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Thursday 2 April 2020

Ramayan, Mahabharat Repeat Telecast: Thrilled But Worried

Prasar Bharti CEO tweeting that the regulator is in talks with the rights holders of the 1980s' epic TV shows Ramayan and Mahabharat flashed some nostalgic as well as disconcerting memories of the past three decades before the author

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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasgupta
The founder of सिर्फ़ News has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life and columnist in various newspapers and magazines, writing in English as well as Hindi. He was the national affairs editor of Swarajya, 2014-16. He worked with Hindusthan Samachar in 2017. He was the first chief editor of Sirf News and is now back at the helm after a stint as the desk head of MyNation of the Asianet group. He is a mathematician by training with interests in academic pursuits of science, linguistics and history. He advocates individual liberty and a free market in a manner that is politically feasible. His hobbies include Hindi film music and classical poetry in Bengali, English, French, Hindi and Urdu.

Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar confirmed on Wednesday (25 March) that the public broadcasting regulator is in talks with the rights holders of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan and BR Chopra’s Mahabharat to telecast the acclaimed TV series’ on DD National. Prasar Bharti is in talks to work out a deal with the rights holders of the epic television serials Ramayan and Mahabharat — reported by Siddharth Rahuvanshi — to re-telecast these shows once again during the 21-day nationwide lockdown by popular demand.

Ramayan, Mahabharat

“Yes, we are working on the same with the rights holders. Will update shortly. Stay tuned,” the Prasar Bharati CEO wrote on his official Twitter handle @shashidigital on Wednesday. When asked for further details, Shashi Shekhar tweeted: “Hopeful of sharing schedule by end of day today. Technical and Logistics issues being worked out.”

With India coming to a standstill owing to the national lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many on social media have written how these shows were hugely popular at one time. People also noted how life on Sunday mornings would come to a standstill when these serials were telecast on Doordarshan National.

Ramayan, Mahabharat vs Ramayana, Mahabharata

Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan starred Arun Govil as Ram and Deepika Chikhalia as Sita, with Arvind Trivedi playing Ravan and Dara Singh essaying the role of Hanuman. The series originally ran from 25 January 1987 to 31 July 1988.

BR Chopra’s Mahabharat featured Nitish Bhardwaj as Krishna and Roopa Ganguly as Draupadi, with Gajendra Chauhan, Praveen Kumar, Arjun (Firoz Khan), Sameer Chitre and Sanjeev Chitre as the Pandavas, and Punit Issar playing Duryodhana. The show ran originally from 2 October 1988 to 24 June 1990.

Both the adaptations generated record audiences and have gone down as one of the most successful screenings in Indian television history. Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan was viewed by at least 650 million people in 55 countries and BR Chopra’s Mahabharat received a similar reception.

Unlike Sagar, Chopra did not digitally re-master his production. If the original version, which was fit for 51″ television screens, is played again on today’s large HD and Ultra HD screens, the videos could be grainy.

People are saying these epic shows would help reduce stress at a time when normal life had become paralysed owing to the lockdown. Some suggest back-to-back telecast of the serials, to enable a binge-watching sort of mood.

The epics

The Ramayana is believed to have been written as a prophecy by Valmiki in the Treta Yuga. “Prophecy” implies that the incidents in the epic actually happened after the story had been foretold. This epic poem was first composed in Sanskrit. It documents Lord Vishnu’s seventh incarnation Lord Rama’s journey of life — the life of an idealist. Ramanand Sagar based his work broadly on Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, with the godhood of Rama prevailing upon his human attributes.

The Ramayana has been reinterpreted (rather than translated) in many Prakrit languages and their descendants that are spoken across India. The original Sanskrit text has been translated in all leading languages of the world.

Mahabharat was based on screenplay and dialogue writer Rahi Masoom Raza’s adaptation of Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharata. While the series begins with an episode on Bharata, the son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala after whom this country was named, it quickly skips generations of the Kaurava dynasty and reaches Shantanu. A few generations after that begins the struggle for inheriting the throne of Hastinapura between the Kauravas (100 children of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari) and Pandavas (five god-gifted sons of Pandu and his wives Kunti and Madri).

Lord Krishna plays the role of the custodian of dharma in Mahabharata as his own story finds place fully in Srimadbhagavatam written by Veda Vyasa’s son Shuka Deva. In the Mahabharata, He is a purna avatara, aware of His godhood unlike in the Ramayana. However, for a message to society, He plays the peacemaker, knowing fully that Duryodhana was incorrigible.

The political debate

Indian cities, towns and villages used to come to a standstill in the late 1980s when these serials were telecast on Sunday mornings. While both stirred debates in the era for changes the makers made in the original stories, it was politically a calmer era in India those days, with differences in opinion never turning into vicious battles between ideologically opposite groups of society.

A few years ago, I began showing these serials to my son, as the cinematic experience captivated the child more than a narration from a parent. I am sure many Indian parents will share the idea of imbibing values in children through these shows. What worries me is the game adults will play as the show goes on during these 21 days of lockdown. Hope they do not mar the show!

Sagar’s Ramayan had two major deflections from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Ram, unlike Rama, was beyond reproach. He could see the future like Krishna in Dvapara could. So, he asks Agni to keep Sita in his custody and Ravana manages to do no more than abduct a virtual Sita. Second, the battle between Ram and his sons Lava and Kush is interrupted whereas other Indian traditions show the sons subdue the father. But these were theological debates.

The political debate that this era can see is of the type then DMK chief had triggered by reversing the story and projecting Rama as the villain and Ravana as the hero of the story — with a wrong interpretation of Kamban Ramayana.

While the then Congress government had given the green signal for both, the party was infuriated when the first episode of BR Chopra’s Mahabharat showed Bharata importing from the future the concept of democracy. The episode showed Bharata saying that he would be succeeded by an elected king rather than his hereditary heir. The Congress interpreted this as unnecessarily poking the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who had hurriedly been made the country’s chief executive after his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination about three years before the serial started.

Brace for similar or an altogether new debate in this era. If the cynics, the fashionistas and the opposition bring a bad taste to the mouth, we will have to apply cleansers. We are producing deracinated generations. They must be re-oriented to our roots. Shows like these will help parents achieve that end.

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