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Star Plus' Mahabharat - An Updated Review
|by Puja Vaid|
I have previously written a review on the new Mahabharat when it was first starting out. I've been watching star Plus ' Mahabharat on and off since the beginning and lately I've been turning it off whenever it is on since I'm bored of it (never thought I'd be bored of anything related to Mahabharat but I guess there is a first time for everything!).
However, I have been thinking about the message that this new version is trying to give to its viewers. According to me, Mahabharat is a very human story about ambition, jealousy and desires, all of which lead to a family being torn apart. And every single character is human, with human desires and human weaknesses.
We have Duryodhan, who is arrogant and ambitious but also a great warrior, learned and generous. We have Yudhisthir, who is righteous and kind but has a great weakness of gambling and isn’t all that bright! We have Dhitrashtra, born blind but ambitious and his greatest weakness turns out to be his love for his son. Bhisma, who took a great vow to protect the kingdom at all costs but then sat back and watched his family destroy itself. Every single character is complex, with complex personalities and most important of all – human strengths and human weaknesses.
So here is my problem with this show and this is the reason why I’m bored of it: All the characters are one dimensional, we have our bad guys Duryodhan, Shakuni, Dhitrashtra etc. And these guys all bad, not one ounce of good in them and as Duryodhan said, he can’t be on the same side as dharma!
Then we have our good guys, Arjun and Krishna… and that’s it. Everyone else is just supporting cast. There is no depth to the story, no real emotion. Multiple layers are added in order to explain the story (such as why Yudhisthir bet his brothers and wife in the game of dice) which only adds to the confusion.
And everything is about dharm and adharm, these two words get used at least 50 times in each episode, trust me, I’ve counted! I wonder if the writers even know what these words mean!
My biggest pet peeve, however, is the way some of the major female characters have been treated in the show. I've already spoken about Satyavati and Amba in an earlier post. Kunti's character is one dimensional and the most boring of them all but this could have been forgiven, had it not been for the way the other major female characters have been presented.
Let's start with Gandhari. Here is a proud princess who took up arms to defend her kingdom when she thought it was being attacked by Hastinapur (as it turned out, it was only Bhisma, coming to ask for Gandhari's hand in marriage for Dhitrashtra). And yet, she was treated with such disdain by her husband, especially when she was pregnant. Gandhari was bullied by Dhitrashtra when her pregnancy still hadn't resulted in a baby, even though she'd been pregnant for a year. Rather than being concerned for his wife, he chose to 'punish' her by sleeping with her maid. The most annoying thing in all this is Gandhari's docile nature as she is bullied over and over again by her husband. Why doesn't she stand up for herself?! Why doesn't Shakuni stand up for his beloved sister instead of being a mute spectator!
Even after she gives birth to a mound of flesh, there is no sympathy from anyone, her mother in law treat her with the same disdain that her husband has shown her. The most worrying thing about the way Gandhari and Dhitrashtra's relationship has been portrayed is the message that is being sent out to the viewers - that it's ok to treat the women like dirt because our ancestors were doing just that thousands of years ago (which they weren’t by the way, this is just what is being shown in the show). Which brings me to my next point - none of it is true, it's the writers of Star Plus trying to change the epic and show something new. We have no idea what Dhitrashtra must have felt like when he learned that Gandhari had blindfolded herself, maybe he was grateful that his wife was so devoted to him or maybe he was sad that his wife was so unhappy with marrying him that she decided to withhold her own sight and not give him an opportunity to see the world through her eyes. Maybe Gandhari was the one who was annoyed at being forced to marry Dhitrashtra, after all, Hastinapur was a powerful kingdom and saying no to them would have been unthinkable. We will never know. So if we don't know what truly happened, why haven't the writers put a positive spin on the story by showing Gandhari as a strong character, who was well aware of the political ramifications of turning down a proposal from Hastinapur but was still brave enough to get her own back by blindfolding herself and thereby turning away from all the injustices that were to take place in the future (just like her husband) which eventually led to the Kauravs being annihilated.
Draupadi's treatment by the writers of star Plus is even more bizarre. The episode where she is born, shows her father treating her appallingly. Again, the writers chose to show a father welcoming a son and rejecting a daughter, when he could have been shown to be grateful for having a twofold advantage of getting revenge on Dronacharya. - his son on the battlefield, and his daughter outside of the battlefield. The treatment of Draupadi was so appalling that I stopped watching it and missed quite a few episodes until her swayamvar. This turned out to be a fiasco as well. Lord Krishna, in response to Draupadi's earnest question about the morality of marrying 5 husbands, says that he does believe that she is committing an immoral act! How can Draupadi's decision be seen as immoral when all the Pandavas have more than one wife, Lord Krishna had more than wife, and Draupadi's own mother in law had children by 4 different men (Gods?) besides her husband Pandu. Apart from that, there are other instances of polyandry in Hindu scriptures (Jatila & Marishta). Polyandry was practiced by some Northern Indian tribes and still is in some parts of India.
Again and again, the writers choose to portray women in a negative manner, reinforcing traditional stereotypes of women, sending out a totally wrong message to the viewers.
This isn't just about remaking an epic, if the writers wanted to do something different, they could have easily remade the epic from a different perspective – why not show the epic from Bhisma’s or Draupadi’s viewpoint.
What we have is just a soap opera, there is nothing different, nothing new and I wonder what other viewers who are watching this are gaining from this epic. I certainly haven’t learnt anything new…
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