Remember Lord Krishna reciting the Bhagvad Gita to Arjuna in BR Chopra’s Mahabharat? Nitish ‘Krishna’ Bharadwaj now attempts to recreate the scene for the stage.
A few hundred golden armour-clad men face each other on an open field. As their weapons clash, the camera zooms out and the word Mahabharat emerges on the screen. In the background plays the eponymous title track. Millenials would instantly connect with this visual. The opening credits for BR Chopra’s Mahabharat had the country glued to their television screens for 45 minutes, every Sunday morning from 1988 to 1990.
Nitish Bharadwaj (now 52) played the role of Krishna - a loyal advisor to the Pandavas, Draupadi’s dearest friend and the narrator of the Bhagvad Gita. Twenty five years after the series went off air, Bharadwaj is now returning to the character in a premiering stage adaption of the epic
“A lifetime opportunity” is is how Bharadwaj describes the glory days. Seemingly overnight, he became a revered household name. “People of all ages often touched my feet in public thinking that I was Lord Krishna. Playing the character got me a lot of respect, but it also taught me humility,” recalls Bharadwaj.
Back in the day
Bharadwaj admits that playing a deity on screen was daunting. With great power came a lot of responsibility. “Mr [BR] Chopra said to me ‘Krishna is the fulcrum of Mahabharat. If you fail, the whole serial fails’. It was very intimidating,” he says.
And so, Bharadwaj turned to interpretations of the epic by authors such as Irawati Karve and Durga Bhagwat to understand Krishna’s position during the war and his interactions with other characters. His efforts, evidently, paid off: Bharadwaj the actor was hailed as Lord Krishna himself. “My mother once told me that she saw my face every time she prayed to Krishna. And so, she stood before me and asked me to solve a problem. I didn’t have a practical solution, but the sentiment, as reflected by other viewers as well, was endearing,” says Bharadwaj.
After the series went off air in 1990, Bharadwaj continued basking in the success of playing a celestial characters. For instance, he starred as a Gandharva (celestial musician) in the critically acclaimed Malyalam romantic drama Njan Gandharvan in 1991. During the mid 90s, Bharadwaj even tried his hand at politics and successfully contested on behalf of the Bharatiya Janta Party for a Lok Sabha seat from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand.
Bharadwaj most recently made his feature-film directorial debut in 2013, with a Marathi adaptation of author Sudha Murthy’s novella Pirtu Roon. The film was critically acclaimed at the Maharashtra State Film Award in the same year.
And now, 25 years since the character that catapulted his career, Bharadwaj will once again don the crown of Krishna in Chakravyuh, to tell the story of Arjuna’s warrior son Abhimanyu. In contrast to the original epic where Krishna played an active role in the war, Chakravyuh portrays him as an observer.
He expresses grave concerns about humanity being trapped in its own chakravyuh (a circular maze) of existential anxieties. And much like Abhimanyu’s fate, death is the only exit. “The play presents dialogues that meander from prose to poetry. I had never done this form of theatre before; it excited me,” says Bharadwaj.
Interestingly, even after all this years, Bharadwaj feels a strong connection to the Yadava prince. “I believe Krishna chose me in 1988 to express himself. He continues to inspire me even now.”
Chakravyuh will premiere on April 9, at 8pm
Where: Rang Sharda, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (W)
Tickets: Rs 200 onward on bookmyshow.com/plays