They became epics, they became tales that are still told, they became plays that are running and running for centuries, what made them stand the test of time were the content and the quality of writing and most importantly the everlasting wisdom and a classic message true for any generation they are read in. From Ved Vyas’s Mahabharata to Shakespearean Epic Tragedies Othello, Macbeth, etc to Valmiki’s Ramayana; all have not only survived the rust of time but also bad remakes. Their importance and position, like wine, has become better with time…Ramayana and Mahabharata for thousands of years, Othello and Macbeth around 400 years.
While bringing these epics to screen cannot be easy, Ekta Kapoor’s Mahabharata failed to reach Kurukshetra before it gave in to the TRPs; a contemporary adaptation is a different ball game.
A few have been ever attempted, much less have done it well enough.
Although the Mahabharatas and Ramayanas provide their visions as charities, Bollywood directors have failed to take the right lessons.
If we try and track why and how have these art forms survived we may find various answers in the context of various areas and many may be different for all the above mentioned classics.
If we look for a common thread in those answers, we would discover that an important aspect has been the room for “interpretations”. These classics have been interpreted and re-interpreted in various forms and ways throughout centuries.
Mani Ratnam has interpreted Ramayana beyond Good v Evil message; instead questions of morality have been raised here. It makes it resemble Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon which makes us wonder if Ramayana inspired Kurosawa in its theme. We may never know but if somebody can assure us Kurosawa had never read the epic piece, then it means this part did not define Ramayana.
Then what does? The characters.
The two of us, don’t believe Mani Ratnam’s Raavan to be the same Raavan from Valmiki’s piece, and otherwise, too not much of the original characterization has been retained here. Thus Mani’s Raavan becomes the hero of the Ramayan, which we do not think he should ever have become, because this has diluted the true spirit of it and create unnecessary complications. It is quite similar to portraying Hitler as the hero of a WWII movie, which he will never become. (You heard the hue and cry over My Friend Hitler.)
When a classic tale is adapted, the literal value must NOT be lost; the basic fiber should NOT be tampered with. The masses still recognize Ramayana as a “good v evil” story. They don’t want to see an immoral Ram, after all he is their GOD.
Mani Ratnam can form his own characters to raise the morality flag, but alas! Kurosawa beat him to it. Instead what he manages to do is exploiting, the already existing figures etched in our brains through Ramanand Sagar’s Sunday morning fest.
Elsewhere, the problems with Prakash Jha’s Raajneti are quite the opposite. It is too literal. Thanks to some lethargic screenwriting, Jha drags the exact scenes from the Mahabharata and puts it here; the result is preposterous, because sadly such ultra violence belongs to the battle fields of Kurukshetra and not the political constituencies. It was said, “Such things do happen in India”……they do…, but imagine a Rahul blowing up a Varun’s car just because he gave a hate speech…Raajneeti ‘s limited idea and vision actually came as an insult to many of those shrewd policy makers and Bahubalis who many a times deal with problems greater than those shown in this film, without spilling a drop of blood.
Killing is the easiest and the most unrealistic option a writer could chose. A film where death is so cheap is either a War film, a film on some epidemic or simply a bad one! I wouldn’t go too far calling Raajeenti a bad film; it had its many moments and was backed by fantastic performances (Manoj Bajpai, Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar)…but all I would say is that it is a failure of “Symbolism”
As Mayank Shekhar of Hindustan Times puts it, “There was a reason why Mahabharata was a television series” On the other hand what dismisses this statement is Shyam Benegal’s 1981 classic Kalyug which very aptly adapts Mahabharata where much of the drama taking place in boardrooms of corporate world. Benegal’s rare vision for details and an aptly constructed script gives us a true adaptation.
Vishal Bharadwaj, certainly one of the top notch directors in the Indian Film Industry interpreted both the Shakespearian classics we mentioned above. The King of Scotland as Abbaji, Othello as Omkara, Macbeth as Maqbool and Iago as Langda Tyagi…itself speaks a lot for the interpreter’s genius.
Talking of Maqbool(2003), Bharadwaj brings Scotland in Bombay and very aptly rewrites Shakespeare’s incidents to dark underbellies of the city. The drama as you would find, belongs to its new destination. Shakespeare could very well have set his Macbeth here. With fantastic performances by all, fantastic direction and as a special note, fantastic screenplay by Bharadwaj and Abbas Tyrewalla, Maqbool is surely one of the best Indian films ever.
On similar lines in Omkara(2006), Bharadwaj adapts the classic Othello . This time he sets up Venice and Cyprus in the Hindi Heartland with all the Baahubalis, slangs, and open lawlessness. Again there could be no better setting, Iago’s reprise in Langda Tyagi is the master stroke of the writer and not to take any credit away from Saif Ali Khan, who lived that role making it his career best performance.
Of course Bharadwaj did not deal with the problems Jha could have faced while writing. Mahabharata in an edgy setting like that of Mumbai (or Mario Puzo’s) Underworld could have done with your BANG BANGs, but please be realistic, sir!
Somewhere, also we believe that while you remake stuff like Ramayana and the Mahabharata, some sort of sincerity and devotion towards the art is very much necessary. People like Ekta Kapoor tried transforming an epic into a “never ending soap” like “her” Mahabharata (didn’t last, and we thought her shows last forever)!
Remaking such classics is no joke but as a matter of fact it is like playing with fire; be it Tulsidas or B.R.Chopra or Bharadwaj, they could pull off their work and not burn their hands, because sincerity and devotion act like fire proof gloves on such stoves. While Prakash Jha might have burnt his hand a bit, Mani Ratnam a little more, Ekta Kapoor we hear has posted a Classifieds advertisement seeking an 'Unburnt Hand Immediately'!...LOL!