Thursday, December 19, 2013

Notes from the Star Plus Mahabharata: Kryptonite Karna

I have been following the new Star Plus Mahabharata fairly closely, a process made easier by the fact that each episode is uploaded on YouTube a day after the telecast (though the more flamboyant action scenes are better seen on H-D TV). The show has its problems – as any five-day-a-week Mahabharata would – but it definitely isn’t bad, or unintentionally funny, in the way that Ekta Kapoor’s shoddy Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharat Ki was***. Hope to do an extended post about it at some point (have written something in an essay for a magazine, which I will put up here soon), but for now a quick note about certain inventive things they have done to Karna. His impenetrable kavacha (armour) isn't permanently attached to his body, as in the original epic. Instead it appears only in specific moments of crisis – when an arrow is headed for his chest, for instance. In this episode, you can see this happen twice: first, with the teenage Karna, around the four-minute mark; then with the first appearance of the adult Karna at the end of the episode, when a flaming thing comes at him out of the artificial sun he has created with his astra. (Yes!)

These scenes put me in mind of modern comic-book superheroes with their secret powers – Clark Kent turning into Superman in the phone booth – and tight costumes worn over muscular abdomens. But there are parallels anyway: the Superman back-story has baby Kal-El being encased in a protective bubble by his father, much like Karna gets his kavacha from his divine daddy Surya. Watch this scene from the 1978 Superman and tell me you don’t recognise other rudiments of the story: the child being sent away by tearful parents (Marlon Brando as Kunti, who would’ve thunk?); the foster-parents being unable to come to grips with the apparently superhuman gifts of the infant they have raised in their humble home. And the armour will also turn out to be Karna’s Kryptonite when he has to give it away later in the tale. Another reminder that modern mythologies are so often derivative of ancient ones.

P.S. that episode I linked to also features Puneet Issar as Parashurama, allowing doddering folks of my vintage to feel deeply nostalgic about his performance as Duryodhana 25 years ago. 

*** Some posts about Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharat Ki: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Also, an old post that ponders the important question: why did Karna need to borrow vinegar from hairy and characterless women?


  1. I have been watching this on and off ( My daughter has developed a liking for this. She is 9 yers old). The first few episodes, specially till the birth of the 106 kids, were not good. But from then on, the director has done a decent job. The Krisha dialogues/pravachans in the middle and end, were boring initially.. but now, I don't mind them at all. Maybe I am getting used to the mediocrity. Overall, not bad at all. And I do think that the Duryodhana and Karna have a future in acting ( movies/tv-serials ). The kid duryodhan was also great.
    -- From the Alcoh.... annon

    1. Anon: I like many things about the show, and dislike an equal number of things, which makes the viewing experience a frustrating one. But then that would be true for nearly any version of the Mahabharata that I watch, given my very strong feelings about the epic. Even as a 12-year-old watching the B R Chopra MB, I was routinely covering my head and groaning when they showed something that I felt was against the spirit of the epic (as I saw it).

  2. really hoping you post your thoughts/links about the new mahabharata soon. really curious to know what you think about it.