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.