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India’s biggest movie production ever, The Mahabharata, has just been announced with a budget of over Rs 1,000 crore. Yes, it will be a spectacle of the kind Indian moviegoers have not been exposed to very often. But there is one question we must ponder on before this movie hits the screens: Is India ready for The Mahabharata, this Mahabharata?
Why this question, you might ask. Well, to start with, this version of Mahabharata is sure to be different from what most of India is used to. The movie is based on M T Vasudevan Nair’s Randamoozham, a retelling of the Mahabharata from the perspective of Bheema.
How will that be so different from B R Chopra’s version? To answer that question, you must know a bit more about MT, as Vasudevan Nair is popularly known in Kerala.
In Kerala folklore, Chandu was ‘Chathiyan (cheater) Chandu’, having literally backstabbed his cousin Aromal. But that was before 1989. That was before Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha. MT rewrote how Kerala saw this character with his script based on what was till then a largely oral legend.
MT had done the same five years before with at least the millions of Malayalees who read Randamoozham, widely believed to be his masterpiece. Randamoozham, or second turn, looks at the epic through the eyes of Bheema, who always had to wait behind his elder brother Yudhishtir for his turn. Not a good feeling when you might actually be the more deserving of the two, the more accomplished, the more worthy. The mighty Bheem might not have always been a happy, contented Bheem.
This is why the first name in the cast is that of Mohanlal who will play the mace-wielding mythological character. No, the hero here is not Arjuna or Krishna, the more glamorous, the more conventional choices.
It’s been over three decades since Randamoozham was written and Malayalees have accepted this alternative version of the epic. But is the rest of India willing to see a mythological epic, which is so entrenched in our culture, through a very different prism? This is a question that we need to seriously ponder over, especially in the times that we are in.