For example, the slapstick sequence where Bheema beats up cooks and palace guards who have mistaken him for a food-thief (throwing some of them into giant vats so that their dhotis catch fire, etc) was probably conceptualised as an endearing introduction to the gluttonous second Pandava, but it doesn’t play out that way at all. This Bheema is no lovable little kid, he’s a well-built bully, and this is nothing less than a cringe-inducing display of machismo directed at helpless domestic staff. What does he think he's doing, practicing for the Olympic wrestling medal?
Anyway, the brawl is interrupted by Yudhisthira who solemnly tells his younger brother “Nihatte par vaar nahin karte” (“You mustn’t attack the unarmed”). These words of wisdom apparently prove that the eldest Pandava is worthy of the title “Dharma Raj”, but in my view it’s much too little, much too late. (I’m no Dharma Raj, but if Bheema were my kid brother I would’ve marched him off to the detention room long before any of this happened.)
It probably wasn’t what Ekta Kapoor’s writers intended, but after watching this scene any sensible viewer will feel sorry for the Kauravas, who had to face much the same sort of thing from the overenthusiastic Bheema. Take a look at this passage from Kisara Mohan Ganguli’s comprehensive translation of the Mahabharata, available on the Sacred Texts site:
Bhimasena beat all the sons of Dhritarashtra. The son of the Wind-god pulled them by the hair and made them fight with one another, laughing all the while. And Vrikodara easily defeated those hundred and one children of great energy as if they were one instead of being a hundred and one. The second Pandava used to seize them by the hair, and throwing them down, to drag them along the earth. By this, some had their knees broken, some their heads, and some their shoulders. That youth, sometimes holding ten of them, drowned them in water, till they were nearly dead. When the sons of Dhritarashtra got up to the boughs of a tree for plucking fruits, Bhima used to shake that tree, by striking it with his foot, so that down came the fruits and the fruitpluckers at the same time.(The reference to "one hundred and one" has me worried. Did Bheema also beat up the Kauravas' sister Duhshala? Anyway, the text goes on to add that he didn’t do any of this with malicious intent, it was all in good fun. Decide for yourselves.)
Ironically, while the princes in the serial look too mature for their age, their grandmothers haven’t aged a whit. The actresses - or more accurately woodposts - playing Ambika and Ambalika (whose function it is to stand around in the background and beam stupidly at everything being said) still have jet-black hair, no wrinkles and they dress more sexily than their daughters-in-law Gandhari and Kunti. It has become difficult to keep track of who belongs to what generation. Old man Bheeshma must be contemplating early retirement.
Meanwhile, in the parallel story set in Gokula, the adolescent Krishna is going through all the cute routines that have been passed down to us from the Bhakti tradition, long after the Mahabharata was first written: stealing butter, making naughty eyes at milkmaids, taming the snake Kaaliya and dancing atop his head. The problem is that the beefcake playing Krishna looks like he’d rather be reading a Penthouse like any normal young man his age, or at least taking part in a WWE competition. It’s disturbing when the "grown-ups" fondly refer to him as “natkhat baalak”. (I don’t want to get too explicit, but the shots of this “baalak” with white butter smeared on his face have some very adult resonances for those of us who have grown up in the kalyug of porn films.)
Am looking forward to seeing what the officially grown-up versions of these characters will look like. Oh wait, here.
(Note to eager offence-takers: I’m only talking about the actor who plays the role of Krishna; I’m not implying that the original Krishna would ever have read a Penthouse, which almost certainly wouldn’t have been available at the time anyway.)