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Mythboosters

1912. Dhundiraj Govind Phalke quit his printing business after differences with his partners. Moved by a silent film,The Life of Christ,he became obsessed with making a movie.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Published: June 22, 2010 5:24:42 am

Indian mythology has always inspired art. But the signs have never been more pronounced

1912. Dhundiraj Govind Phalke quit his printing business after differences with his partners. Moved by a silent film,The Life of Christ,he became obsessed with making a movie. Dadasaheb Phalke,as he was known saw the potential in the story of Raja Harishchandra for India’s first feature film. Phalke went on to make several films,drawing on India’s vast mythology,such as Shri Krishna Janma and Kaliya Mardan.

More than a century later,the appeal of Indian mythology seems to be as strong. The recent Hindi release,Prakash Jha’s Raajneeti,has borrowed episodes from the Mahabharata while Mani Ratnam’s Raavan attempts a contemporary retelling of the Ramayana. These factors only go on to enforce the power of mythologies.

“What makes a story an epic is the fact that they have survived for so long and are relevant over changing times that stretch over centuries,” says Ratnam.

Though nothing reflects the Indian psyche better than movies,a look at the new releases at bookstores,the list of upcoming graphic novels/comic books,advertisements and TV shows and animation reveal the impact of mythology on the artist as well as writer communities. After the success of Kari,writer-cum-graphic novelist Amruta Patil is focussing on Parva — which is a retelling of the Mahabharat. But,she is not trying to contemporise the tale. “There is no need for that. The contemporary world lacks the magic and colour to do justice to the original settings,I am only sifting and retelling,” says Patil.

Much before the box-office verdict on Raajneeti and Raavan,Indian readers had given a thumbs-up to The Immortals of Meluha. Its author Amish,an IIM graduate,created a delightful mix of mythology and history by making Lord Shiva the hero of his trilogy. The first part has been on the Indian bestseller charts for some time. “Indian mythology is a rich treasure of stories. When retold,they have a universal appeal since most us are familiar with them,” he says.

Novelist Vamsee Juluri says his book,The Mythologist,began as an attempt to write a mythology-inspired allegory about the media after the 9/11 attacks. “The novel grew into something bigger,especially when I turned to the virtually inexhaustible sources of Indian mythology,and to the rich tradition of South Indian mythological cinema,” he says.

As ancient Indian lores continue to be a draw for writers,artists and filmmakers,Juluri provides an explanation. “The ‘myths’ are not only great stories,but are stories with a cultural resonance that go beyond the confines of each time and place that they reappear in,” says the professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco. Namita Gokhale,co-author of In Search of Sita,adds,“The reason why mythology in India is never static is that it adapts and modulates to the contours of the times.”

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