It’s spooky how the Mahabharata has started inveigling its way into everything I watch these days, even the stuff that’s completely unplanned. Just returned from seeing Volker Schlondorff’s latest film Ulzhan at Cinefan. I knew very little beforehand about the film (the catalogues weren’t available at the venue today) and saw it only because of the director and because it was on at a convenient time. My interest was further piqued by the discovery that the screenplay was by the veteran French writer Jean-Claude Carriere, whom I’ve met for interviews a couple of times (including at Cinefan two years ago).
Ulzhan turned out to be an engrossing, nicely shot series of episodes built around a drifter making his way across the Kazakhstan wilderness for reasons that are gradually revealed. It’s very much a contemporary tale too, so imagine my surprise when Charles, the protagonist, runs into a talkative character named Shakuni! I immediately wondered whether Carriere (who also scripted Peter Brook’s fine screen version of the Mahabharata) had anything to do with this development. Quite probable, though I couldn’t see much connection with the mythological Shakuni (except that this character was silver-tongued and enigmatic).
To add to my unsettlement, the actor who played Shakuni looked very familiar but I was unable to place him. It was only after coming back and doing an online search that I realised it was David Bennent, who played the role of young Oskar in Schlondorff’s celebrated movie version of The Tin Drum – a film I had watched at the same Siri Fort auditorium more than a decade ago. What a twisted series of connections – Ekta Kapoor could make a 500-episode soap out of them.