that might mean made him reign in that passion he once had.

And as with Major Ram, he would also find himself having to compromise who he is at times to protect himself or someone he loves. Ram has to go extremes to protect the other students from the terrorist's plans all the while keeping his identity a secret.

Both carry with them the weight of a responsibility not necessarily of their own making.

So as an homage to the film that helped put into perspective some of the ideas I had rolling around in my head, I gave my vampire an Indian heritage and the last name Khan. Narain was a name I saw in a baby name book (a valuable tool) and I liked how it fit. I now had a bit more of a focus for not only the character but for the themes I wanted to present.

But I needed an origin story.

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