In recent weeks things have been happening to revive happy memories of my Doordarshan-cocooned childhood. First I discovered Shemaroo DVDs of the beloved TV serial Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, which used to be a Friday-evening fixture in the mid-1980s. Shortly after this, I found that several episodes of Bharat ek Khoj, Shyam Benegal's visualisation of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India, are now up on YouTube.
I shamefacedly admit to not following the show regularly when it first aired 20 years ago – it was too subdued for my taste. (What I did love, and made sure never to miss, was Vanraj Bhatia's beautiful soundtrack for the opening credits, accompanied by words from the famous creation verses in Book 10 of the Rig Veda, which are a rare instance of agnosticism/sceptical inquiry in ancient scripture.) But I'm enjoying it now. Haven't seen all the YouTube clips yet, but I've got through the Mahabharata ones along with a few others. Almost needless to say, Benegal's presentation of some of the epic's key scenes, spread over two episodes, is much earthier than the B R Chopra opus (which, incidentally, is also available on YouTube now). It draws on various artistic interpretations of the Mahabharata over the centuries, including a Kathakali performance that depicts, with gory relish, Bheema tearing out Duhshasana's entrails and using them to bind Draupadi's hair. Notable too are these two clips that show the dying moments of a repentant Duryodhana (played by Om Puri), in the company of Balarama and Ashwatthama as well as his grieving family – his blind parents, his wives and his son Durjaya. This scene is directly taken from Bhasa's play "Urubhangam" ("The Shattered Thigh"), which I mentioned in this post.
Also enjoyed little touches such as Roshan Seth's Jawaharlal Nehru primly stepping over broken weapons and other debris as he walks right onto the deserted battlefield before settling down to explain aspects of the epic to the viewer. (Note: excellent as this serial is, it isn't exactly faithful to Discovery of India – instead it uses the book's framework and Nehru's commentary to examine various facets of India's heterogeneous culture.)
P.S. While on Nehru, a quick recommendation: Walter Crocker's short, lucid biography Nehru: A Contemporary's Estimate, first published in 1966, just two years after Nehru's death, but now reprinted by Random House India with a foreword by Ramachandra Guha. Crocker was the Australian High Commissioner to India during much of Nehru's tenure as prime minister, and his is a sharply perceptive but affectionate portrait of Nehru as man and politician. Reading it, I had to keep reminding myself that the book was written very close to the events it describes - this is often hard to believe, because the level of observation and analysis (including philosophical reflections on the nature of power and the challenges it would present a man like Nehru) is such that you'd think it would have required the passage of several years. (Also hard to believe: some of the initial Indian reviews of the book thought Crocker was being too harsh. Perhaps it was because he didn't shy away from matter-of-factly noting what he felt were Nehru's shortcomings.) More on the book soon.