Horses, elephants and chariots meet the eye as you enter the mammoth sets of Mahabharat built on the sprawling 10 acre land in Umargaon, a town in Gujarat’s Valsad district. Actors dressed in elaborate costumes and ornate jewellery hark back to an era when the epic battle of Mahabharat was fought. We bring a glimpse of the detailed sets designed by Omung Kumar and the actors in all their regal finery reliving the epic moment in time.
An opulent stage
Made on a huge budget of almost Rs.100 crore, producer and creator of the show, Siddharth Kumar Tewary has left no stone unturned when it came to creating the gigantic sets of Mahabharat and replicating that era, especially the Hastinapur palace. After a thorough research on the era, which went on for four years, the cast began shooting for the serial, a year ago on the massive sets. “We spent close to two years in preparing the designs, after which it took us almost eight months to construct the sets. It was just barren land, so we constructed the floors on which the different sets were made,” says Tewary.
Among a number of important sequences, Draupadi’s cheer-haran, Krishna’s visit to Hastinapur with the peace proposal before the war and many others were shot here. “We had in total around 60 sets to make, so we keep recreating different sets. But, the sets made in Umargaon are the primary ones where the usage is higher. That’s the base location,” he adds. The Hastinapur darbar, which is created in Umargaon forms a major shooting location. “Whether it’s the coronation ceremony, or the drama sequences in the courtroom, they’ve all been picturised there. In fact, around 35 per cent of the scenes in Mahabharat were in the Hastinapur darbar,” he revealed.
From mouthing long dialogues in shuddh Hindi to getting the correct feel to playing with weapons and dressing right… it hasn’t been easy for the actors, most of whom actually began preparing for their roles two years ago. Here’s taking a look at how these actors worked on their look to fit into the skin of their character.
Saurabh Raj Jain, who plays Lord Krishna in the show, says he had to think of that one element which Krishna possessed in order to understand how he would play this part. “Each person has different elements to his personality and for a long time, I wondered what could be Krishna’s element. Apart from the fact that he’s charismatic , for me, I could associate Krishna with water. He exudes a flowing smoothness in the manner in which he carried himself, so I thought that while I essay Krishna, my hand movements and the way I talk should be in a smooth flow depicting a calm demeanour. I also read a lot of books. Before the shooting, we attended numerous workshops conducted by the film and theatre personality Rajit Kapoor,” says the actor. Saurabh took up his role with a fresh approach as he says he hadn’t seen B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat on TV. Prior to this, the actor had essayed the role of Krishna for a long time in a show titled Jai Shree Krishna.
Apart from training in horse riding and holding weapons, most of the actors had to make drastic physical changes to get into their characters. Shaheer Sheikh, who plays Arjun, had to bulk up and today he weighs 92 kilos from his earlier 78 kilos. In fact, Arpit Ranka lost his six-pack abs to play Duryodhan. “As a model, I was lean and had six-pack abs, but Duryodhan was a king. And I had to look believable to play the character of this strong guy so I had to gain some weight,” says Ranka.
Maintaining a fit, warrior-like strong physique over a period of time proved a challenge to most of the actors. Aarav Choudhary, who essays the character of Bhishma Pitamah, says, “Bhishma is the ultimate warrior, so getting the physique right was important. It’s an open challenge to anybody to do a daily soap and maintain the kind of physique that we have for two years. We shoot for 12-13 hours a day, but yet take time out for our daily work outs. To achieve a good physique is easy, but maintaining it is difficult.” The actors also had to go through rigorous training since the action sequences form a major part of Mahabharat. “We had to prepare for horse-riding and sword-fighting, among other things. We needed to have a body language of a warrior, and handle weapons with ease. So, we trained for all of it,” adds Sheikh. According to Nirbhay Wadhwa who plays Dushasan, it’s the need of the hour, to have a good muscular body to be able to fit into the quintessential strong hero mode.
Wearing heavy jewellery, costumes, mukuts (crowns) and braving the blazing sun with heavy make-up is definitely not an easy task. Pooja Sharma who plays Draupadi, says, the entire Mahabharat experience has been physically draining, on account of the time it takes to get ready. “I take the longest to get ready, wearing the heaviest jewellery and make-up,” she says. To this, Ranka adds, “My mukut weighs six kilos, the shawl is seven kilos, besides the other paraphernalia. But there’s so much enthusiasm amongst us to do our best, because we want people to remember us for Mahabharat.”
For some of the actors, the experience has been emotionally boosting. “While physically, it’s been draining, it has also been an emotionally enriching experience. I experienced emotions that I couldn’t have ever imagined in real life. Can anyone imagine being married to five men? I can,” smiles Sharma. However, for some actors, it has been emotionally draining. Sheikh says, “It’s very difficult for me to come out of my character Arjun, even after the director announces ‘cut’. So, it’s emotionally draining at times.” As Bhishma Pitamah, Choudhary’s character has had a long journey on the show. “Our Mahabharat started when I was 25 and now my character is over 200 years old, so it had to look authentic. It’s also difficult to say your lines with the same amount of vigour and range of emotions each day,” he explains.
The fear of being stereotyped while working in an epic saga is always high. “This would happen earlier, say 20 years ago. There were just one or two channels and very few shows, so people would stereotype you in that particular look. Now, we have so many channels and so many shows. I don’t think we’ll be stereotyped now,” says Jain. The fear, however, of being trapped in an image is more in case of a negative character like Duryodhan. Ask Ranka about this and he says, “Earlier I wasn’t too sure, because I didn’t want to get stereotyped. Now, I feel that if I wouldn’t have done this role, it would have been a huge loss for me. I’ve got some great feedback from the audience.”