Mahabharat

I have been hooked to this latest series on Star Plus. It ‘looks’ great – the sets, costumes, camerawork. The graphics could have been better at some places though. Great performances by most of the actors. The superhero images for all the warriors are built very well. Catchy music and fitting theme songs for each character. The chorus really elevates the visuals. Most of the music sounds ‘modern’ as well. The show seems to be very popular on youtube. Doesn’t drag much like other mega serials except for some parts. On the whole, it maintains a good pace, though I wish some of my favourite parts like Yaksha’s conversation with Yudhishthir were a little longer. Great idea to bring on Krishna right from the beginning with his thought-provoking words. There have been some changes to the story to add to the dramatic effect, but it sort of stays true to its own version.

That was more about the ‘cosmetics’. How does it all come together and create an impact? Dharma seems to be the link throughout. We are reminded time and time again of the oaths that people take (Bhishma’s is of course most impressive), their Dharma which sometimes is apparently conflict with their oath, and the idea of Tapasya. Krishna guides us through the whole process of trying to understand what Dharma is.

I am impressed by the way the female characters (in fact almost all the characters) have been developed. I doubt if it was this way in the original version also. For instance, after Draupadi’s Swayamvara, once Kunti asks the Pandavas to share the ‘alms’ they have received, Vyasa comes and tries to clarify the situation and help them discover their Dharma. Given the unusual decision, there are also extra oaths that the Pandavas and Draupadi have to take during their marriage. The translation of the original text only seems to refers to the fact that Draupadi will regain her virginity after being a wife to only one of the Pandavas every year. In the very well written book, The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee, where we follow the story from Panchali’s point of view, this aspect is explored and Draupadi feels how it’s a convenient thing from a patriarchical point of view that she becomes a virgin after every year, but what about her feelings and memories? This issue has been addressed by the version shown on Star Plus (of course, the whole idea of Adharma with respect to Draupadi’s marriage to the five Pandavas comes about only because kings were allowed to have multiple wives but a woman could have only one husband). Both Draupadi and the Pandavas take the oath that they will do Tapasya at the end of every year to detach themselves from the bonds and memories that were formed and start anew. A very balanced view is thus shown and Draupadi also speaks her mind in every situation.

In fact, at every difficult situation, the discussions keeping Dharma as the focus is what makes this version very appealing. The back stories with how someone in their previous life did something and that’s what is affecting them in the current life are avoided for most parts. Somehow, when there is the awareness that given any situation, we can take a decision based on Dharma that is appropriate for that situation rather than trying to find a reason from previous lives and previous Karma that we seem to be unaware of, gives more strength to the arguments and decisions. Anyway, at every moment in life, there is always a non-zero probability that a disaster strikes us. There is no point thinking why the disaster has struck. The more important thing is how we react to that.

Having Dharma as the central focus, we get to see how different characters react to the notion of Dharma. Bhishma – how his one oath changes his whole life and the fate of Hastinapur. Yudhishthir – the son of Dharmaraja himself but he too gets caught in the technicalities of Dharma (he seems to have been painted in an even better light in this series). Duryodhan – who doesn’t care about Dharma but consistently behaves with his only goal of becoming the emperor in mind. Karna – constantly in conflict with his promise to his friend and his knowledge of Dharma. Shakuni – wicked and clever and knows how to manipulate the notion of Dharma to suit his plans. Krishna – clever and knows even better how to give strength to unusual (but appropriate for the situation) interpretations of Dharma. The presence of Shakuni and Krishna make for such a contrast.

On the whole, a very engaging series. Anyway, we can never tire of reading/listening to/watching Mahabharat. Epic indeed.

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