Once again, real life makes satire seem feeble. When I wrote this post about Ekta Kapoor’s Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharata Ki, I had no idea how summarily the actual show would outstrip my expectations. The first episode was telecast last night and though it didn’t feature the Tushhar Kapoor item number I had been hoping for, there was lots else to relish.
In the first of many inventive twists, the kahaani begins not at the beginning but with the game of dice and the attempted disrobing of Draupadi – which, we are told, is the single most important incident in the epic. Most of the Pandavas are shown in silhouette (possibly because the casting hadn’t been finalised when this episode was shot), Shakuni giggles continually and resembles Dr Evil in the Austin Powers films, Duryodhana has impressive breasts and there is unintentional phallic imagery in the worm’s eye shots of Bhima’s mace limping impotently between his legs. At the end of the episode, the actress playing Draupadi turns to the camera and shrieks something to the effect that whenever a woman is insulted or dishonoured, a great war will take place and the world will be changed (which leads me to wonder if Ekta and her scriptwriters follow the daily news at all). After this, a long cosmic zoom-out reveals that our solar system is but a speck in the waggling ear of the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha; as Vyasa prepares to compose his great poem with Ganesha as his transcriber, we may expect that the story will be narrated chronologically from episode 2 onwards.
Notes on the first episode:
- The opening dateline, written in Hindi, says “Dwapara Yuga, approximately 2000 B.C.” This is a bit like saying "Indraprastha, located approximately 8,000 miles east of New York". Do these guys even know what “B.C.” means? They need to be careful about offending the saffron brigade by acknowledging the existence of another religion.
- Most of the script is in shudh Hindi (compared to the more ornate language used in B R Chopra’s production of the epic) but pronunciation definitely needs to be worked on. For instance, someone should quickly inform the actor playing Duryodhana that it’s “gadaa-dhaari Bhima”, not “gadha-dhaari Bhima”. The former means “mighty Bhima, wielder of maces”, which sounds very grand, but the latter translates into the much less impressive “mighty Bhima, carrier of donkeys”. This has the effect of further diminishing the dignity of a character who doesn’t have a huge amount of it in the first place. Also, the Mahabharata war would look very ludicrous if Bhima spent all his time on the battle-field time brandishing donkeys by their hind legs. (Even worse is "gadha-daadi Bhima", which simply means "mighty Bhima who resembles the beard of a donkey".)
- They had tattoos in the Dwapara Yuga! The pretty-boy actor playing Yudhisthira has an elaborate one on his right shoulder and, not sure about this, but I think Draupadi has one on her neck. Closer inspection reveals these to be writing of some sort. Remember Amitabh in Deewaar brooding about the line “Mera baap chor hai” (“My father is a thief”) tattooed on his arm? Well, given the dubious origins of many of the characters in the Mahabharata, there are richer possibilities here. Suggestions for tattoos for other characters:
Yudhisthira’s son: “Mera baap juwari hai” (“My father is a gambler”)
Bhima’s son: “Mera baap gadha-dhari hai” (“My father wields donkeys”)
Bheeshma: “Meri maa nadi hai” (“My mother is a river” [and abandoned me when I was a child, resulting in my life-long problems with women])
Drona: “Meri maa katori hai” (“My mother is a bowl”)
Comparing tattoos would be therapeutic for the people concerned, a bit like attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meet and discovering that others are much more screwed up than you are. (Karna, of course, would probably need to get himself tattooed from head to toe, in font size 8.)
- The most impressive bit in the episode by far was when Draupadi calls out to Krishna for help and he heeds her call by sending forth a gigantic sudarshan chakra that resembles a flying saucer. The zoom-in from outer space towards the topography of India on the rotating globe suggests that when Gods wanted to come down to earth to answer individual prayers in the ancient days, they used Google Earth to find their way. This raises intriguing possibilities: what if Krishna got his coordinates wrong, ended up in the heart of the African continent and was captured by hungry tribesmen who didn’t give a tapir's ass about his claims that he was an Indian deity? (Given that it was so difficult to travel from one part of the globe to another in those days, surely even Gods must have had restraining orders.)
Anyway, there were no such concerns in this episode. The sudarshan chakra/UFO adeptly locates north India, floats down, takes a quick left turn from the main palace, reaches the scene of the action and hovers above the heads of the characters as they look up in astonishment. Then – again, remember, this isn’t a spoof – lengthy quantities of sari flow down from it to ensure that Draupadi remains well-clad even as Duhshasana tugs away at her garment. As if it isn't difficult enough to put on a sari the conventional way...no wonder the poor woman wanted the wholesale destruction of the human race.
Draupadi’s sari didn't unravel but the story of the great epic definitely will, over the next 5,000 or so episodes, in Ekta's loving hands. I’ll watch it whenever time allows and provide commentary now and again.