Saturday, July 26, 2008

More low comedy from the Dwapara

Am still following Kahaani Ekta ki Mahaabhaarat Ki (earlier posts here, here and here) on and off. Its amusement value has, alas, diminished. Ronit Roy’s performance as Bheeshma briefly threatened to salvage the show, but all those camera swooshes and whooshes will eventually make even the most personable actor look like an idiot. And the less said about the rest of the cast, the better. People keep telling me that Makarand Deshpande (Vyasa) is a really good actor but so far in this role he has spoken his lines in a manner which suggests that the scriptwriter just ran over his favourite pet. Very sullen and detached, definitely not the level of interest that you’d expect from a poet who has composed the greatest story ever and is getting it transcribed by a celestial being.

As discussed earlier, there are way too many of the Vyasa-Ganesha sutradhaar scenes anyway, and most of them are exceedingly dull. One unfortunate development is that the actor playing Ganesha has suddenly decided to start acting with his eyes (which are basically the only identifiable features on his face) and the editing being what it is on a Balaji production, this often produces inappropriate results: for instance, when Vyasa announces “Maine Ambika aur Ambalika ke saath niyog kiya” (“I stepped in as a surrogate to impregnate Ambika and Ambalika”), we get a reaction shot of Ganesha with his eyes widening and his eyebrows twitching excitedly. Not very restrained and Godlike. You almost expect him to say “Give me the details, quick!”

There isn't much to tell anyway. After an overwrought, faux-suspenseful build-up (where the presumably clueless viewer learns that the princesses are to do niyog not with the dashing Bheeshma but with a scruffy sage), Vyasa impregnates Ambika and Ambalika by shooting light beams into their navels from afar, whereupon they squeal and clutch their tummies, and princely babies emerge a few months later. All very pristine. But there are other, more deliberate digressions into low comedy.

Vichitraveerya (after big brother Bheeshma abducts three princesses for him to marry): Bhaiya, teen rajkumari! In mein se ek ke saath aap shaadi kar lo. (Three princesses! Why don’t you marry one of them?)

Bheeshma – determinedly celibate as ever – responds by taking out a suggestively shaped dagger with a downward-curving blade and waving it at the young king. I’m not sure what the message is here, but Vichitraveerya seems to get it.

Vichitraveerya: hee hee! Arre bhaiya, aap jaante hain ki main to sirf mazaak kar raha tha! (Brother, I was only joking! I’ll bed them all. Really.)

So Bheeshma smiles and puts away the dagger. Shortly after this, Vichitraveerya dies of indigestion, which implies that purposeless banter has no place in the Dwapara Yuga.

In another scene, the wife of the bald Shakuni says something like “Yeh toh maine socha hi nahin tha!” (“I didn’t think of that”), upon which her husband points at his head and says “Sochne ke liye iss ka hona zaroori hai.” (“To be able to think, you need to have this.”) And the lady replies, “Accha, iss ka matlab hai ki mujhe bhi mundan karaana hoga?” (“So that means I’ll have to shave my head as well?”)

I’m willing to be open-minded about these scenes (after all, why shouldn’t these kings and princes have been just as buffoonish as the people on modern-day Ekta soaps?), but what I dislike is that all this is accompanied by those goddawful squeaky sound effects from the Kader Khan-Shakti Kapoor comedy sequences in 1980s films. It sounds like a family of mice running up and down a guitar chord, and it’s terribly grating. What I would really like to see is tomfoolery played out to stirring and heroic music. A few tips from Monty Python movies would be just the thing.


  1. That touch of comedy is interesting! (I mean the "mundan karna" one, not all the unintentional ones :)) I would say injecting some funny dialogues is one of Ekta's better ideas in this whole thing.

  2. Great entry on your blog ..
    I agree with your observations about Ved Vyas (Makarand) - he's really NOT good for the role and his diction is a bit weird if you ask me..

    I have really liked Ronit Roy's portrayal of Bheeshma in the show.. he's GOOD !

  3. Lekhni: the mundan thing might sound funny when it's simply written out like this, but I assure you it was dreadfully executed. Especially with that moronic background score. There could be many great Monty Python/Marx Brothers skits built around the Mahabharata, but the comedy in this serial is decidedly unfunny.

    Anon: ya, I thought Ronit has been quite good in places, but the script and the camerawork will defeat him in the end. No actor should have to carry such a heavy burden.

  4. The biggest turnoff in this soap is the background score....
    Terribly loud and distracting.
    Sharp contrast to Rajkamal's superior and more economical score in the Chopra version

    But I guess the poor score results from the flaws in the screenplay. Scenes are so long drawn out that the score is deliberately made loud to engage the viewer and keep him from switching channels.

    Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan had a similar problem. However, Sagar's Ramayan was unabashedly propagandist and religious unlike this serial. Thus, the reverent narration and the devotional music somehow worked (atleast for those who viewed the soap as a religious chore).

    KMBK's irreverent tone demands shorter scenes and a tauter screenplay.

  5. They are showing the niyog episode wile I write this comment.

    And seriously I agree with every word that u have written....they have made a mockery out of the epic....the sound effects are horrible, infact I thought I had heard one of them in her so-called moder serials too....

  6. You amaze me. How can you write so wonderfully about thing that tortures our soul?

    BTW, not seen the episodes, but been following your blog about it which I am sure is 100 times more entertaining than the Ekta's masterpiece.

  7. Ah, love this blog. I learn so much! Just read the other posts which you linked. Found particularly interesting the discussion on the humanity of Hindu gods (40-day sexathons aside). Time to start a-learnin'!

    New goal: understand Benegal's Kalyug as something more than the Shashi Studliness Show.

  8. I'm curious, does this show also have her trademarked tri-slaps?

  9. S: yes, I doubt the Balaji team would waste any money on hiring different sets of sound effects editors for different shows. They need every paisa they can spare for the costumes and jewellery.

    P-PCC: coincidentally I'm writing a post about the Shashi-Jennifer film Bombay Talkie, which I saw just the other day. Look out for it. Kalyug, as you probably know, is a modern-day take on the Mahabharata - not always successful in my view (there are simply too many characters and subplots for a 2-hour film to tackle), but interesting for the cynical "everyone is a bad guy given the right set of circumstances" take it provides on the epic, and for its setting the story in the cold, heartless machine age.

    renovatio: not yet, but I hope to see many of those resounding beauties once the Pandavas and Kauravas grow up. I only hope the entire war doesn't take the form of characters slapping each other repeatedly on the battlefield.

  10. well these are ekta kapoor series, they never end. World is eternal in her serials.

  11. Somebody may have pointed you earlier here, but for brilliant Vyasa-Ganapati banter, read this series of posts (not mine). As continuation of your comments on Ganapati's widening eyes, here's a snippet from there:

    Ganapati: Okaaaay. Then tell me about this Vyasa character, does he get to sleep around?

    That said, why did they have to make Shakuni such a mad character? He seems to be a wannabe Joker (Joker is going to be the measure of all things Evil for at least some time now), but comes out as a psychotic character, and not a brilliant yet flawed politician that he is in Mahabharat.

  12. Damn you, Jabberwock!! you have done it again... piqued my interest enough. I think I am ready to torture myself and watch one of the episodes.

  13. Mahabharata has a fascinatinmg array of characetrs and one of them indeed is Shakuni.
    I once watched a bengali play named " Shakinir pasha" which tries to explore the character and look at the events from his perspective. A unique attempt even for Mahabharata character and I was fascinated by the portryal of an ordinary man torn between his loyalty towards and fear of his nephew and his own conscience. The ancient epics, though many take them for face-value,have some excellent characterisations I think. people are not necessarily catagorised as goodies and baddies- a Duryodhana is generous and noble prince and Ravana is a wise man whose blessings are sought even by Ram before the former dies. Sad that modern versions distort these aspects of the epics inspite of the moronic trend of condidering these epics to be literal accounts . They are hailed to be real and yet the 'realism' in them are ignored.
    Expecting a fresh way pof presenting the epics is probably too much to ask from Ekta Kapoor but wish someone would dare to make a soap on these lines or atleast movies on diffrenet aspects of the epic (since the whole story would be impossible to narrate in a single movie)

  14. Did you see Karna Warrior of the Sun? It made me cry for I had wasted a bomb for nothing.

  15. Diviya: no - had thought about going but didn't have the time. Besides, Karna is in some ways one of the least interesting Mahabharata characters for me now. Way too much has already been written about him.

    Sid: yes, I think a truly nuanced version of the epic (and one that wasn't caught up in pandering to mass-audience comfort zones) would be able to do very interesting things with Duryodhana, Shakuni and Dhritarashtra. And even other, relatively lower-profile characters like Drona for that matter.