The year was 1988. A television set had been placed at one end of the overcrowded wedding hall. A large group had gathered around it. The bride and the groom on the dais weren’t too important. B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharat which was being aired was! Visual versions of the epic — be it for the big screen or the small — have been many but each of them have been lapped up by viewers with unswerving enthusiasm. Such is its pull and potency.
Now here again is a new team with Sunil Mehta as producer, Ramesh Krishnan as executive producer and Suresh Krissna as script writer and director that is making a grand entry into your drawing rooms this morning with Mahabharatham. “Prapanchan is getting the story together and Vettai Perumal is doing a great job with the dialogue,” informs Krissna. Composer Deva, a constant in Krissna’s camp, is in charge of the score. “The title song penned by Pa. Vijay is riveting,” he says.
“The only names I knew in the Mahabharata were Krishna, Kauravas and Pandavas. But today I’m humbled by the experience of directing Mahabharatham. I regret not having read it earlier,” begins Krissna. A director who has mostly stuck to social themes in the 50 films he’s directed, taking a detour to mythology is intriguing. “It’s a different journey, no doubt,” agrees Krissna. “But I see it as an opportunity of a lifetime! When Sunil first approached me I asked for time. I had to know what I was getting into. I began reading the volumes. Sunil assured me that I could work without stipulations of any sort. ‘We’ll have the entire epic, with all its plots and sub-plots dealt with in detail and woven into a cohesive whole,’ he said. Then it would get too lengthy and go on for even a year or two, I told him. ‘That’s the idea,’ was his reply.”
Krissna decided that his Mahabharatham will be more a feature film on the small screen, with the same kind of technical expertise, graphics wizardry, sound effects, slick editing, amazing artwork and cinematography.
The terrain is new, the project, mammoth, and extensive study, imperative. Surely, Krissna must have begun with apprehension. “Strangely, no,” he guffaws. “My only concern was whether the producer will be able to shoulder the onus. But when he said, ‘This is my dream, my passion Suresh,’ I went ahead confidently.”
And now they are set for the launch with enough episodes to ensure smooth running for the next two months. “Eight hours of Sunday slots translate into running time of nearly four films. That’s the kind of work we’ve put in, in the past four months.” Huge sets have been erected near Bangalore and shooting has also taken place in verdant locations around Mysore, and in Chennai.
But hasn’t Chopra done it all already? “He had to restrict his Mahabharat to 52 episodes, and hence resorted to voice-overs to include salient aspects and maintain continuity. But we plan to do it in-depth,” explains Krissna. “Also, this is the first time the epic is being made in Tamil in a serial format.”
Has he watched Chopra’s presentation? “No, didn’t want to, in case I get influenced. We begin with Janamejayan and get into flashback mode.”
Vyasar’s story, which is the mainstay of the serial, is more a reportage of incidents. “But treating it visually is a challenge. Drama and emotions are vital,” he says.
Several experienced actors and fresh talents come together in this mega venture, in which Lord Krishna is the pivot. Chopra’s Krishna, Nitish Bharadwaj, topped the popularity charts when Mahabharat was telecast on Doordarshan. Will the Tamil avatar be as striking? “Amit Bhargav is our answer to Chopra’s Bharadwaj,” smiles Krissna. “He’s fluent in Tamil and that’s another great advantage.”
Obviously Krissna is in awe of the project. “The best part is Mahabharatham will be teeming with actors. Roles are short and rounded off well, and when a set of characters exits once and for all, a different set enters to enact another story. Just imagine the elaborate casting that has to be done,” he goes on.
What about his film projects? “Talks are on and I’ll be signing on the dotted line soon.” Of course, Mahabharatham will also continue to be on his agenda.
Does the volume of work leave him drained? “On the other hand, it gives me a high. Now I believe even more in the power of the Supreme. He’s my guiding force. ‘It’s not Suresh Krissna who should be credited in the titles, as director. Lord Krishna is more like it,’ I tell my producer,” he laughs.
(Beginning today, Cinevistas’ Mahabharatham will be telecast on Sun TV, Sundays, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.)