Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Episode 2: squabbling sutradhaars

I have a feeling that Ekta’s Mahabharata will soon cease to be funny and settle down into the solemn blah-ness of all her daytime soaps. Episode 2 contained lots of the familiar camera whooshes and swishes, sudden zooms, intensely irritating combinations of fast and slow motion (often used within seconds of each other), excessive reaction shots and awkward, stilted dialogue. When the key character of Ganga is introduced, the camera lingers on the giant blue sapphires in her earrings and necklace, showing us her face only as a sudden afterthought. (Cameraman slaps self on the forehead: "I knew there was something we were leaving out!")

More worrisome is the interaction between Vyasa and Ganesha. As any Mahabharata enthusiast knows, Ganesha’s pre-condition for agreeing to transcribe Vyasa’s poem is that the thing is recited continuously – no breaks or deviations. To which Vyasa replies that Ganesha must fully comprehend each verse before he sets it down. This is all very well, but midway through the meeting of King Shantanu and the mysterious lady in white who will become his queen, Vyasa interrupts his narrative and teasingly asks Ganesha, “Ab aap yeh soch rahe hoge ki yeh aurat kaun hai aur kya chahti hai?” (“Now you must be wondering who this woman is and what she wants”).

There are two problems with this chatty interlude: one, it means Vyasa has already reneged on his side of the bargain, so Ganesha is entitled to cite breach of contract, tear up the manuscript, clamber onto his rat steed and fly back into the stratosphere whence he came. The second problem is one of insolence. Aren’t Gods supposed to be omniscient? If I were in Ganesha’s sandals, I would have yanked at the sage’s beard for daring to imply that there was something I didn’t already know. (Actually, since Ganesha would have known beforehand that Vyasa was going to ask the question, he could have yanked at his beard without even waiting for him to ask it.)

So the narrative framework of this show will likely be a problem as things progress, and I wouldn't be surprised if the poet and his transcriber are smacking each other on the head by the time we arrive at Book Two. One of the best things about the B R Chopra Mahabharata was its use of Time – represented by a revolving chakra – as a narrator. The two sutradhaars in Ekta’s version display less personality than that wooden wheel.


  1. Mouse steed, not Rattus rattus. Actually, since Gods are omniscient, why didn't Ganesha yank Vyasa's beard right at the beginning, scoot off on his mouse, write the whole story himself and hog all the credits? (instead of sharing the limelight with Vyasa?)

  2. Can you delete the double comment? Thanks.

  3. Ekta thinks that she can create a Goopy-Bagha out of Vyas and Ganesh

    By the way sound suspiciously like an old connosieur of Ekta's offerings.....
    might I suggest a career move????

  4. Hey Lekhni,just what I was going to comment....

    BTW Jai,been following your blog for sometime now,I love it..

  5. Incidentally, while we are talking about Ganesh's ride, I had thought that the ages being ridden by Ganesh would have given the mouse enough practise not to fly through a forest when he can easily fly over, or even just fly by it. Ganesh looked positively irritated by leaves brushing him at places.

  6. I have a feeling that Ekta's Mahabharata will soon cease to be funny, and so will your blog. Come on dude, try to be original, and stop being a parasite and living off Ekta's humor.

    Or do you actually work for Balaji Telefilms, and we'll have to endure it twice, till Parikshit starts ruling Hastinapur?

  7. The Saints are coming ... The Saints are coming ..

    Sorry for the melodrama but that was just a placeholder until some real fanatic comes here to spite you. After all you question the infallibility of one of India's premier deities ...

    Ms. Ekta Kapoor!!

    p.s. please continue with the

    also, quick question, i can't seem to understand why Ganga's husband (Sudharshan something?)dresses like a roman superhero??

  8. Amey: yes, I noticed that bit about Ganesha's ride too. Maybe the rat (or mouse, or guinea pig, or whatever) is a sadist. Or a Delhi driver.

    Incidentally, with all this talk about how much has been spent on this show, shouldn't they have at least got the make-up department to ensure that Ganesha didn't have to keep fiddling with his trunk to keep it in place?

  9. Come on dude, try to be original

    ashes: "original"? This is a blog where 80 per cent of the posts are reviews of films and books - in other words, writing that depends for its existence on a previously produced work! If I had a mote of originality in my being I would have written at least 5 novels by now.

  10. ahh..those wooden wheels of BR's Mahabharat! Fun times!!

  11. brilliant! love the blog.

  12. I believe that the earlier Mahabharta was at least enjoyable at times. If only for the melodramatic acting of Mukesh Khanna and the rest of the cast. It was a good exercise in humour and in parts was much better directed than the Ramanand Sagar 'Ramayana'.

    Your Take on 'Time' as the 'Sutradhar' is an interesting one and it was a good concept.Even the actors were better than the clowns in the new version.Although the same problem of treating a great literary work simplistically was present in the earlier one , the comparison with the present one makes it a masterpiece.

  13. I used to be glued to the television when the BR Mahabharat used to air. And then thanks to my parents who taped the whole thing, i repeat-viewed it for years. Inspite of the tacky costumes, the liberties taken with the story, the general melodrama and other such turnoffs, the serial provided my first glimpse into the fascinating world of the mahabharata - and the epic has gripped me ever since.

    It was also, compared to Sagar's Ramayana, a slick, glamourous and exciting serial.

    Whatever it was, my childhood was only the richer for having watched it every week.

    I wonder what anyone can take away from this version.

    If i was a kid who was watchign this - i would seriously wonder about the following:

    1) Why are vyaasa and ganesha in a cave? with a pond? surrounded by all varieties of fake plants? and why is vyaasa perpetually in some sort of punishing asana?

    2) Why do Shantanu and Ganga dress like greek and roman superheros from a rejected graphic novel on the same?

    3) Will we survive watching Parvati Bhabhi a.k.a Ganga, Om a.k.a Shantanu, Mihir Virani a.k.a Bhishma ..all in one serial?

    I am sure more episodes will throw up more questions.

    But i have to honestly say that while the body of the serial itself is like any other soap into which a ton of money has been spent - and while the usual special effects, double takes etc grate on your nerves - it is great television compared to the painful, mind numbing conversations between a very scary daku mangal singh meets ramgopal varma villain Vyaasa and Mr. I have a pink fake trunk and fake hands Ganesh. Shudder Shudder.

    Public service reques to Ekta; Please replace them ASAP. I agree with Jai - the wooden wheel and the sonorous voice of 'Samay' had a few hundred times the character these chumps have.

  14. Where is this showing? Everyone seems to have seen it but me

  15. Why do Shantanu and Ganga dress like greek and roman superheros from a rejected graphic novel on the same?

    AS: if you're talking about 300, I don't think that was a rejected graphic novel. Besides, the problem with this Mahabharata isn't the costumes (which are a nice change from the Chopra version) but with the treatment.

    About Vyaasa and Ganesha in the cave...did you notice all the white, feathery stuff that suddenly started falling all around them? I think it was meant to be snow, but the effect was so muddled and hilarious that I thought to myself: "Whoa! Dandruff from the mottled locks of Lord Shiva!"

    Iz: On 9X, at 9 pm every day from Monday to Thursday (also a few repeats through the day).

  16. Question: How does your IQ survive the K-series onslaught day-after-day?

  17. Answer: it doesn't (as some of these posts should make clear).

  18. Ganesha is entitled to cite breach of contract, tear up the manuscript, clamber onto his rat steed and fly back into the stratosphere whence he came

    Hilarious! And I agree with your argument about Vyasa reneging. I feel Mahabharat should be retold every 10-15 years for every generation to enjoy the epic. But, this version is such a waste. I would rather buy a pack of DVDs of the older version than watch this crap.

    I wonder when Ashok Banker will write Mahabharat! Sigh!

  19. I wasn't talking about 300! I guess, what i meant to say was that if chracters looked like these guys do and spew the dialogues these guys do, the graphic novel would have been rejected.

    And yes! i did see the white snowfall - it disturbed me on so many levels - why was it snowing inside a cave? if its not a cave then what the hell is it? and why is there a mossy pond?
    Also and correct me here -
    But Hastinapur is suppose to be in the plains. Like close to present day Delhi. So whats with the Ladakh scenes? I mean it does look much funkier to have sakshi tanwar draped in white robes, wreathed with turquoise strings and silver, and wearing blue grey eyeshadow to stand on the banks of the indus in Ladakh with the stark landscape of the cold desert stretching out for miles behind her than have her stand on the banks of the sluggish, sludgy, polluted ganga in the plains and pretend to throw babies in..i do get that its prettier..but what about some fidelity to the situations they were in.

    I mean the landscape Ganga is standing in when she drown her babies is so stark and bare you have no choice but to wonder why the Kauravs and Pandavs would fight over it. Its totally barren. Apart from benig fiercely beautiful it isnt anything.

    Ok will stop now..
    I could rant on and on.

    Its just that i love the story so much and i get excited every time someone ants to reinvent it, do a new version, etc and then i get super disappointed.

    I really am looking forward to Banker's Mahabharat.

    Thanks Jai for making me come out of my years of quiet lurking and actually getting me worked up enough to comment.

  20. Sadist or Delhi driver? Are those two separate entities?

    As for the makeup, I guess they expected that the jewellery by its sheer weight would keep everything in its place. Plus they had to give some budget to superimpose the deer in front of Shantanu.

    And why a roman centurion costume for Shantanu?

  21. Amey: actually, I have no issue with the centurion costumes. I mean, once we go down the dubious road of demanding "authenticity", we'd have to (among many other things) expect a dark-complexioned Krishna and Draupadi (and what are the chances of any mainstream TV programme doing that, huh, especially if Fair and Lovely step in to sponsor the show?).

    My problem is more with the complete lack of consistency in the show's appearance. On the one hand there's the Troy and 300 look but on the other hand the divine beings (Ganesha, Brahma) are even more garish and artificial-looking than in earlier mythological serials. Maybe Hector got it right in Troy: "leave the Gods out of this, they don't give a flying rat's ass about us" (or words to that effect).

  22. The only historical serial on Indian TV with very carefully researched costumes was "Chanakya". Full marks to Chandraprakash Dwivedi for meticulousness, too bad he was such a mediocre story teller.

    What a pity that we are so behind the Japanese in this - where even anime series have painstakingly recreated historical costumes.

    I actually like the costumes - for once a historical/mythological project doesn't have Maganlal Dresswala's number on speed dial.

    But the actors, good heavens, the actors! How has Sakshi Tanwar managed to survive all these years on Indian TV while being such a thoroughly rotten actress?

    Loved both your posts Jai. Please don't stop :).

  23. Chandraprakash Dwivedi is directing another series on the tales from Upanishads, i think the series is also called Upanishads. I got to see a preview show and it was brilliant - very well researched, and well acted.

  24. thalassa_mikra: good to see you here after a long time. What about Shyam Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj? I didn't watch that show with the same care that I reserved for the mytho-soaps from the Chopra and Sagar houses, but it seemed quite well-researched. And not sure about this, but didn't they have a dark-skinned actor playing Rama?

    How has Sakshi Tanwar managed to survive all these years on Indian TV while being such a thoroughly rotten actress?

    I don't want to be seen as defending any of these actors, but it's rather difficult to comment on their acting prowess based on these shows. Apart from the goddawful and limiting scripts, the shooting method doesn't even require any actor to speak more than a few words of dialogue (with lots of meaningful pauses) at a time. Who knows, there might actually be some potentially terrific actors working for Balaji, who have taken the lazy way out instead of pushing themselves to do more challenging things.

  25. Thanks Jai - had gone into lurking mode for a while! You are absolutely right about the Bharat Ek Khoj costumes. But when I watched the show I had a feeling that Shyam Benegal went to the opposite austere extreme to the costumes in Chopra's Mahabharat. To me it seemed that Dwivedi struck the right balance.

    I think you may be referring to Salim Ghouse, who played Krishna in Bharat Ek Khoj and was true to character in being dark skinned.

    I think you are absolutely correct about the actors in the Balaji stable and the severe limitations under which they perform.

    I mean, if even actors like Makarand Deshpande (playing Ved Vyas) and Kiran Karmakar (Shantanu) are hamming away to glory, there really isn't much hope for a Balaji product.

  26. Damn, now i HAVE to get a TV. This sounds too good to miss!

  27. OK, I understand where that "flying rat" came from ;) But seriously, remove the heavenly context from Mahabharata, and you have a mother killing 7 infants without any reason. (Ramayana may be done without Gods intervening probably)

    That said, this has gone way beyond 300 "look", and into 300 copy. Which is my main problem, there's a short distance (for Bollywood) from inspiration to copy.

  28. How the times have changed... Now Sanjay needs a TV to watch Mahabharat ;)

  29. First of all hilarious review of the first and second episode, and was it just me or was the trunk on ganesha a bit crooked?? i m seriously, if if u are going to go all out with teh roman costumes and all then at least get the trunk straight on..and second of all, I really don't see the need of designer on the show if u are just going to copy 300, i mean does not really require any originality... But despite all that, and my ever pledged loyalty to the original BR Chopra Mahabharat, I think i might actually suffer through this show for a week or so just to see how it goes..
    The thing about the old one was that when you had "time" as a whole sutradhaar, it just gave an objective narrator for the whole epic..Those side notes and comments made by "samay" were the highlight of the show because it was almost like "samay" was having a discussion with the viewers challenging them to rethink their opinions and views.
    I think that was one stroke of creative genius in the entire show..

  30. hahahhahaha....Fan-freakin-tastic!!

    Please continue to watch these things..would love to know when Ganesha zips off on his mouse-limosine..