Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mahabharata, episode 1: the tattoo menace

Once again, real life makes satire seem feeble. When I wrote this post about Ekta Kapoor’s Kahaani Hamaaray Mahabharata Ki, I had no idea how summarily the actual show would outstrip my expectations. The first episode was telecast last night and though it didn’t feature the Tushhar Kapoor item number I had been hoping for, there was lots else to relish.

In the first of many inventive twists, the kahaani begins not at the beginning but with the game of dice and the attempted disrobing of Draupadi – which, we are told, is the single most important incident in the epic. Most of the Pandavas are shown in silhouette (possibly because the casting hadn’t been finalised when this episode was shot), Shakuni giggles continually and resembles Dr Evil in the Austin Powers films, Duryodhana has impressive breasts and there is unintentional phallic imagery in the worm’s eye shots of Bhima’s mace limping impotently between his legs. At the end of the episode, the actress playing Draupadi turns to the camera and shrieks something to the effect that whenever a woman is insulted or dishonoured, a great war will take place and the world will be changed (which leads me to wonder if Ekta and her scriptwriters follow the daily news at all). After this, a long cosmic zoom-out reveals that our solar system is but a speck in the waggling ear of the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha; as Vyasa prepares to compose his great poem with Ganesha as his transcriber, we may expect that the story will be narrated chronologically from episode 2 onwards.

Notes on the first episode:

- The opening dateline, written in Hindi, says “Dwapara Yuga, approximately 2000 B.C.” This is a bit like saying "Indraprastha, located approximately 8,000 miles east of New York". Do these guys even know what “B.C.” means? They need to be careful about offending the saffron brigade by acknowledging the existence of another religion.

- Most of the script is in shudh Hindi (compared to the more ornate language used in B R Chopra’s production of the epic) but pronunciation definitely needs to be worked on. For instance, someone should quickly inform the actor playing Duryodhana that it’s “gadaa-dhaari Bhima”, not “gadha-dhaari Bhima”. The former means “mighty Bhima, wielder of maces”, which sounds very grand, but the latter translates into the much less impressive “mighty Bhima, carrier of donkeys”. This has the effect of further diminishing the dignity of a character who doesn’t have a huge amount of it in the first place. Also, the Mahabharata war would look very ludicrous if Bhima spent all his time on the battle-field time brandishing donkeys by their hind legs. (Even worse is "gadha-daadi Bhima", which simply means "mighty Bhima who resembles the beard of a donkey".)

- They had tattoos in the Dwapara Yuga! The pretty-boy actor playing Yudhisthira has an elaborate one on his right shoulder and, not sure about this, but I think Draupadi has one on her neck. Closer inspection reveals these to be writing of some sort. Remember Amitabh in Deewaar brooding about the line “Mera baap chor hai” (“My father is a thief”) tattooed on his arm? Well, given the dubious origins of many of the characters in the Mahabharata, there are richer possibilities here. Suggestions for tattoos for other characters:

Yudhisthira’s son: “Mera baap juwari hai” (“My father is a gambler”)
Bhima’s son: “Mera baap gadha-dhari hai” (“My father wields donkeys”)
Bheeshma: “Meri maa nadi hai” (“My mother is a river” [and abandoned me when I was a child, resulting in my life-long problems with women])
Drona: “Meri maa katori hai” (“My mother is a bowl”)

Comparing tattoos would be therapeutic for the people concerned, a bit like attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meet and discovering that others are much more screwed up than you are. (Karna, of course, would probably need to get himself tattooed from head to toe, in font size 8.)

- The most impressive bit in the episode by far was when Draupadi calls out to Krishna for help and he heeds her call by sending forth a gigantic sudarshan chakra that resembles a flying saucer. The zoom-in from outer space towards the topography of India on the rotating globe suggests that when Gods wanted to come down to earth to answer individual prayers in the ancient days, they used Google Earth to find their way. This raises intriguing possibilities: what if Krishna got his coordinates wrong, ended up in the heart of the African continent and was captured by hungry tribesmen who didn’t give a tapir's ass about his claims that he was an Indian deity? (Given that it was so difficult to travel from one part of the globe to another in those days, surely even Gods must have had restraining orders.)

Anyway, there were no such concerns in this episode. The sudarshan chakra/UFO adeptly locates north India, floats down, takes a quick left turn from the main palace, reaches the scene of the action and hovers above the heads of the characters as they look up in astonishment. Then – again, remember, this isn’t a spoof – lengthy quantities of sari flow down from it to ensure that Draupadi remains well-clad even as Duhshasana tugs away at her garment. As if it isn't difficult enough to put on a sari the conventional way...no wonder the poor woman wanted the wholesale destruction of the human race.

Draupadi’s sari didn't unravel but the story of the great epic definitely will, over the next 5,000 or so episodes, in Ekta's loving hands. I’ll watch it whenever time allows and provide commentary now and again.


  1. Actually there might have been tattoos at that time, though probably not as elaborate.

  2. i'll wait for the dvd to come out, and gift you a full set :)

  3. 'Mighty Bhima carrier of Donkeys'.Great humour in this post , something that should be there in this version of Mahabharata as well. Missed last night's episode being struck in the Maddening Delhi Traffic caused by our timely monsoon. By the time reached home I was still in the clutch/accelerator mode and anyways it was 10.00 PM. Mywife told me about this interesting start to the story ,however taking a cue from your inputs it would have been mighty interesting for EKTA to start the Mahabharta by declaring that the concept of tatoos originated from the times of the epic. Mera Baap Andha thaa should have been printed on Duryodhana's bicep as the Pandavas should have 'Hamara Baap horny tha'. I don't know the sanskrit word for Horny so Mr. Pandu or EKTA can have the word replaced by something more linguistically correct.

    Also I have seen some promos on rediff and the present Bhim looks more like an ape , it would be a good idea for Balaji to bring back the 'Giant' Praveen Kumar back from his hibernation and indulge in some fist fights with the present one settling the dispute and accessibility towards the present Draupadi. Mr. Kumar looks more like a carrier of Donkeys as our great duryodhana insists on calling him. He is anyways not getting any villanious roles these days remember him in the horrid 'Shahenshah' where Amitabh was looking like a dwarf compared to our actor . The episode of his fight with the present Bhim should be titled 'Maanav vs Vaanar' in this case the real man vs the real ape.

  4. That was truly hilarious, Jai. Looking forward to more such brilliant posts on the upcoming episodes as well.

  5. "Meri maa nadi hai" <--- Hahaha :))

  6. Oh, I missed the first episode. I will watch the second one at least.

    Then – again, remember, this isn’t a spoof – lengthy quantities of sari flow down from it to ensure that Draupadi remains unclad even as Duhshasana tugs away at her garment.

    Did you mean Draupadi remains clad?

    Karna, of course, would probably need to get himself tattooed from head to toe, in font size 8.

    Ummm... I missed the point. Is it because he was illegitimate? His tattoo will say "Mera baap torch hai" as in the sun, right?

  7. Em, minor correction, I think : "...that Draupadi remains unclad even as Duhshasana tugs away at her garment." Shouldn't that have been "remains clad"?
    Anyway, hilarious post. You should try watching the Sagars' Prithivraj Chauhan sometime, just to compare the high frequency of camera-tricks (lightning flashing over characters' faces, sudden whiteouts, crashes of thunder, tiny jump cuts...) that seem to be creeping in everywhere.

  8. Anaamica, Sudarshan: thanks, have changed the "unclad" to "well-clad".

    Anaamica: the Karna head-to-toe bit followed from the idea that the tattoos would reflect the characters' angst about the bad things that have happened to them. In this respect Karna has a good lead - his litany of grievances would fill an entire page, so to speak. But "Mera baap torch hai" is good too!

  9. You are good. Let me know when's your next post on any other menace.

  10. By the way Jai , why did you mention that Bhima had no dignity at all. Although he is not a terribly interesting character , yet there is nothing undignified about him as well.

  11. Shwet: I know, I was being facile there and probably overdid it. In fact, Bhima is my own favourite among the Pandavas and I think he's one of the more interesting characters in the epic, partly because he's so transparent. Also, his relationship with Draupadi tends to get glossed over, but it's a complex and moving one.

    Of course, though the bit about "no dignity" doesn't apply to Bhima's character, it can be applied to some of the nicknames/epithets he accumulates (such as Vrikodara, or wolf-bellied, for his appetite).

  12. Kudos to you for watching episode 1 and promising to watch as and when you can, too. I still think Balaji should look into your predictions seriously and follow up some of them. Specially the Tushar Kapoor interlude.

  13. Jai, this is excellent! I don't suppose there's any chance of you writing about each individual episode as it's aired? It would make a wonderful collection.

  14. Jai, I completely second Aishwarya!! What makes this even better (for me) is that I have no Indian TV channels so I could just follow every episode on your blog!

  15. I strongly recommend this blog for an extraordinarily funny spoof of the great epic...
    Check out the archives

    Btw, how does this compare with the BR Chopra version based on the first episode viewing?
    I thought the BRC version was pretty good with largely convincing performances. Made a huge impression on my 7yr old mind.

  16. ROFL Stuff :)

    I saw the episode went thru many emotions at a time

    surprised(they can do it that bad)-horrified (obviously)-Scared(how bad can it be in future)- Amazed(were the casting directors sleeping)

    Loved the post :) specially th Gada Vs Gadha thing :)


  17. Dear Sir,

    I find your article totally inaccurate and insulting. There are no Tapirs in Africa.

    - Saad Akhtar

  18. I am looking forward to the youtube links of the episodes. I thought B R Chopra's version was bad enough, but it looks like Ekta Kapoor has taken the Mahabharat to new lows.. too bad I can't watch it on TV here.

    So yes, I will also look forward to your narration of the episodes :)

  19. I missed the first episode. Thanks for the insights. I'm sure it will provide an altogether new point of view on Mahabharat to the current generation.

  20. Isnt it funny that we all want to watch Mahabharat even if these version are awfully made with tattooed cast? My son watched the entire BR Chopra version all the while complaining about how ridiculous the costumes were and how badly made the battles were. Now every one is going to watch Ekta's version. What is it about Mahabharat that is so enduring?

  21. The "gadha-dhari" reminds me of a story in Maratha history. During one night raid on some Adilshahi post, one of Shivaji's men supposedly found himself facing many enemies in a stable. The powerful man he was, he lifted a horse on his shoulders (not by the horse's legs, btw) and ran at the enemy. The soldiers ran away instead of facing a ghost.

    Now, "mighty" Bheem can easily do that, can't he? ;)

    There are many opportunities for item numbers during the Draupadi marriage scene, the time when Duryodhana tries to shame Pandavas by means of a jalakrida (and meets Chitrangada), during the time Arjun is in Heaven, and so on and so forth...

  22. There are no Tapirs in Africa.

    Saad: oh, but there were during the Dwapara Yuga (or 2000 B.C.) - then the crocodiles ate them all.

  23. shrikanth: with the passage of time I've grown fond of the B R Chopra version, but I was quite snooty about it when I was watching it as a youngster (didn't like the way it simplified many things about the epic). Have to say though, I remain impressed by the casting and the performances in some of the key roles (Nitish Bharadwaj as Krishna, Feroz Khan as Arjuna, Rupa Ganguli as Draupadi). And it was much more impressive to look at than Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana, which was our only frame of reference back then.

    banno: Tushhar Kapoor can be given a double role - as a dancer in an item number, and as Bheeshma's horse. That should prove his versatility once and for all.

    I don't suppose there's any chance of you writing about each individual episode as it's aired?

    Aish: you're right - no.

  24. aankh par focus karo arjun, tatoo par nahin (or godna as its called , and it can be real old, do some research when you are bored (if at all you ever) )

    bahut badhiya. I should read more of your stuff. Wishes and good luck.


  25. would be all time grt comedy on idian TV

  26. Hope that this mahabharat will not have ekta's touch rather original mahabharata

  27. ROFL..gadha dhari bhim"...also I guess they must have borrowed a dvd of 300 as all of them were sporting 4 or 6 packs...except shakuni who looks like sidey from a govinda film..and why does ved vyas "the great saint" looks like a haggard drugie!!!
    awesome stuff!

  28. Gadha dhari bhim : Mighty Bhima carrier of Donkeys !! Line of the century.

    Hilarious post, reminded me of GreatBong.

    Thanks a lot.

  29. keep on posting on mahabharat.

  30. OMG! awesome post... i ws planning to watching the disaster unfold on TV, but apparently my TV set has taken offence to it and has gone mute.. it is lying at a repairman's shop for the last 2 days. Made my mother read the post... she agrees with you completely...having seen the mahabharata as a child myself when the whole family used to sit itself around the TV set on sundays, I am amused how funny this whole new mahabharata looks. the lead characters all come from Ekta soaps.. so non of them look like what they aim to be... (ganga looks like a bahu on revenge, young bhishm looks like a wannabe salman khan) I think some things are supposed to be left alone... like Ramayana and Mahabharata which will forever be the originl one from childhood. I plan to take a cue from the TV set and not watch the Ekta circus and keep my mum also happy :) but looks like will be reading updates of it on ur blog... tc

  31. >>They need to be careful about offending the saffron brigade by acknowledging the existence of another religion.
    i wonder if you'll have the balls to ask with sarcasm why movies like fiza, mammo, sardari begum have gregorian dates and not follow the hijra calendar to avoid offending 'minorities'?
    or would you pun on castration in 'minority' religions and its connection with 'hijra' calendar?
    and where do the "saffron brigade" deny the existence of other beliefs? im sure you're either ignorant of, or have developed temporary amnesia about the line that goes like "there is no god but allah and muhammed is his prophet", or the ones in the bible that condemn all those (heathens) who don't follow christ to eternal damnation without relief.

  32. sarasvati (isn't that the name of a relatively tranquil goddess? whew!): nope, I haven't developed temporary amnesia about those lines from the Quran and the Bible - as I've written several times before on this blog, I disrespect all religions equally (and with almost religious fervour). But thanks for the concern.

    Also, you might want to look at this post.

  33. @Sarasvati:

    There is no "castration" in minority religions. That practice, by it's own virtue would reduce a minority religion to an extinct religion in one single generation. :P

    I refuse to acknowledge the existence of pre christian crocodiles who ate Tapirs in and around 2000 BC. They were all castrated in 2500 BC.

  34. @Saad

    the crocs couldn't have been castrated before they ate the tapirs. We need to raise a voice on behalf of the oppressed community of tapirs. I demand quota for them in all govt jobs & colleges.

  35. Very interesting indeed. Looks like interesting times ahead.

  36. You are the funniest!

    I never liked the Mahabharatha and now thanks to your sarcastic take, I'm even contemplating watching *horror of horrors* Ekta's version of the mahabharatha!

  37. The poster of Mahabharat......the poses struck by Aryan Vaid and the other guy look suspiciously like a poster of Frank Miller's 300!!!!!

  38. Hilarious blog on first episode. Am eagerly awaiting what you make of the third one. It happens to contain one of the most shameless cut-copy-paste jobs in the history of Indian television. The second last sequence - that of the boy Devavrata killing a wolf on a snowy night - is the EXACT ripoff of the child Leonidas doing ditto in "300", both the graphic novel and the film. Except that the acting and the special effects here are much worse than in the psuedo-Spartan flick.
    As if Troy-inspired costumes were not enough...

  39. Awesome post Jai . Lookingforward to more of such stuff

  40. Anon: I really need to see the film version of 300. But yes, that scene was instantly familiar from the book. And it seemed so rushed and thrown in - I mean, I could have understood their showing it as part of an entire episode dedicated to little Devavrata's training. But when you're spending just two minutes with the kid, where's the sense in this animated-werewolf interlude?

  41. Sikhs like you continue taking potshots at Hindu Mythology. Some day you will be trimmed down(yeah, pun)to size.

  42. Ha, great read, was that.
    I have been wondering how thise series has started off (dont have access to it thanks to bloody so-called nri status).

    I know you are a serious Mahabharata enthusiast, so I can expect an impassioned view of how thse guys treat it. Truth be told, I had no expectations of this show being any good. But once I saw a promo online, read a bit about (being shot in HD?!), a tiny part of me propbably hoped it would a be at least a cool, stylish version.

    I dont think there is a chance of that happening.

  43. Don't want to nitpick but have to say:

    No tapirs in Africa! :-)

  44. No tapirs in Africa! :-)

    Anon: um, yes, we've already discussed that in the comments thread - scroll back up and see for yourself.

    shakester: I had hoped it would be a cool, stylish version too, but that doesn't look like happening. For the record, I have no problem with the Troy and 300-like costumes, weapons and so on, but the look of this show is very inconsistent - on the one hand, you have characters in Troy mode (with some sharp-looking costumes designed by Manish Malhotra), but then you also have these unbearably garish depictions of the divine characters like Ganesha and Brahma (more cardboardish than even the older mythological serials). In my view, the gritty Troy/300 look doesn't coexist particularly well with supernatural elements like elephant-headed Gods flying about on giant mice.

  45. on blogger but unable to log in. Aishwarya steered me in this direction, when we were having a most animated conversation about the sheer hilarity of the show. The tattoos! I still havent watched it, but I'm determined to. Fabulous post! I'm at work, and everyone's staring suspiciously at me while I laugh. :) - Civetcat

  46. Hi there

    I also tortured myself by watching all last week episodes. What to do, it is mahabharat, was very eager to know how Ekta kapoor has done it....
    Now i am consoling myself that may be this is the presentation that the youngsters (< age 20) like these days. Never the less they will at least know what Mahabharat is, though in some stupid fashion.

    Now some comments (laments really)
    1. Why Vyas looks like starved villain ?
    2. Why was Draupadi showing mid riff all the time, and complaining about Vastra haran !
    3. By the way what was she shrieking? could not understand much, must be 'great acting'
    4. Why is Ganga wearing western style clothes, modeled over Greek costumes?
    5. Whys is Ganga' jewelry blue ? Because she is river ???
    6. Why all the men wearing clothes which resemble greek or roman clothes?
    7. What is it with head band ? what happened to 'kirit' ?
    8. Why most of them are wearing black ?
    9. Location where Ganga stands is sometimes in Himalaya and sometimes next to a small pond ! what is that !
    10. Dyut and Vastraharan is shown in open air with people watching and cheering ! This is NEW!

    Enough for today.
    Please do keep writing blogs on newer episodes, and we all will console each other here !!!!

  47. Laughed my head off at this review! I don't think I need to watch any of it- your reviews will be enough:)
    Of course, my all time favourite vastra-haran scene is in Jaane bhi do Yaaron. (Shaant, gada-dhari Bheem, Shaant).

  48. Great post(mortem), Jai.

    Mercifully, those characters didn't mispronounce that Bheem prefix as "Guda-dhaari" (Wielder of A$$) Bheem.


  49. Can't get to see it in Pakistan ... so your brilliant reviews will have to suffice. Hilarious.

  50. Jai, looking forward for more hilarious comments about the upcoming episodes as well. It would be nice to watch the episodes just for fun & not for the usual drama. Continue the good work! :)

  51. amazing review!

    do continue.. :)

  52. people..there's a whole lot happening on TV...go watch NDTV imagine....my take - DD News is better than this stuff!

  53. Ekta Kapur has brought the westernized fashion “Six pack Ab” in her Mahabharat. All characters (Male) exhibiting their open body just like ‘DARD E DISCO. WHAT IS THIS? Does Ekta think that these types of Americanized culture in Mahabharat will attract the young generation? If so then I will say she is wrong. Today’s young generations are not so cheap. Ekta should be punished for producing and spoiling our culture. All characters of Mahabharat looks like the character of modern age. One always expects a sort of super mundane aura to emanate from the mythological characters presented before them on the screen.

  54. The figure, make-up, the hair style of the two securities standing in the front of Yashoda’s door to protect child Sre Krishna in Ekta’s Mahabharat are horrible. The General imagination of a muscular man of that period is that, he should look like a PHAELVAN with huge body and muscles. Here the securities are looks like a school/college boy of a English medium school/college and they have come from JIM. After looking their hair style everyone will think that they regularly go to beauty Saloon to adjust their hair. Ektaji please don’t spoil our one of the great epic.

  55. As a professional music composer of Bengal I would like to say that the background music and the background song of Ekta Kapur’s Mahabharat is not all up to the mark. There is no mythological touch in it. Actually no body knows what type of songs was at the time of Mahbharat. But in all previous mythological bollywood movie the famous music composer like Vasant Desai, C.Ramchandra, Chitragupta, Laxmikant-Payrelal, Kalyanji-Anandji , Rajkamal selected few Ragas like CHANDRAKAUNS, MALKAUNSE, DARBARI-KANARA, KALAVATI, BHAIRABI and by applying frequently in their composition( Of course the songs are modern, commercial songs) in mythological movies like SAMPURNA RAMAYANA,(1960PROBABLY) PAVANPUTRA HANUMAN, (1958 probably), MAHBHARAT(1965), HARISH CHANDRA TAARAMATI(1964 probably), HARIDARSHAN(1973), HAR HAR MAHADEV(1970 probably), B.R CHOPRA’S MAHABHARAT they establish a “ mythological touch” in a mythological movie. It can not be physically defined. It is a precedent. It should be realized by heart. Particularly the songs composed in raga CHANDRAKAUNSE AND MALKAUNSE are considered to be the most effective in mythological hindi commercial movie. The music of Ekta Kapur Mahabharat failed to fulfill these criteria. It is just shouting and full of noise. I have not seen the name of the music composer in the title. But who may be he should take lesson from our previous great music composers whose name are mentioned above by listening to their music. I also composed many tune in many devotional and mythological music video and tele-films. I always try to give mythological touch in my composition. At least it should be different from a song of a modern movie.

  56. Everybody should watch the mahabharat mahasngram showing at ndtv imagine. It is quite good serial . At least far better than Ekta Kapur’s Mahabharat. The costumes used are good, the actors are good though Sri Krishna looks like a lady. At least it respect the old imagination lying in the mind of the public years after year regarding the portrait of Arjun, Bhimsen , Karna etc.I have seen only the episode of Karna Vadh. Ekta Kapur shouls watch this serial and learn how to make an Indian mythological movie not AMERICANISED MAHABHARAT.

  57. Ektaji please don’t spoil our one of the great epic.

    Udayanji, please take several deep breaths followed by a Calmpose tablet, count to 100 and refrain from leaving the same comment over and over again on my Mahabharata posts.

  58. And Udayanji, if that crappy Mahasangram thing is your idea of a good serial (because it panders to the "public imagination" of what a mythological "should be"), well, this is where we have to part ways.

    By the way, since you're going on so much about authenticity, what are your views about Krishna/Rama being played by fair-skinned actors on these shows? And about the Bhakti tradition, which was never part of the "original" Mahabharata to begin with?

  59. any changes coming ?

  60. Udayanji, I agree 100% with you!

    When NDTV Ramayan came out, I thought IT was bad, but ever since Kekta's KHMK came out, I've learned to appreciate what Anand Sagar did with it though it too has its own inaccuracies. At least it's nice to look at with good actors who LOOK Indian and the clothing, jewelry, music, and settings are perfect.
    It's really a disgrace what stupid people like Kekta do to degrade one of the greatest puranas of Hinduism. She should just stick to her stupid soaps and take her hands off of our epics.
    If mythos HAVE to be remade, I'd say leave it to the Sagars, cause though the new shows have their own share of inaccuracies, at least the Bhakti rasa is still in there and you form even more respect for our Gods by watching those shows.
    But the only directors who've so far made their shows are first Ramanand Sagarji and then BR Chopra. Old Ramayan, Shri Krishna, and Mahabharat are timeless classics and no moder americanized serial can compare with them. Unless today's directors realize that it really pisses people off to see their shows degraded, they're shows will never become as famous.

  61. I like Mahabharat very much but i really like Arjun i.e.FEROZE KHAN most.When i was 6yrs old i know that i like.par woh mujhe usse pahle se hi achcha lagte.I think 1994 se because i was in this year.Iwill pray to god that I WANT TO MEET WITH ARJUN ONCE IN MY LIFE IF IT IS NOT POSSIBLE THEN I WILL MAKE IT POSSIBLE.KYON KI YEH BANDHAN TOH PYARR KA BANDHAN HAI JANAMO KA SANGAM.oh sorryyyy i forgot it my real name is POWER,ENERGY,SHAKTI. GUESS IT