With its grey characters and labyrinthine socio-political layers Mahabharat is not essentially meant for kids for even the god is not above doubt here. It is ideal to keep the argumentative Indian occupied but in an industry that loves to see things in black and white, Ramayan has always been a more convenient palette to daub into. So over the years while we have had umpteen versions of Ramayan, apart from Babubhai Mistry, nobody tried to paint Mahabharat on big screen. Of course, for years it has been the source for our screen writers to generate stories about greed, fidelity and obligation. For generations it has given licence to filmmakers to treat heroines as an object that can be gambled and men as brawny creatures, who can go to any extent to satisfy their egos and vows but nobody tried to capture the essence of the epic.
Director Amaan Khan has come up with an animated and abridged version of the epic. He has got the colour of conviction but it comes across as a rather sanitised, simplistic version of the complex narrative. He has managed to get the ambience right. So the palaces look royal and mysterious but the characters, who inhabit them are rather sketchy. What hurts the most is the lack of imagination and research. The costumes and contours remind the sketches of Amar Chitra Katha and the fight sequences are inspired by B.R. Chopra’s tele-series on the epic. So when the arrows strike in the air and generate lightening of different kinds, it gives a feeling of déjà vu. The animated characters walk awkwardly and gingerly. Amaan has come up with an interesting idea of not only involving the leading stars of the industry to dub for the principal characters but also make the main characters look like the actors. So Arjun resembles Ajay Devgn, Karna reminds of Anil Kapoor and Draupadi looks like Vidya Balan on a bad day.
But the way the sketching has been done the animated characters do no good to the vanity of these stars. Every time Draupadi opens her mouth her molars show up. Biological accuracy should not come in the way of aesthetics, particularly when she is described as a beauty who can sweep anybody off his feet. Shatrughan Sinha with his pronounced baritone is not the ideal choice for Krishna and the technical team doesn’t help his cause as it has moulded the avatar of Vishnu as a baby-faced wonder. The actors try hard to fill the computerised cardboards with some personality with their voice. Jackie Shroff is outstanding as Duryodhan, Anil Kapoor manages to create sympathy for Karna and Anupam Kher is suitably wily as Shakuni. He has brought more than a hint of yesteryear villain Jeevan in his performance. Amitabh Bachchan and Sunny Deol are not bad as Bhishma and Bhima respectively but the lack of insight ensures that we don’t feel for these characters.
The artwork in expressing softer emotions is all the more dismal. So love and compassion don’t translate into any emotional rush. And when the scene shifts to Kurukshetra, you don’t have to battle with the adrenaline rush. For a generation that regularly feeds on eye-popping animation from Hollywood, the war scenes come across as yesterday’s meal.
Mahabharat deserves a liberal reading but apart from Karna’s episode Amaan has remained true to the traditional rendering of the epic and there is hardly any effort to delve into the moral dilemmas of the characters.
It is time that the context of lines like “Arjun ne Draupadi ko swyamvar mein jeeta hai” (Arjun has won Draupadi in a swyamvar) is explained.
Arnab Chaudhuri’s Arjun: The Warrior Prince, which dealt with some of the episodes was a more humanised take on the epic.
Voice cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, Vidya Balan, Manoj Bajpayee, Sunny Deol, Anupam Kher
Storyline: Kauravas and Pandvas fight it out for what they think is rightfully theirs
Bottom line: Daubed in colour, this one manages to make the most riveting story ever written boring