Sunday, July 27, 2014

More from the TV Mahabharat - a stylised blooding

Not that I’ve done any research on this, or intend to, but I wonder if episode 248 of the Star Plus Mahabharat – telecast on Friday night – represents a new frontier in the depiction of violence and gore in the history of Indian television. I suspect it does; I was startled by its vividness, even though one knows that the killing of Dushasana is not something that lends itself to refined, non-bloody treatment. In fact, even the YouTube version of the episode (which you can see here) is censored – some shots, including one where blood bursts like a geyser out of the dying man’s chest, have been excised. (This was also the case in earlier episodes involving the killing of Jarasandha and Shishupala.)

I have had a very complex relationship with this TV show over the months (and I intend to write about this at much greater length in the future sometime) – there have been some brilliantly conceived moments, some fine visuals, good performances and even intelligent writing, but there have also been far too many slack, simplification-riddled scenes, as well as internal inconsistencies and terrible pacing (nearly 10 episodes for the game of dice, followed by a hurried four or five episodes to depict the Pandavas's entire 12-year exile). However, I think there was much in this episode that was extremely well done, especially from around the 16-minute mark where Draupadi enters the battlefield and Bheema – who is practically in a trance at this stage, calling out to her in a hollow, robotic voice – begins the macabre ritual of washing her hair with Dushasana’s blood.

If you don’t like gore, you’re thinking: I don’t want to watch this, or even continue reading this. But (speaking as someone who does like gore, so possibly I’m not the best “objective” judge) I don’t think this scene is as viscerally revolting as it might have been. And the reason is this: it is heavily stylised. Everything about it is excessive and Grand Guignol – even the “blood” glistens and gleams, like the pig’s blood in the climactic scene of Brian DePalma’s Carrie – and while one could have seen that as a flaw in the production, in this case I think it perfectly fits the theatrical mood of the scene.


After all, this IS one of the most brilliantly hyper-dramatic passages in the Mahabharata. Apart from its importance as retribution, it is, from Bheema’s point of view, his moment in the sun – it represents a converging of almost every emotion he has experienced with regard to Draupadi, not just since that terrible day in the dice hall 13 years earlier, but also in larger terms: feeling unappreciated, second best, having to know that she feels much more deeply for Arjuna than for him. And here he is now, and here she is, and he alone is to be the agent of her long-desired vengeance, the one who will get to stroke and bind her hair after all these years of denial, while the other husbands and the other protagonists in this drama – even the puppet-master Krishna – are reduced to mute spectators, watching a performance. At the surface level, this is a depiction of a wronged woman being avenged (and the show has often drawn facile and somewhat problematic parallels between Draupadi’s story and the current public discourses about rape and capital punishment in India) – but at a deeper and darker level it is another vindication of the patriarchy, a depiction of a beast-like man asserting control and possession over a woman. And while this serial has hardly ever been radical about such things, I do feel that this subtext slips through in the scene. 




I never thought I’d say this about an Indian television actor (much less someone who was apparently cast in a role because of his physique and his experience as a wrestler), but I think the actor Saurav Gurjar, who plays Bheema, is pitch-perfect here. And the tone of the scene in general is very close to the many stylised depictions of this episode in our traditional dance forms like Kathakali. You can see one of those performances here, in an old episode of Shyam Benegal’s Bharat ek Khoj, starting around the 2.20 minute mark. It used to give me nightmares as a child.

[Earlier posts on the Star Plus Mahabharat: Bride of Frankenstein; Kryptonite Karna; the benevolent patriarchy]

96 comments:

  1. Agreed. Despite his limitations, Saurav Gurjar acted well in this episode. Also, this episode will surely lead to others copying the gore into their works. So far, they feared that the viewer may be put off. But, not now.
    The serial started off slow with bad acting, and later on picked up the pace and the acting improved. As a person who has seen both the shows when being aired, I can say that this one is not bad at all. I does holds up on its own.
    To me, the best parts were when they showed the humilation faced by Karna when he wanted to learn archery.

    I am eagerly waiting for you to write about this show.

    -- The alco..... guy

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  2. Hi Jai! I'm so glad someone wants to engage with this show in an intelligent manner. As someone who is crazy about the mahabharata and has watched and read many different versions of it, i honestly think this is actually a pretty decent effort at it. The problem with the mahabharat is that there are always going to be things that are just not aligned to ones reading of the book, but net-net i think its done a fair job. Could even become the gold standard for this generation like the BRChopra one was for those of us born pre 1985. Can i also just point out that the actors are far far kinder on the eyes than any previous attempt? :D

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    1. The problem with the mahabharat is that there are always going to be things that are just not aligned to ones reading of the book

      Yes, of course. This is something I want to analyse at some length. The biggest problem I currently have with the show is its internal inconsistencies - there have been scenes that have made nonsense of something that happened in an earlier scene, as if a new writer came on board and decided to magically erase what had happened a few episodes earlier. But generally speaking, many good things in it. And yes, the actors are better to look at than in the Chopra version, and in some cases more personable (though some of them also seem too young and callow for the roles - you get a sense of perpetual youth rather than lived experience).

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  3. All retellings of Mahabharata tend to project it as a story of good vs bad (Pandavas vs Kauravas). I hope this show is trying to eschew that oversimplified way of looking at the epic.

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    1. No, it isn't - as I said, there are plenty of simplifications. Muddying the good-vs-evil waters would be too much to expect of a mainstream Indian soap, especially one that casts Krishna as dispenser of universal wisdom.

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  4. Also, just watching the battle between Karna and Arjuna, it just seems to lack the excitement of the final battle between two of the greatest warriors of their generation. Every book I have ever read, including Palace of Illusions glorifies this battle, but here they seem to exchange words more than arrows. Even the words are hardly bitter, Karna seems to be behaving like an avuncular older brother to Arjuna already. I shortly expect Kunti to come onto the battle field and Karna to complain to her that Hey mommy, this son of yours is not playing fair.

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    1. Oh yes, the Arjuna-Karna battle has been astoundingly anti-climactic (and it seems set to end in a deserted corner of the battlefield, with absolutely no one else around for miles - like no one was even interested). But then, most of the war-related scenes in this MB have been flat and underwhelming - the Dushasana killing is a glorious, operatic exception. Possibly has to do with budget constrains, the need to hurry through and condense things, which means they have completely eliminated such important characters as Satyaki. They took all of three minutes to show the whole of day 14 (up to the point where Arjuna reaches Jayadratha and Krishna hides the sun) - and that was easily the most event-packed day in the war.

      Returning to Karna-Arjuna: it's a pity, but if you go back and watch their clash at the tournament (it's in this episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tn8X1qJjhFM), that was much more thrilling than this last "battle".

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    2. I just watched the karna death scene and have some serious irritation which I want to work off through a long and convoluted comment here. I mean the makers have carried the attempt to paint Arjuna as a great being too far. I know he had reservations about killing Karna when he is unarmed and helpless, but seriously, was he so hesitant that he waited for Karna to give him permission, nay request him to kill him. Has Karna suddenly become Bhishma. And what is it with Karna calling him Priy Arjun.

      I saw the earlier episode of the contest and I am wondering where did that intensity drop. Is this really the culmination of the rivalry which started that day. I also saw the scene which you had mentioned in one of your posts about Karna helping Arjuna pull his chariot out of the mud. Given what was to happen later, that moment could have lots of ironical overtones, but it is only a cutesy unconscious brother bonding moment. Taken strictly alone, it is cute, but in this context, I am tempted to ask why is Arjuna grinning at Karna and giving him gyaan about Dharma. He need not show his animosity when in disguise, but he neither needs to gush at him.

      I have always felt that there is something visceral about the rivalry between these two brothers, and that they didnt know their brotherhood was simply incidental. They would probably have been rivals even if they were raised together. I have read that it is a reflection of the struggle for supremacy between their divine daddies. Also that Karna and Arjuna are Sugreeva and Vali reborn, and reversing their fates. If Karna had reconciled to the Pandavas earlier, or if he had by some chance survived the war, I doubt if he and Arjuna could have lived together. They may just have managed an amicable truce between them.

      I am seriously pissed off with this scene because it is Karna's death scene and Arjuna just steals his thunder just like he always did. For someone who had a girls crush on Karna and who still has a soft spot for him, it irks me no end.

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    3. Oh yes, I feel your pain. This incessant whitewashing of Arjuna (and Yudhisthira) is painful to see, especially since it has the effect of making the character less interesting. And did you by any chance see that episode where Arjuna discovers that Indra is going to ask Karna for his kavacha-kundalas and goes running to try to stop him? And then, when he arrives after the act is already done, he makes weepy faces and tells his divine father "This act of yours will reflect badly on me in the long run, because people will say I needed my enemy to be handicapped. I'm feeling the same way I felt when Ekalavya cut off his thumb." (Basically: other people lose their body parts, or things that are attached to their bodies, but poor Arjuna is the ultimate victim. Well, boo hoo.)

      A related thing is that over the course of the serial, they have gone out of their way to show that the goody-goody Pandavas (with the exception of Bheema on one occasion at the tournament) never call Karna "sutaputra" or insult him in any way. There is even a cringe-inducing scene around the time the Pandavas perform the Rajasuya yagna where Arjuna meets Karna's eyes and bows and joins his hands respectfully, while the latter looks surprised and only just about acknowledges the gesture. The presumed takeaway: Karna is overreacting to imagined insults.

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  5. I hadnt seen them earlier, but now in a masochistic orgy to add to my irritation, I have skimmed through some of these episodes. Arjuna interceding with Indra is quite cringe introducing. But at one level I can see it as a continuation of his self centeredness (and Arjuna is self centered). He is not really thinking of Karna's pain, but of what the world will say of him. It also shows his insecurity. All his rivals are disarmed, so is there really any way of proving he is REALLY the best.

    I also saw a continuing episode where Kunti and Arjuna plead with Nakula and Sahadeva to heal Karna's wounds. Thankfully, at least the twins do this act extremely ungraciously. I mean, if they had fallen on Karna's shoulders weeping and saying since they had healed and given him new life, he was like a son to them, that would have really sent me into hysterics.

    Incidentally, one thing I like about this Mahabharat is that Nakula and Sahadeva seem more than props. I have seen very few episodes so far, and already, they seem to have had much more dialogues than they had in the entire B R Chopra series.

    Please do write some more posts on this series. Would love your thoughts on the Duryodhana Karna relationship in this series. There is no warmth, nothing remotely like friendship. Duryodhana speaks to him like he would to a vassal. And this is the friendship for which Karna was willing to give up the world. Dude, you must have seriously low expectations from life.

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    1. I actually have a great deal written out already (mostly because of long, intense email conversations with a friend), but have to find the time to get it into structured form. Plus, writing in a consolidated, big-picture way about this show can be quite tricky because of its many internal contradictions.

      About Duryodhana-Karna: the Mahabharata I love and feel invested in is the one where there is genuine affection between Duryodhana and Karna, and a sense that the latter's presence does, at times, get Duryodhana in touch with his own finer side. But that said, I'm willing to (reluctantly) accept the alternate interpretation - that it is a relationship of convenience, that Karna is essentially a vassal, and that even if some genuine affection does develop over time, it is rooted in the thought "you are a great warrior who hates my enemies as much as I do, and you can bring me victory over them". In a non-sentimental reading like this, Karna's own motives become suspect too - his avowed love and gratitude for Duryodhana is more like a cover-up for his own thirst for recognition.

      This serial did have that one significant scene where a teary Duryodhana goes running to see the wounded Karna after the kavacha-kundalas have been donated, and the impression one gets is of genuine concern, not just "I was relying on you and you have gone and weakened yourself and now I'm screwed too". But yes, in general it has been more the vassal theme (with Duryodhana himself being a sort-of vassal of Shakuni all the way through - Krishna and Shakuni are the only two characters with any real agency of their own in this whole show!).

      On a micro-level, I am impressed by how they have sometimes shown Duryodhana's psychological complexities - as this petulant child, almost, who is capable of being loving and respectful but usually throws that aside every time he feels wronged. During Bheeshma's bed-of-arrows scene, he holds the old man's head reverently and asks forgiveness, saying "I have repeatedly insulted you, but I do actually love and respect you a great deal." But shortly afterwards, when Bheeshma tells him that he wants to see the Pandavas victorious, Duryodhana gets miffed, says a few strong things about how Bheeshma has always been prejudiced, and stomps away angrily.

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  6. I will look forward to reading it. I havent followed this series at all, and only started watching it from last week. Will do some youtube catching up. I see from your posts that it has had several interesting touches. Could you point me to some good episodes.

    Your posts on Mahabharata are extremely interesting. I am also a big Mahabharata junkie, and love reading retellings. I have read Palace of Illusions (ok if you can accept a mills and boon romance), Yajnaseni (a little too goody goody for my taste), Bhimsen (lovely), Karna's Wife (blah) and Ajaya (quite interesting). I have also read Parva, which I can only describe as staggering, it is a book difficult to love but strangely compelling. Is there anything else you recommend. I am trying to get my hands on Mrityunjaya.

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    1. Well, one of the best episodes if you like Karna is this one, which has a very fine performance by the young actor who plays the teenage Karna. It also ends with the introduction of the adult Karna. Though there is an irritating Krishna interlude where His Divine Highness goes on about how someone who wants to be "shreshth" can never become "uttam". Whatever the F that means.

      If you search on YouTube for episodes 51 and 52, those are the ones with Karna gatecrashing the tournament and (literally) freeing Duryodhana from fear of the Pandavas.

      I also liked this episode very much - see the exchange between Karna and the brahmins starting around the 7.15 mark, and then what Vrushali says to them.

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  7. Totally agree with your piece. One friend even texted me asking if the above episode was directed by a Korean director. What really disappointed me about this show is that not enough footage was devoted to show the bonding between the characters, due to which, the emotional outbursts during key episodes do not make any sense. For example, the only time they showed any bonding between Bheeshma and the Pandavas was during the whole Khadavaprastha incident where the Grand-sire is about to forsake Hastinapura and go with the Pandavas, which was quite well written IMO, but other than that nothing. So when they defend Bheeshma's actions or even Drona's actions to Draupadi, who's an outsider to this circle, you don't feel like siding with them or even understanding their perspective. Your point about the many internal contradictions is 100% true, as even I am grappling with them as I write this comment. Looking forward to your (hopefully)massive piece on this version :)

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    1. Vikram: yes, and in what seems like a predictable case of catering to the daily-soap audience, the real emotional bonding they have shown (and are now emphasising in painful fashion) is the one between Karna and Kunti, just so they can have a family-snapshot moment as he lies dying.

      Some of the things they have done with Bheeshma are actually quite interesting - depicting him (as per the Iravati Karve thesis) as a deeply conservative, patriarchal man who causes many of the problems that arise over the decades. But I agree, it would have been nice to get some sense of a relationship between him and the Pandavas.

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  8. Ok, I am back to writing to you to work off my irritation. I think this is really a bad time to have started seeing this series, specially for a Karna fan. So what was today all about. It is a long deathbed scene, with Karna having extended conversations with Kunti, Radha and Arjuna. Poor Vrushali ran in, but suddenly went missing.

    But where the hell is Duryodhana. He doesnt seem to care, and what is worse, Karna does not seem to care that he is not around. I think the only way I can justify this is if I accept your earlier premise that Karna is with Duryodhana for his own reasons, and not because he feels duty bound to him. So Duryodhana thinks Karna is an instrument in his hands, while all the time, he was the instrument in Karnas hands, through which he sought his ultimate contest with Arjuna. After watching this, I think it is time to switch off my girlhood love for Karna. Maybe I should switch allegiance to Duryodhana instead. Reading Ajaya was a good beginning, although the vanilla hero of Ajaya is hardly likable, let alone lovable. He seems as insufferable as Yudhishtra and Arjuna are in this series.

    And seriously the Pandavas seem really dense. I mean dude, here is your mother placing someones head on her lap, crying over him, calling him son son. And it takes more than three fourth of the episode for it to sink into their head that Ang raaj Karna is their Jyeshta Braata.

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    1. Don't be surprised if he lies there for another 3-4 episodes with that arrow through his neck, discussing mundane things with different sets of people. Poora paisa-vasool karna hai Star Plus ko, iss bhai-bhai ki dard-bhari kahaani se.

      Yes, it wouldn't reflect well on Karna at all if - just because Krishna has magically shown him the light and the errors of his ways - he spends his last moments exclusively in the company of these five dolts and their mother, without even asking about Duryodhana. I can't stop shaking my head at this artificial divide they have created between the people who are Intrinsically Adharmi and the people who are Intrinsically Dharmi (but get misled or tricked by fate). It's such a problematic divide, and it's so, so easy to turn Duryodhana into a pure villain, as if it was simply there in his DNA (the same way all of Kunti's sons seem to be epitomes of human decency - possibly there was something in the waters of the palace she grew up in).

      Even as a huge Karna sympathiser, I have had problems since the beginning with the way they made him this subservient, bleating foot-soldier to Duryodhana, with little agency of his own. Would actually have preferred it if they had shown him being nasty and spiteful once in a while purely of his own accord, and because of his many hidden grievances/resentments. (They did come close to doing that during the dice-game scene, when you can see that his harsh words at Draupadi erupted from some volcano inside him - the way it is so brilliantly described in Mrityunjay. But it was never elaborated on.)

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    2. Oh yes, given that the actor playing Karna seems to have developed a huge fan following, I can confidently seem them stretch this scene.

      Karna's role, and indeed even Drona's in Abhimanyu's killing is also heavily whitewashed. Euthanasia, Karna style huh? I mean, even as a girl with a crush on Karna, I understood that his or Drona's involvement in Abhimanyu's death was that of a man getting carried away in the heat of battle. Maybe these aging warriors (Drona is definitely old, and though Karna is a young hunk here, the book Parva points to the fact that he must be in his sixties at least) felt threatened and insecure by the ease of this young man and in an effort to cling to their own belief in their capabilities, hit out wildly. I can accept that Karna regretted his role later, but his motivation to be involved in it was definitely not to protect Abhimanyu.

      Incidentally, I have always wondered what was his reaction to killling Ghatotgaja. He was the sole killer there, but aside from his regret of wasting the weapon, did he regret killing his nephew. Or is Ghatotgaja, a rakshasa, a more acceptable collateral damage, compared to the golden boy Abhimanyu. Actually given Karna's own background as a rejected son, and the fact that Ghatotgaja in his own way is a rejected son (Bhima walked away when he was a kid, and never really went back and became a father to him) I would have felt there was some kinship between them. But I didnt see him shed any tears for this other nephew.

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    3. Yes, interesting point about Ghatotkacha. So much potential kinship between the two, at least in the realist versions of the Mahabharat, where "rakshas" would be the term used for tribal pariahs.

      Well, today's episode pretty much made their stance clear as far as the "Duryodhana using Karna" thing is concerned. Can't complain too much, I suppose, if they have decided on a narrative and maintained some internal consistency. But it's also evident that this show has suffered from the fact that sometime early this year they were told they had to wrap up by July-August. It made further simplifications and condensing even more necessary. If they had another 100 or so episodes to play with (which I think was the original plan), they might have been able to treat Duryodhana with a little more nuance.

      What I found more objectionable about today's episode was this whole business of Karna basking in the attention of his biological family in his last moments, while the people who were much more central to his actual life (Radha and Vrushali - because Adirath didn't even bother to show up) sat on the sidelines like extras. Such an idiotic, transparent attempt to appeal to the dewy sentiments of the regular soap watcher.

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    4. Yes, I accept todays episode for its internal consistency. And given Karna has gone and totally integrated with his blood family before his death, he deserves no more from Duryodhana. I almost found myself cheering, when Duryodhana accuses him of treachery. For that was what it was, no matter how noble or conflicted his intentions.

      A nobler Duryodhana, could have and perhaps did acknowledge Karna's struggles and his eventual decision to side with him, almost unwillingly. But an ambitious and egoistic tyrant, which Duryodhana is in this series, can only see that the person in whom he had the greatest faith also failed him, just like Bhishma and Drona. One of the greatest friendships of all time deserved a better closure, but at least this is logical.


      I think there are lots of interesting possiblities for other forms of kinship to emerge within the Mahabharata. The texts we have, including retellings focus on the lives of the main protagonists and only touch upon others, when they collide with the main story. But each of those other characters have stories in their own right. I would love a retelling, where Karna recognizes traits similar to him in Ghatotgaja, or possibly even Iravan, the Naga son of Arjuna, who was so callously and literally sacrificed by his father before the war. Rejection by parents, rejection by society for being an out caste, craving for some recognition. Maybe, recognizing this kinship he became their mentor, the absent father figure in their lives.

      I really loved Panickers Bhimsen, because Bhima is a surprisingly introspective and brutally honest narrator. Also, Panicker very effectively problemetizes the notion of family being the all good institution, which everyone must adhere to. Kunti, in her efforts to secure the throne for her kids has raised her kids with this notion, and an unfailing sense of duty to their older brother. Sometimes, the younger brothers recognize the stifling nature of this bond, specially so when they have their own desires, their own ambitions. Although they eventually return to the supremacy of the family, at least Bhima gives vent to his frustrations in the book and mourns the family which asks for sacrifices from its members. The part where he speaks about the son he had abandoned, who had come back, to die for the sake of his uncle is very moving.

      Btw, the latest episode also has a scene where Arjuna rashly promises Karna that his son will be the heir to the throne of Indraprastha, and Yudi looks blankly on. Now where did that come from. And if Arjuna has so much agency as to promise a throne, which is not his, in the first place, where did this agency desert him, when his elder brother gambled HIS wife away. I really want a Mahabharat where somebody, preferably Draupadi, takes revenge on the Pandavas for what they did to her. If Dushasana, Duryodhana and Karna need to die for their crimes against Draupadi and therefore against women (as this serial simplistically states), then the Pandavas deserve something far worse.

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    5. Ah yes, that reference to Karna's son is another reminder that this series didn't show any of Karna's or Duryodhana's sons being killed - it was all about the sentimentalising of Abhimanyu and Ghatotkacha. And boy, just you wait and see how they milk emotion from the killing of Draupadi's sons now. That Unspeakably Evil Ashwatthama! (Who, by the way, is another example of one of the epic's most interesting characters who has been turned into a one-dimensional evil henchman here.)

      Since you mention the dice game, Draupadi etc, here is one of the show's inner contradictions that bothered me the most (am also trying to write about this at length): when the dice game was being shown, the writers, in an attempt to make Duryodhana as evil as possible and Yudhisthira as unflinchingly noble and helpless as possible, decided to have the former begin the ghastly step of putting human beings at stake. The final transgression happened when Duryodhana put his wife Bhanumati at stake, and such were the terms of the game that poor innocent Yudhisthira had no option but to put Draupadi – his only “possession” that could match Duryodhana’s queen – up against her. This was a huge departure from the actual text of the epic (where Yudhisthira has his own ulterior motives during the game, and later Karna pointedly tells Draupadi she should choose a husband from among the Kauravas because none of them would stoop so low as to stake her away) - but again, if the idea was to construct a simplistic good-vs-evil narrative, so be it.

      But then see what happens just a few episodes later, when both Duryodhana and Arjuna arrive in Dwarka to seek the help of Balarama, Krishna and the Yadavas. In a sharply scripted scene, Balarama tells Arjuna that in his view the biggest acts of adharma during the dice game were committed by Yudhisthira, not by Duryodhana, because it was the former who first set about putting human beings at stake. And Krishna (normally so keen to dole out gyaan about dharma and adharma) quietly agrees with his elder brother and accepts the moral equivalence of the situation, even saying in a subsequent scene that neither Duryodhana nor Yudhisthira is to blame for the evil that has spread across the land – they are both just symptoms of it.

      If you think about it, these scenes come very close to capturing the morally unsettling dark heart of the Mahabharata. But they also make complete nonsense of what the show itself had depicted during the dice-game episodes. It’s as if a new writer came on board and decided to introduce new nuances, in the process redacting a key earlier episode, and hoping the viewer would simply develop amnesia.

      And of course, by now it has all changed again and we are back to the old narrative where the ultimate villainy was Duryodhana and Dushasana's treatment of Draupadi, and even men like Bheeshma, Drona and Karna can only redeem themselves through death for participating in that episode. While Yudhisthira gets to sit on the throne with the blank, I-have-no-idea-why-any-of-this-is-happening-to-me expression he has had all his life, ever since those bards proclaimed to the world that this newborn infant was Dharma Incarnate...

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    6. LoL, Poor little Yudhisthra. I am beginning to see him as this slightly dim, polite, well behaved son, whom Kunti bulldozed into becoming an emperor, because the ambition to be the queen mother, if not the queen, was hers.

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  9. Oh, by the way, Mahabharata shall wrap up next Saturday. Star Plus is starting a new show in the 8.30 pm time slot from the 11th

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    1. And the way the last couple of episodes have gone, all I can say is: Thank Heaven!

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  10. I read about a continuing version of the old Mahabharat series, and googled and found some episodes. Although it is definitely a shoddy job aesthetically, I found a far more satisfying reconciliation between Arjuna and Karna, after the death. Watch this episode, from around the 38 minute onwards.

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  11. Sorry, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeyaGHcPqPo.. I particularly liked some touches like Arjuna screaming, tumne muj par bada atyachaar kiya hai angraaj, and gor swarthi ho tum Bhaiyya. It puts the conflicting emotions of their rivalry very well.

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  12. Ah, Mahabharat Katha. I think it aired on DD Metro, and it bombed, mainly because that was when Zee, Sony etc had made their entry. I believe people rejected it because they couldn't accept seeing the Kauravas again after their death (According to the Caravan article on the original TV series)

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  13. checked the episode after reading this... did not really work for me... tacky visual effects/green screen stuff... when will we get serials with better production values? Ironically I feel older DD serials had much better art direction...

    and all the actors look the same while I still distinctly remember every actor of the BRC version... that was what you call perfect casting!

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    1. Did you factor in that it's a 6-day-a-week show? By those standards I think the production values are often very good. That there will be some tackiness in the special effects is practically a given. Anyway, the point I was making here wasn't about the visual effects (this episode actually has relatively few visual effects) but about the tightness and intensity of the direction, shot composition, use of music and acting in the last 8-10 minutes of the episode.

      As for the BR Chopra version, I think that has often been overrated - but then I felt that way even when I was watching it as a 11-12-year-old way back when we had hardly any exposure to high-quality TV.

      About the actors looking the same: that is always likely to happen if you watch a single episode in isolation, without having watched the show over a period of time. Believe me, if you were to see a random episode of the BRC version that way, you would have a very hard time telling many of the characters apart.

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    2. I get your point about isolated viewing of episodes... but not really convinced about the production values even if it is a daily show. I think this comes directly from Ramanand Sagar school of thought. Did not like those ones even when I wasn't exposed to other stuff.

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    3. Okay, comparing this scene to Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana (if that's what the comparison was) is something I can't even begin to understand - I'm much more inclined to go with Vikram's friend mentioned above, who wondered if it was done by a Korean director.

      Again: production values and visual effects are both beside the point of what I was trying to say about this particular scene. The strong things in it could have been achieved on a really low budget.

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  14. I have been doing some catch up on this series, and I am really disturbed by the glibness with which they portray the righteousness of the Pandavas. After the tournament, Arjuna tells Karna something to the effect that he has now aligned himself with adharma. I mean, a boy barely out of his teens, speaking with arrogant self assurance of the 'rightness' of his cause, against his cousin. I just want to wipe that smug self satisfied smile off his face. Not just Arjuna, Karna's foster father also tells him the same thing and refuses to accompany him to the palace, because Duryodhana is Adharmi. The question is, what has Duryodhan done so far which has earned him this name, not just among his cousins, but also his subjects. Varanavrata, the dice game and everything else is about to come. Do the subjects of Hastinapur already know that their prince is going to do all this stuff, and have already branded him adharmi. It really seems like a case of give the dog a bad name and hang him. I am tempted to subvert the whole message and read this series with Duryodhana as the tragic hero, whom society decided to label as bad, and pushed into adharma, almost as a self fulfilling prophecy.

    And now they seem to want to rob Duryodhana even of dignity in death. Even the Amar Chitra Katha stories I read speak about how noble Duryodhana was in death and how because he died a warriors death, he went to heaven. They were simplistic representations, but they at least gave some message about complexity of character and motivation. Here, he seems to have become a comic book villain now, with his 'vajr' ka shareer.

    I revisited some episodes of the B R Chopra series, which also worked on this fundamental premise of divide between the right and wrong side and the whole battle as a Dharma Yuddh. But at least, all the characters, whether on the right or wrong side had their dignity. Duryodhana in the last few episodes achieves a certain grandeur and even earns your sympathy. There is a bit, where after Karna's death, he tells the Pandavas that I know my friend was your elder brother, but this is the corpse, not of your brother but my beloved friend, is quite moving. It is an indication of the depth of his feeling for a friend, whom he may have befriended selfishly, but who he has grown to love, love so much that he no longer wants a kingdom without him, love so much that he ignores the fact that this friend is the brother of his enemy, and in his own way betrayed him. There is also a scene where right after Krishna reveals to Karna the secret of his birth, Karna rushes to Duryodhana, to reassure him (or rather himself) of his friendship. Karna has himself earlier sprouted gyaan about the righteousness of Yudhishtra, but in this scene, it almost feels that one of his major fears if he acknowledges his birth is that he will lose this friend of his, and even more than the kingdom and riches which Duryodhana has given him, what Karna himself values is this friendhip.

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    1. Here, he seems to have become a comic book villain now, with his 'vajr' ka shareer.

      That shot where he springs up like a Frankenstein monster and yells after Shakuni gets minions to do prahaar on him was easily the single most comical thing in the history of this show. And typically, it came right on the heels of a fairly nuanced conversation between Balarama and Krishna, where again one feels like the writers at least know all the subtexts and alternate interpretations of the epic.One got to see a sample of both the good and the terrible things about the show in the span of just 5-10 minutes.

      The actor playing Duryodhana actually had some decent moments early in the show, but now he has just become a pain to watch. Can't blame him much. Anyway, if I had directed yesterday's episode, I would have had one of the minions mistime his spiked-iron-ball swing and accidentally strike Duryodhana on his vulnerable crotch - that would have been the end of that, and everyone could just go home.

      The question is, what has Duryodhan done so far which has earned him this name

      Well, in fairness (and returning to the question of the show's own internal consistency), they had shown Duryodhana as a bully mistreating the citizens of Hastinapur right from the time they first showed him as a child - even before the Pandavas returned from the forest. At that point itself they had significantly deviated from the original, where the nasty/spiteful aspects of Duryodhana's character first emerge when he sees Bheema bullying all his brothers. The closest thing to making allowances for the character on this show was that right from the beginning, they showed him as a puppet/tool of his maama - but of course, that isn't really an allowance.

      Have to wonder, even if they have made the decision to depict Duryodhana in the worst possible terms, how is it logical to have him still so enthusiastic about sitting on the throne of Hastinapura? After having lost most of his well-wishers and all 99 of his brothers (they at least showed him genuinely shattered by Dushasana's death, the way the BR Chopra version showed him shattered by Karna's). It makes no sense, unless you simply throw up your hands and view the character as someone who has such a pathological hatred for the Pandavas that his whole life is built around wanting to personally survive them, even if he loses everything else in the process.

      Anyway, it really is fascinating to see how different this Duryodhana is from the Duryodhana of Bhasa's Urubhanga. The two have practically nothing in common.

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    2. The show also slipped into freudian territory a couple of episodes ago. Krishna, in his attempts to convince Duryodhana to wear a banana leaf says something to the effect that an adult son should not show himself nude to his mother, because that is a 'paap' which is equivalent to the murder of the mother. Duryodhana as the forerunner of Oedipus, well well, whatever next ???

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  15. Good news. They've extended Mahabharat by another week. It shall now end next Saturday, with a grand 1 hour MAHA EPISODE :P

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    1. Yay. The only reasonable way to end it now is with an intense love-making scene between Krishna and Shakuni in heaven.

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  16. Or in hell..... after all one man's heaven whatever whatever!!! Please go and offer yourself as a director for the next few episodes and spare us the current inanity which is playing out.
    The problem with inanities is that there is so much scope for more inanity, which is simply going unexplored and leaving me very dissatisfied. Yesterday's episode had a scene where Yudi looks murderously at Salya who is pinned against a chariot. I was expecting him to say something like I know you wanted to help us by talking down to Karna, but what you did was adharma, because you went against your own chosen commander. Plus, I have now realized that the person you betrayed was actually my elder brother. So I am going to take revenge on you. I mean, seriously, the murderous look justified this dialogue. But it melts in a moment. He is all apologies, kshama kijiye Mamashri!!!!

    If you read Parva, which actually starts off with Salya's reverie, even his dilemma is quite distinct, and it is not a simple case of Duryodhana tricking him. But of course such a nuance is really too much to expect here.

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    1. Didn't see yesterday's episode - will watch it on YouTube when the full thing is uploaded tonight. But in the "original" MB, Yudhisthira is the one who specifically conspires with Shalya to undermine Karna's confidence - it is widely seen as the first example of psychological warfare in literature, and it is one of the most genuinely reprehensible, cowardly things Yudhisthira does (for all the hand-wringing about his one lie about Ashwatthama).

      Can't do anything now but laugh...I have no idea how these guys will bring themselves to actually show Shakuni (one of the two Protagonists of this show since the very beginning) being killed by someone as inconsequential as Sahadeva. It will be such a huge comedown...

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  17. I think it wont be a comedown actually. Yesterday Nakula says Sahadev has sworn to kill you, but there is so much evil in you that all five of us will be involved in killing you. I think each of them will take their chosen weapon and try to do some damage to him, and Sahadev as the youngest will get to finish him off (Justice in the style of Murder on the Orient Express).
    When I see the amount of time and effort they have put into Shakuni's death and Duryodhan's vajr ka shareer, I wonder why couldn't a little bit of it be used up for other war sequences like Jayadratha's death day or the Arjuna Karna battle.

    Interesting point about Yudhishtra's conspiracy with Salya. I think Yudhishtra's political shrewdness is almost never recognized in popular discourse, even though the wikipedia profile mentions he is the most astute of the brothers and also states that he agrees to the second dice game and postpones the war for 13 years hoping in the interim, somehow Karna will be denied his divine protection. Not just there, even in the dice game, he plays with the intention of snatching Hastinapur, and I can even argue that he deliberately stakes his brothers and wife, knowing that Duryodhana will get so carried away and go beyond the point of no return, and also lose the support of most people, including his subjects.

    Interestingly, it is also Yudhishtra who nurses almost a pathological fear of Karna. The other brothers are shown to insult him openly, but perhaps they don't even think him important enough to occupy their thoughts. But Yudhishtra is so obsessed, that according to the original, when he heard the news of Karna's death, he went to the battlefield to actually confirm if he was indeed dead. I guess, it is because of that obsession that his breakdown on knowing Karna's identity is more complete. The other brothers, although they regret the killing, seem to move on with it much better.

    I am glad Yudhishtra gets his comeuppace in all the women's PoV Mahabharata. The Palace of Illusions is very anaemic in dealing with the relationship Draupadi has with any husband, given her all consuming obsession, but she is quite sharp and puts him in place. Yajnaseni, where Draupadi is closer to the conventional Pati-vrata naari is even more condemnatory of Yudhistra, and Draupadi even wonders how inhuman is Yudhishtra, that he can send Abhimanyu into the Chakravyuha, for his own benefits.

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    1. Oh yes. In the actual Mahabharata, in the early days of their exile, Yudhisthira categorically admits to his brothers and wife that he only went back to play the second game (which he was under no obligation to do) in the hope of sending Duryodhana into the forest for 13 years, and because he still had some residual greed for Hastinapura himself. As Krishna Chaitanya points out in his very fine book The Mahabharata: A Literary Study, this admittance by Yudhisthira is actually a very important first step to facing himself in the mirror and trying to come to terms with his own weaknesses, and to begin the process of gradually overcoming them. That Yudhisthira is an infinitely more interesting character than this goody-two-shoes TV serial one who is from the beginning to the end of his life an unalloyed "Dharamraj".

      And yes, Yudhisthira's pathological fear of Karna also leads directly to one of the most complex passages in the epic, when Yudhisthira, having been humiliated by Karna in the battlefield and finding that Arjuna has not killed Karna yet, starts insulting Arjuna and the Gandiva, and Arjuna insults him right back, saying "You have taken advantage of my valour all your life, to the extent of using Dharma-couched talk to make Draupadi your own wife after I had won her." The sort of exchange that, needless to say, you can never find in a mainstream TV show in this country.

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    2. (Justice in the style of Murder on the Orient Express).

      Oh god. If I were the director, I would quickly bring Salman Khan in for a guest appearance as a combination of Hercule Poirot and Chulbul Pandey, who would make a long expository speech and pack everyone off to jail for murdering an old epic.

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  18. Yeah, I have never read or seen about the famous quarrel between Yudhishtra and Arjuna in any of my childhood reading or viewing of Mahabharata. The famous Pandava unity is also very much a myth. In Bhimsen, Bhima wryly states after a quarrel that our biggest issue was not the Kauravas, but the resentments each of us were carrying in our hearts. In Parva, Byrappa casts Bhima as the constantly rebellious Pandava who chafes at his elder brother and Arjuna as someone who constantly criticizes Bhima as an adharmi because he does not obey his elder brother. Draupadi is shrewd enough to see that Bhima can be her only real support among these brothers and cleverly exploits it repeatedly, even going as far as to try to stop him from contacting Hidimbi or Ghatotgaja again.

    Very disappointed that Karna has asked/ordered his brothers to forgive their mother. Would have loved to see Yudi in a righteous rage curse all 'womanhood'.

    Btw, how did you like Shakuni's death scene.In a strange, almost funny way, it is catharatic. And Duryodhana rushing from brother to brother to protect his uncle is satisfying. If we buy into the argument that the Pandavas were almost always Dharmi, then this is a very satisfying and physical way to get back at an Adharmi. One of the grouses my husband had against the Harry Potter series was that after seven book, and numerous deaths, Voldemort is just very simply killled by a rebounding curse, and Harry retains his spotless reputation and never utters a forbidden curse. He doesnt try to torture him, or even engage in some plain old fistfights. I think he will really appreciate Shakuni's death

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    1. Have actually been unable to see any of the last 3 episodes in their entirety - wasn't at home during the 8.30-9 slot on those days, and managed to see just a few minutes of the first episode on YouTube before net problems surfaced. Will catch up soon. Did see the scene where Krishna tells Draupadi "I can't do anything. Dau is right - your husbands have to figure out their own path" and was quite gobsmacked. He has come to this realisation now?! Balarama should really have desisted from that countrywide pilgrimage and hung around at Kurukshetra all the while, so that some commonsensical, non-Godly wisdom could have prevailed...

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  19. And they finally killed off Shakuni last night. Kinda disappointed. Will miss his "Mere baccheeeeeee" and his fruity overtones

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  20. This week is heading for a climax where the Pandavas realize Duryodhana's greatest fault is his libido which coveted Draupadi (yeah more than poisoning Bhima, Varanavrata or anything), and therefore the way to lay him low is hit at that!!!! As this writer points out this is a post Nirbhaya Mahabharata (http://www.caravanmagazine.in/perspectives/epic-fail?page=0,1).

    And as a woman, I frankly find this far more demeaning of woman than the older show where Arjuna is honest enough to state Tum Draupadi ho, Hastinapur Nahin.

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    1. Oh, of course it's a post-Nirbhaya Mahabharat - that has been obvious for a long time, and I alluded to it in this post as well (the bit about the dialogues that endorse death penalty for rapists etc). They have turned the whole thing into a revenge-for-a-woman's-mistreatment story, which the original MB definitely is not (however much that might disturb our modern, enlightened sensibilities).

      One question I always ask anyone who adopts this "MB is about stree ki maryada above all else" viewpoint is: HOW do you possibly explain Krishna's trying to tempt Karna to join the Pandavas by dangling the carrot of "beautiful Draupadi will be your wife too"? That is, of course, a scene that didn't make it even into the BR Chopra Mahabharata (much less this one), but it is clearly there in any half-way faithful translation of the MB you can find; and it is one of the most important, most central scenes in the whole epic. All Karna had to do was to have a moment of weakness/cowardice and accept Krishna's offer, and Draupadi would have been forced into bed with one of the men who participated in her mistreatment. Think this scene tells us far more about the overall status of women at the time than all the warm, fuzzy lecture-baazi in this show does.

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  21. As far as this show, and the current discourse on rape and capital punishment in India is concerned, rape is not so much a crime against women, as a crime against masculine ego. While I would not like to play down the heinous nature of the act, I think women will be infinitely safer, if their honor is not taken to represent their entire community's honor and superiority. As one leading psychiatrist who works on issues of sexual abuse once told me, Virtue is a state of mind, virginity a choice and vagina an anatomical organ. The sooner we stop equating the three, the better.

    I remember, in some earlier episode (which I was watching in a scattered way), this show does have a scene where Draupadi has doubts about the nature of revenge her husbands are about to extract, and both Bhima and Arjuna kind of force her to accept this retribution because what was done to her was a big crime against women. Of course in this show, it is a scene to probably show how tender and virtuous Draupadi remains despite everything. But I think at another level (which this series cannot capture), she is simply wondering what this fratricidal bloodbath - in which she has been a pawn for both sides- has to do with her at all. In what way does it help her, if Duryodhana's thighs are broken, if Bhima drinks Dushasana's blood. In a way, her husbands used her as a political and PR tool, using her humiliation (in which they were equally, if not more culpable than their cousins) to legitimize a war, and give a family squabble for wealth and a kingdom the dimensions of a war for morality. That is the takeaway which any self respecting feminist will draw from this show or any of its ilk, which tries to frame the issue as justice for Draupadi.

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  22. Extremely well said. The woman as goddess as well as repository of all family "honour" and "virtue", and eventually as an excuse for the playing out/legitimising of dark impulses - it's so familiar. Meanwhile, it's worth observing that for all the empowerment talk, this show has reduced someone as important as Gandhari to a weeping, snivelling cipher who has huge amounts of internal "tapasya" energy but essentially remains a pawn for all the men in her life.

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    1. Just saw most of the Shakuni-killing episode. That bit at the very end was interesting: Bheema telling Krishna that he had been saved once before by Vasuki naag, and that if he is to be saved this time then Shesh Naag himself might be the one to do it - to be followed soon after by Draupadi getting the vital clue from Balarama himself. So many interesting ideas and juxtapositions in this show, but alas, so many of them lost in the broader nonsense.

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  23. Here is an extremely interesting re-imagining of Draupadi's vastraharan episode (http://thebanyantrees.com/?p=1398). The entire series is quite uneven and badly written, and seems to have stopped mid way through, but I think this is more of a genuine attempt to give the women in the epic (not just Draupadi but even Bhanumathi or Vrushali) more agency.

    Interestingly, in the realist versions of the Mahabharata, like Bhimsen or Parva, there is really no disrobing of Draupadi. There is just humiliation and her being dragged to court when she was only half clad and menstruating. And in all these cases, Draupadi is saved by her courage, her resourcefulness and her ability to talk down to her tormentors. There is no divine intervention and she is her own protector.
    But all these qualities find little mention in the hoopla around a divine protection (by a male god, mind it). When I was growing up, I heard a small story about how when Draupadi initially screamed to Krishna, she continued to hold her saree herself, and therefore Krishna never came. But when she gave up and raised her hands in surrender, that is when Krishna came. to save her. In this world then, is it really so surprising that people say Nirbhaya should have tied a rakhi to her assaulter or chanted some mantra to him???

    Interesting point about Gandhari's portrayal. I think in the original, she is one of the people who understands Shakuni's motivations right from the beginning (and she should, after all she does understand his need for revenge) and makes some attempt to shield her sons from it. I can even accept a Gandhari who is Shakuni's equal partner in every ploy of his, and the entire story being a revenge wreaked by this brother sister duo, on the Kuru lineage for the sins done to their father and their land. Gandhari then becomes a terrifying figure who is willing to sacrifice her sons for her revenge. Alas, this person seems to be nobody/nothing in particular.

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  24. Today, they finally killed off Duryodhan. And that was followed by Balarama getting a fit of righteous anger and summoning his plough to strike Bheema down before Krishna stops him. Another outburst that will seem meaningless to anybody who hasn't read the epic fully. Other than a vague hint or two, they never mention in the show that Duryodhan was Balarama's favorite student, so his outburst just seems so out of the blue.

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  25. Yeah. And Balarama's very legitimate counter point against what the Pandavas have done is drowned in some facetious nonsense sprouted by Krishna (It is all my lila, you are my elder brother, if I don't deceive you, who will I deceive, he grins). It is like the makers have no response to Balarama's question and seek to silence it this way. Interestingly, it is only when Krishna and Balarama are seen as gods that the tensions between their worldviews is erased. In some realist retellings of Mahabharata, these two brothers choose to support opposite sides, and the Yadava army itself is divided, with people like Satyaki fighting for Pandavas and people like Kritavarma fighting Kauravas (each with their vested interests). But of course, if Krishna and Balarama are avtars (or some part of avtars), then how can they be shown to argue, let alone take opposite sides in a war to determine Dharma. That would mean that there is no the DHARMA, and then where would we all be.

    It would have been better if Balarama's disapproval is not even mentioned, instead of showing it and disposing of it in such a facile way.

    There were some other interesting touches in Duryodhana's death. I did not like the scene where Duryodhana is running away from Bheema, after he has worked out the strategy of how to overpower him. All said and done, Duryodhana is a brave warrior, and just like Bheema took all the blows rained on him without flinching, so too is Duryodhana likely to have done. But other stuff like his riposte to Yudi that I have loved my brothers, my friends (not really, judging by last week, but we will let that pass), my family, my wife. So dont tell me I have never given anybody a space in my heart, is quite good. We almost get a chance to see what was possible, if only for a moment.

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    1. Vikram and confusedclarity: Balarama has always been a particularly interesting figure, subject to many different interpretations (in the Jain tradition he is venerated above Krishna because of his apparently pacifist stand, but Krishna Chaitanya and other scholars say he shirked his responsibility by choosing to stay neutral while continuing to nurture his favouritism towards Duryodhana) - and I think the Star Plus guys have been a little confused about what to do with him. As I mentioned in one of the earlier comments on this thread, one of the most notable pre-war scenes was the one where Balarama unqualifiedly tells Arjuna that Yudhisthira committed more adharma than Duryodhana in the dyuta sabha, and Krishna agrees with this. (Which showed inconsistency in the show's own approach, because they had depicted Duryodhana putting Bhanumati on stake first!)

      A lot of it comes down to how you interpret Ananta/Sheshnaag's place in the overall scheme of things: is it his duty to maintain some form of cosmic balance, even if it means overriding or supplying a counterpoint to Vishnu's actions? But if that were the case, Balarama should have been given a more important role in this show, rather than just showing up on one or two key occasions. They didn't even show him at Draupadi's swayamvara, for instance (whereas he was very much there as per the original text), and he really could have served a useful purpose there - for instance, in that ridiculous, difficult-to-comprehend scene where after Draupadi says she won't marry a sutaputra, the Sun himself comes out in her support to indicate that she did the right thing and Karna should have had the sense to not compete in the tournament.

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  26. Tonight's episode, they dropped a bridge on Dhristadyumna's character. And in the process somehow made Ashwatthama look more badass than he actually is. But if I remember correctly, both characters were quite equally matched, and they changed it from Ashwatthama strangling him in his sleep to just nonchalantly beheading him, like he was nothing.

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    1. Well, in fairness, Dhrishtadyumna has been a non-entity in this show anyway. Guess one should be grateful he was there at all, given that they left out Satyaki, who was one of the most important warriors on the battlefield from first day to last.

      And in the original, Shiva enters Ashwatthama's body, effectively making him the God of Death for one night and giving him full sanction to destroy the Pandava camp. Nothing Dhrishtadyumna would have been able to do about that, whether or not he was armed or fully prepared.

      I have no real problem with them making Ashwatthama, temporarily at least, look like a bad-ass, considering that they have otherwise turned him into a complete villain/henchman in this show. Whereas he is such a layered figure in the original (as well as being the author-backed part in Dharamvir Bharat's Andha Yug - a role that generations of prominent Indian actors, from Soumitra Chatterjee to Naseeruddin Shah, have played with relish).

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  27. Draupadi says she won't marry a sutaputra, the Sun himself comes out in her support to indicate that she did the right thing and Karna should have had the sense to not compete in the tournament.

    Really!! Is there a scene like that??? What was it meant to achieve? Are they suggesting there is divine sanction for the caste system?

    Honestly, I am deeply troubled by some of these new age retellings of Hindu myths, including AmishTripathi's Shiva trilogy, which somehow seek to sanitize the caste system, and say that it is a good system which got corrupted. Yes, equality of all men is probably a sentiment arising from modern sensibility, and there is no reason why ancient texts should reflect it. But we need to acknowledge that ancient texts (of probably every religion) reflects patriarchy, inequality and some form of prejudice or the other, because the gods whom we humans have created can only reflect what we ourselves espouse.

    It is interesting that this show had Karna fighting for a larger cause (at least in the earlier days) when his quest for knowledge is a fight against the caste divisions. As he pointedly tells both Drona and Duryodhana (when he is offered the kingdom), I dont want a kingdom, I want the opportunity to learn to pursue my dreams. It would have been interesting to show how his lower caste origins and the constant blocks he faces because of it defined his ambition to become great (shresht, as against uttam, if we take Krishna's nonsense seriously).

    But after that, Karna's stand is pretty much silenced. Even on his deathbed, after Krishna has pointed out that he was deluding himself about Duryodhana's ability to raise above caste distinctions because he has only recognized Karna, while continuing to treat other Sutas in the same way as before, Karna in no way articulates what it has meant to him, to achieve so much, to get the recognition which he yearns for, as a Suta. He never advises his brothers (who are set to rule the kingdom), to give people recognition, to rise above a person's caste. All he can worry about is his 'mother's honor'. Bah!!!!

    In sharp contrast, in Parva (which I have taken to re-reading, just to help I go through the last week of this show), Karna as a suta is very strong. He and Vidura are revered in their community, because they are examples of what is possible to achieve by transcending social divisions. In the war, all the charioteers root for Karna (except the Kshatriya Shalya). And there is a poignant scene, when Karna on his last day, is told by a Suta soldier that he carries the honor of his community with him. Karna wonders what would happen if he told this soldier, that by birth he was not a suta, but a Kshatriya.

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    1. Are they suggesting there is divine sanction for the caste system?

      No, nothing like that - if it had been that, then I would have at least understood what the point of the scene was. (They have been very clear that God Himself is completely against the caste divide and other such discrimination. In fact, they went out of their way to tell us that Parshuram had no problem with Karna being a suta and that he might even have taught him weaponry if Karna had been completely honest with him. Ha.)

      The point of the swayamvara scene was...well, I have no idea. Perhaps just to inform us early on that Draupadi can do no wrong - that some casuistry can be evoked to explain anything remotely controversial that she does or says. Basically, after she insults Karna, the sun starts blazing angrily in the sky, there is some conversation involving her, Karna, Krishna and Drupada, at the end of which Draupadi raises her head nobly and says something to the effect of "May the sun burn me up if I have done or said something inappropriate", and of course the sun goes back to shining meekly like your regular little star. I really didn't get the point at all - possibly all they were saying was that the tournament was only open to Kshatriyas, so it was open season for Draupadi to publicly insult someone who broke that "kayda".

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  28. Speaking of the whole caste issue, Anand Neelakantan's Ajaya did a pretty interesting job of not only dissecting, but rubbishing the whole caste issue in the Mahabharat. What I especially found interesting is Kripacharya in the book is shown as a close friend of Charvaka and Duryodhana seems to influenced by him. Whereas, the Pandavas are shown to be influenced more by Dhaumya's rigid worldview of caste. I think confusedclarity might find this particular retelling quite interesting to read. And yes, even my father was quite surprised that a lot of characters like Satyaki, Kritavarma, Bhurishravas etc were left out. And even Ghatotkach was given short shrift. But yeah, he was quite pleased with the overall outcome and felt that it was much much much better than the original (An issue that can be debated forever).

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  29. Yes, I did enjoy Ajaya and hope the sequel is out soon. As a countertelling, Ajaya is as black and white as this series (Duryodhana is goody two shoes, Pandavas are evil), but I like some of his characterizations. Balarama as the Gandhian (I used to carry a mace as a symbol of power, now I carry a plough as a symbol of progress, because it is in agriculture that my country will find prosperity, he tells Karna) Kripa as an alcoholic Brahmin making fun of the caste system(A brahmin is a person who has found his way to god. DO you think Drona or I have found the way to god. Half the nights, I cant even find the way to my own house). I would have preferred a more nuanced and complex countertelling, which Neelakantan almost pulled off in Asura, but this is good enough.

    But again, though Neelakantan frames the whole conflict in the Mahabharata as grounded in caste, this book is also a facile representation of the caste system. I think many of our modern english writers come from urban, largely upper caste backgounds (that is my own background too), and dont understand lived experience of the marginalized castes. Some basic reading of Dalit literature might help them. Till then, their denunciation of the caste system will remain largely tokenist (like this show is tokenist feminist)

    Karna as a character has lots of potential to articulate lived experiences of lower castes, the stifling of their dreams, but I have come across very little efforts to explore the Suta aspect of Karna. It is almost like from the moment Duryodhana crowned him king, he is no longer a Suta (there is very little known about what he did to his community, after gaining a such a influential position), and in the joyous outpouring of the discovery that he is actually a Kshatriya, the Suta experience is completely negated. It is like he is reclaimed into the fold, and the rest of the Sutas can continue to suffer for all anybody cares.

    He was quite pleased with the overall outcome and felt that it was much much much better than the original (An issue that can be debated forever).

    which original?? Vyasa's or B R Chopras

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    1. Think I'll read Ajaya soon. Fairly sure I have it lying around. Also saw the English translation of Parva while I was in Bangalore, but it was too big to carry back; will look out for it.

      Since we've been discussing specific episodes, I wonder if either of you saw that brilliant, unintentionally funny one where the Kauravas launch a guerrilla attack on the Pandava camp on the 14th night (the reason for this twist in plot is of course rather obvious), just as the Pandavas are belatedly cremating Abhimanyu. Instead of having King Virata killed the next day by Drona, they have him killed in this attack. And how, you may ask? In a scene that is mind-bogglingly shoddy in concept, execution and acting, young Uttaraa starts wailing "Arya! Arya! Boo hoo!" from the women's tent when Abhimanyu's pyre lights up. Whereupon Virata, a determinedly fatherly look on his face, leaves the pyre-side and starts striding towards the camp to console his youngling, while failing to observe the cannonball that is heading towards him from the sky. He is duly incinerated. A few reaction shots of the Pandavas followed by a cut-back to Uttaraa, this time wailing "Peeta-shree! Peeta-shree! Boo hoo!" (Or was it "peeta-jee, peeta-jee", I couldn't tell.) All I could think was, this half-brain is going to spawn the future of Aryavarta, the hope for mankind? If I were Krishna, I would have let Ashwatthama's brahmastra do its noble work.

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    2. @confusedclarity: Original being the BR Chopra one of course ;)

      @Jabberwock: Oh yes I did. That was quite hilarious to be honest. And if I remember correctly, he isn't heading towards his daughter, but he hears the army approaching and goes to check it out, and walks right in the way of some heavy artillery. Had a good laugh. And yeah, like you mentioned, he was actually beheaded by Drona with a rather sharp javelin (Like the ACK comics mentioned). As for the girl playing Uttaraa, she's had the "deer in the headlights" look in every scene she's been in, be it romantic, familial or even tragic. Peeta-shree indeed. LOL

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    3. No no, Virata definitely was heading for his daughter. He even elaborately did a final namaste to Abhimanyu's burning carcass before heading off. There was nothing remotely general-like about him in that scene.

      Oh joy. The preview for tomorrow's episode has little Uttaraa squealing like a piglet as the Brahmastra enters her womb. This show will go out with both a bang and a whimper.

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  30. The non chalance with which Arjuna summons and then dismisses the Brahmastra (none of his brothers stop him) with a hurried Kshama Kijiye thrown in between is quite scary. I mean, this is the guy, who has made weepy faces and been agonized before shooting pretty much every arrow, and he summons the Brahmastra just like that. Is this meant to be a larger message on how war brutalizes everybody?? If I were Krishna, I would have serious doubts about handing over the reins of this new world they have created, to a bunch of emotionally unstable idiots.

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    1. Come to think of it now, I can't remember Arjuna shooting a single arrow over these 18 days, apart from the computer-generated one that rather half-heartedly pierced Karna's neck. I mean, I'm sure he must have shot more, but I just can't remember them. Are we sure he is the greatest (or at least the most "uttam") archer in the world?

      In the original epic itself, I appreciate the idea of Arjuna as a hesitating, proto-metrosexual man who is very much in touch with his feminine side, and willing to contemplate rather than just act impetuously; as Amartya Sen pointed out, from a perspective that doesn't just take the idea of an all-knowing God at face value, the Gita can be seen as a conversation between equals, with Arjuna's pacifist self-doubt never quite lost in the overall picture. But the way it is done here, he just seems like a wispy moron at times. ("Madhav? Madhav? Humne Ghatotkacha ka balidaan diya, Madhav? Hum aur kya kya karenge, Madhav?") I loved the expression on Krishna's face when he showed up after the Brahmastra was launched. I think the implication here was that Krishna is still obediently following what Balarama asked him to do - that is, not to interfere further and to let the Pandavas figure things out for themselves. But he absolutely has to step in when he realises that these five are basically imbeciles who can't be trusted to find the men's washroom without being led there by the hand. (I swear, I could see a thought-bubble above the actor's head: "I leave you guys alone for TWO MINUTES with strict instructions not to touch anything and you promptly set about destroying the universe?")

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    2. Yeah, I think the original is very clear that Divine Word notwithstanding, Arjuna remains a pacifist at some level throughout the war. His reluctance to engage with Bhishma, his attack on Dhrishtadhyumna after the latter kills Drona, all of them amply demonstrate that Arjuna retains his attachments and remains unconvinced about the need for war. But what this actor demonstrates is not a conflicted pacifist but a complete wimp.

      Still wondering what is this fuss about Uttara carrying the Pandava heir. Hasn't there been a very explicit scene where Arjuna promises Karna that his son will be the heir. Or is it going to be another internal inconsistency. Even leaving aside that, can't Uttara, in the time tested tradition of Kuru lineage just undergo Niyoga.

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    3. Also, not to be disrespectful or anything (naturally), but has Draupadi already attained the holy state of menopause? Don't these characters keep breeding until they are well into their 90s? Or does she just not want anything more to do with her pea-brained husbands after this? (This would be understandable.)

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    4. Yeah, that is an interesting question, and actually Bhyrappa does address it in Parva. Uttara gives birth to a still born child, and when Kunti asks Draupadi if she can still reproduce, and she should do it in the interest of the clan, Draupadi tells her she can take her clan and go to hell. She also becomes the protective mother in law who tells Kunti there is no way she is going to subject Uttara to a Niyoga, and such blatant manipulation of women's womb, for the sake of lineage continuity must stop.

      But seriously, I dont know why the original itself is obsessed with Uttara's son being the sole possible heir, as though nothing else is even feasible. This is the only place where Krishna actuallly uses his divine powers. My husband is a Mahabharata novice and asked me yesterday how the child is saved, and when I explain Krishna's intervention, his first question was, if Krishna can do all these things, then why have all this war and nonsense in the first place.

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    5. if Krishna can do all these things, then why have all this war and nonsense in the first place

      Well, Balarama asked "Kanhaa" pretty much the same question a few episodes ago, and Krishna's answer was something along the lines "To understand the value of dharma, men have to the long-winded, arduous personal sacrifices that are needed to establish it." Thing is, if you are a believer, then pretty much anything God does can be conveniently rationalised/explained away, because we being the petty little ants we are, are incapable of understanding His motives. Your husband's question, if you think about it, is a micro version of the perpetual query "If God is omnipotent and good, then why is there any evil or suffering at all? Why isn't every living creature on the planet simply in a permanent state of contentment and self-realisation?" But religious people, as we all know, do have smug "answers" to such questions.

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    6. Basically, the one-line description of Krishna's function in this entire mess would be "Andhon mein Kanhaa raja."

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    7. Btw, I forget how the Parikshit-saving happens in the "realist" (probably as it originally was) version of the MB - the one where the vastra-haran episode doesn't even happen. Isn't it something like: the child is born very sickly and Krishna prays to God and says if I have been a good man and a worthy disciple to you, let the fruits of all my good actions be directed towards saving this child?

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    8. Arjun has come across as a very featherheaded character so far. Any situation that doesn't have a clear solution and is presented to him by the all knowing Krishna is answered with a vacant look and a "Taatparya?". Makes you wonder what Drona finally taught him ;)

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    9. You're being unkind to feathers. But yes, he is a Dwapara Yuga version of Forrest Gump, an idiot savant with the emphasis on "idiot".

      Drona taught him how to pronounce the complicated word "taatparya" - isn't that enough? Served him well his whole life!

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    10. And took away his critical thinking capacity as dakshina. This drona seems to have cannibalistic tendencies.

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  31. Today's episode made me feel grateful that this show concludes tomorrow. It was a very tedious watch. Everybody gets weepy around Bhishma Pitamah's bed of arrows (I can imagine some first time viewers going, oh yeh abhi bhi zinda hai), followed by the epic ham concerto of Maestro Dhritarashtra, who wishes to kill Bheema by crushing him in his arms, but like the all knowing Krishna says, "Apne hriday ke krodh ka vadh kar diya hai aapne". Tomorrow is the antim adhyaay, a one hour MAHA EPISODE! I won't deny that I am a little sad about it though. I've followed it religiously from the beginning, and it's been a hell of a journey. Uneven, but fun for the most part

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    1. Does anyone have the slightest doubt about what the closing words of tomorrow's episode will be? "Swayam vichar keejiye" said by you-know-who with beatific smile and index finger pointing out at the viewer.

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    2. Oh yeah. With a 5 minute lecture on how today's modern world is filled with more paap than punya, and if it continues, he may have to show up in a new avatar for yet another MAHA Yudh ;)

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  32. Well, THAT was a scintillating way to wrap it all up. Not. Gotta love the very last shot with all the survivors standing on the stairs, and Dhritarashtra still teetering and tottering away. And what's with the weird dance that the back-up guys were doing while Yudhisthira was being crowned, especially that bit where people were play-swordfighting with each other (just about as convincingly as the extras in the battle scenes). A Katrina Kaif item number would have been nicer.
    Seriously underwhelmed, I have to say.

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    1. "MAHA Episode"! Now I guess we wait for another 25 years for a decent TV adaptation of Mahabharat ;)

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  33. Have been travelling for the last three days and missed all the fun. Cant wait to catch up on youtube. I hope you put up your post on this series soon :-)

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    1. Oh, doubt I'll be able to do that anytime soon - no time or energy for it. But maybe I'll just write a book-length, episode-by-episode review sometime in the distant future!

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  34. I think there is (or at least used to be) a weekly Tamil version playing on Sun TV, which seemed interesting. I didnt follow it per se. But watched a couple of episodes. They explored stuff like Shikandi's identity and her marraige to Hiranyavati and what happens after that. Even the political ramifications behind Draupadi's wedding was quite intelligently discussed. And Krishna was still all knowing but constantly put in his place by Balarama, who was quite sharp with him about how he contrived to get poor Draupadi married to five people. I have to check if it is still on.

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    1. This sounds interesting. There was also that serial Draupadi a few years ago, which got cancelled I think, with Mrinal Kulkarni in the lead role. They explored some of the subplots there too, and did some droll stuff, like showing a betting game taking place outside the swayamvara venue, where the common citizens place money on this or that warrior hitting the fish target, and there is some cheeky social commentary in the process. (Of course, Krishna shows up and puts his money on Arjuna, much to everyone's astonishment.) And because that show depicted events on a very intimate scale, it even had the time and space to show little things like Duryodhana and Bhanumati discussing Duhshala's marriage prospects. (Duryodhana was very much a "bad guy" in the overall picture, but simply depicting the everyday, mundane life of a character has the effect of humanising him. I thought that was notable.)

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  35. The writer of Ajaya, Anand Neelakantan just tweeted a few days back that he's done with the 2nd part. He says the book should be out in a couple of months, hopefully.

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  36. Yes, I think originally the sequel was supposed to be released mid August, but now, it is possibly coming out end of the year. Looking forward to it.
    Regarding the serial Draupadi, is it possible to catch it online. I looked for it, but found only the first two episodes and some promos. If you know some site where it is available, please share the link. I would love to see it.

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    1. No idea. I didn't even realise any episodes were online - just checked YouTube and saw some of it and remembered that Pankaj Dheer had played Bheeshma, and that they had done interesting things with Shakuni too.

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  37. I finally found a copy of the English translation of Shivaji Sawant's Mrityunjaya on Flipkart. Ordered it. Eagerly waiting to read it :D

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  38. Been a little busy, but I think you guys might be amused by the last couple of comments on this post - I only noticed them in my "spam comments" folder a few days ago and published them, though they had come in months ago. This Arjuna-Karna thing has become such a cult all over the internet, with people squabbling away like 6-year-old boys about who was the "better" warrior...

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  39. Oh yes, the net is full of Arjuna vs Karna debates. I read quite a few of them a couple of years ago, when I was on a Mahabharata binge. I blogged about it here also (https://practicedcasualness.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/my-relationship-with-mahabharatha/#comments). In fact now I realize that yours was one of the sites I visited in that phase and quite enjoyed, although I lost touch with it till recently.
    But I find most of this debate on Karna and Arjuna has a lack of context. I mean it is not about who defeated who and how many times. It is about who achieved what from where, and how this has driven their characters. For instance, Karna's entire life is driven by an ambition to beat Arjuna. Arjuna, in the final duel is motivated more by a personal animosity (Karna insulting Draupadi and killing Abhimanyu). I think this serial just lost that context while depicting the battles, which is why the final battle was so lacklustre. So we have Karna's half hearted, Kya mein Samarth hoon, and Arjuna's weepy faces while he is shooting the arrows (Why weep, you are shooting an enemy. He is not yet your revered elder brother).

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    1. That's a very good post, thanks for the link.

      I had a friendly little discussion on FB recently with the writer Amruta Patil (who wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Adi Parva) and a couple of other people, about the Karna-Arjuna thing. Don't remember details but I think Amruta had put up a status along the lines that the "only difference" between them was that Karna was constantly bitter and resentful while Arjuna was more constructive/made the best of a situation - and that the trend of deifying Karna these days was a bit puzzling. I pointed out that while I'm not over-eager to play reductive games like "Who is the better character between these two?", if one DID choose to play such a game, it would be meaningless to do it without taking into account the vastly, dramatically different circumstances of their lives. (Does one really want to assume that Arjuna would have been a cuddly, "Madhav-Madhav" crooning teddy bear if he had faced exactly the same struggles that Karna did?)

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  40. Yes, to flip the argument around, in whatever way Karna scores as a person over Arjuna is also because of the vastly different backgrounds. Karna was abandoned at birth, but grew up in a fairly normal, if humble background. His parents dont seem to have been overbearing in any way, and he presumably had the freedom to chalk his own path. Poor Arjuna, is fatherless, bought up in a hostile court, by a fiercely affectionate but almost ruthlessly ambitious mother. If the Pandavas seem overly united for their own good, it is also because of the hostile circumstances in which they were bred. I think it is in Yagnaseni, that Karna tells Draupadi something to the effect that had he, as a son of Kunti won her, he would never have followed his mothers advise to share her with his brothers, because sometimes if elders advise is contrary to what you perceive is right, then you have to disregard them. Karna, in his life, has enjoyed that freedom. Arjuna has always been told he must support his brother to become king. So maybe it is no wonder he transfers most responsibility of thinking to his cousin, who is only too happy to assume the role. Yes, to flip the argument around, in whatever way Karna scores as a person over Arjuna is also because of the vastly different backgrounds. Karna was abandoned at birth, but grew up in a fairly normal, if humble background. His parents dont seem to have been overbearing in any way, and he presumably had the freedom to chalk his own path. Poor Arjuna, is fatherless, bought up in a hostile court, by a fiercely affectionate but almost ruthlessly ambitious mother. If the Pandavas seem overly united for their own good, it is also because of the hostile circumstances in which they were bred. I think it is in Yagnaseni, that Karna tells Draupadi something to the effect that had he, as a son of Kunti won her, he would never have followed his mothers advise to share her with his brothers, because sometimes if elders advise is contrary to what you perceive is right, then you have to disregard them. Karna would have done that, but that is because he was never brought up by Kunti as a younger son.

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  41. Very interesting discussion. With regards to Krishna's portrayal in the show, I can't help but notice how casually the word 'dharmayudh' was thrown around in conversations. Of course it does refer to the Pandavas' quest for justice and fight for land which was unfairly taken away from them, but why extrapolate it into a war for the greater good? Even Krishna from the versions of the epic I have read does not make such sweeping statements, except perhaps in his Avatar theory in the Geeta- which I understand more as the collapse of one age/civilization and the dawn of the next, which calls for bringing in new systems and overhauling the existing ones, but without any normative analysis. I also feel that Geeta overshadows a lot of other philosophical and spiritual discourses that find mention in the epic- but that is besides the point. (Just to show where my bias comes from).

    I realize we have to factor in the nature and format of the show, with its dumbing down of certain concepts to pander to its audience (but I would give it credit for bringing in some unexpected nuances with its stand on the dharma-adharma debate), but I find it hard to buy into the argument that the war was fought for some higher purpose and 'greater good' for mankind, both still very elusive concepts to me today.

    Also love your blog :)

    Ashwini

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    1. Ashwini: thanks. And apart from everything else, there is Amartya Sen's very lucid analysis of the Gita as just one argument set within the larger, multilayered argumentative wisdom of the Mahabharata - along with the idea that Arjuna's pacifist stance is never "defeated".

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  42. Yeah, Amartya Sen's is an interesting perspective. I also found it very appropriate that in retellings like Bhimsen, the Gita is reduced to about two lines (which Bhima's charioteer recounts to him) and Bhima cannot be bothered about any dharma other than the fact that he and his family have been cheated and he needs to avenge his wife's humiliation. But again Bhima has no great opinion of Krishna either in the book, apart from conceding that he is a brilliant strategist.

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  43. I have been looking at some of the episodes of this show off and on recently, and I am really intrigued by some of the portrayal. I agree that the whitewashing of the Pandavas, Kunti, Draupadi and even poor Karna is so relentless to almost be nauseating. But I am intrigued by some of the aspects of whitewashing which reflect a modern sensibility and a desire to show the Pandavas in positive light by the standards we hold today, and not necessarily the standards which were held in the dwapara yuga. The caste angle is an obvious place, since the Pandavas never seem to insult Karna or resent his background in any way, apart from the one instance, whereas in the original, they constantly decried him as an arrogant upstart. But otherwise also, I noticed that they did not deliberately burn down an innocent family in Varanavrata to cover their tracks. When they shifted to Khandavaprastha, they went out of their way to ensure that every living thing in the area had a chance to survive and were environmentally conscious eco centric paragons of virtue. Even the Rajasuya yajna is an attempt to show their independence, rather than an imperial attempt. Actually these are hardly likely to have been virtues in that era where survival, colonization and claiming land and war were necessary and even glorified. Whitewashing aside, I find this need to make the epic heroes conform to modern day values quite interesting. In fact even in Ajaya it is these values which are lauded, although it is Duryodhana who possesses these values

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    1. Yes, very interesting point - think they might have taken some of Devdutt Pattanaik's core ideas about how the epic can be made useful in a present-day context, and then gone at them with a sledge-hammer just to make them as easy as possible for the soap viewer.

      Btw, only today I read this amusing piece by DP about Arjuna. Love the last sentence, which makes the hell thing sound so final. Misleading, but also appropriate in a funny sort of way...

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  44. Sledgehammer indeed!!! But I really wonder, have the writers underestimated the audience. I am seeing lots and lots of online discussions criticizing the over-simplification of this show. I suppose most of the participants in these discussions are the younger generation, who reveal a surprisingly good understanding of the nuances of the epic and will be more than capable of handling a complex and nuanced story. So its difficult to see why the show was dumbed down so much with Duryodhan and co screaming that they were villains at every given opportunity.

    I think to some extent they have stuck to original ideas. Arjuna is someone who wavers between a confused, volatile, philandering man to a surprisingly introspective person who rises pertinent questions. Bhima, in contrast is the alpha male. This contrast is the basis for a lot of simmering tension in Parva, but here though the characters are somewhat similarly sketched, there is no scope for any tension in the brotherly relationship. The possibility of Arjuna and Karna, fierce rivals, who also at some level acknowledge and appreciate each other's skills is interesting. But in this show, that relationship has degenerated into some kind of sob sob, oh I dont know why my heart longs for you bromance. And seriously, poor Karna has faced the worst of the whitewashing. One of the most intriguing characters has been reduced to a confused, sobbing, spineless wuss and the only thing intriguing about this guy is how did he become a warrior in the first place. The teenage Karna has more angst and fire than the adult one. Its like the guy lost all his fire in Parashurama's ashram or something.

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