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Epic twist to storytelling: Mythological stories are making its way to the screen

Mythological tales have always found favour in India, and now their various interpretations , too are being translated for the screen.

bollywood Updated: Oct 30, 2018 14:30 IST
Juhi Chakraborty
Juhi Chakraborty
Hindustan Times
Myth,Sonam Kapoor,Sacred Games
Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Saif Ali Khan’s Sacred Games skillfully employed mythological narratives

Mythological tales have always found favour with Indian audiences. Almost every region has its own version of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. While the epics are an integral part of the country’s popular culture and consequently, the visual arts, Indian TV and cinema are only gradually shedding their inclination to follow mythology to the letter and drawing inspiration instead from its spirit.

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Popular web series Sacred Games, which is returning with a new season, skillfully employed mythological narratives. Its eight episodes have names closely tied to aspects of Hindu mythology. Filmmaker Kunal Kohli is helming a film based on Ramayana, titled RamYug. Actor Sonam Kapoor has optioned the rights of The Aryavarta Chronicles, a modern-day Mahabharata, penned by Krishna Udayasankar, a Singapore-based writer. Aamir Khan, too, has voiced plans to make a Mahabharata movie.

Filmmaker Shyam Benegal, whose Kalyug (1981), was one of the earliest to draw from mythology, says, “They say what is not there in Mahabharata is not worth knowing. It deals with all of life— human relations, personal ambition, power. I don’t think any work, not even the Iliad, is comparable to the Mahabharata. So, it has always been a subject of greatest interest to me. What I took from it was the element of the fight between cousins. In Mahabharata, the story was about kingdoms, Kalyug had an industrial backdrop.”

A still from filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s 1981 film, Kalyug.

“I don’t know why filmmakers have stayed away [from exploring this genre]. I think with all that is happening around us, it is a good time to visit our past, scriptures and mythology. We also have to leave something behind for future generations,” says Kohli. So, what is making Bollywood go back in time? Kohli says the relevance of such stories even today is one of the main reasons why he decided to make RamYug. “This idea came a few years ago. I took long to start shooting as I didn’t want to compromise on research,” says Kohli.

Varun Grover, a writer for Sacred Games, says India has a great resource of mythological stories but they’ve been used very tackily on TV, “devoid of all the philosophies, they are only about plot.” He feels mythology has layers and a great literary quality, making it perfect for the visual medium. “We adapted a novel. There are mythological elements in the novel but we extrapolated that. We started with the episode Ashwathama, which was not there in the novel, adapting it to give it another layer in the narrative. For the visual medium we wanted something which people would immediately relate to,” he explains.

“Myth can be interpreted in many ways... There is something in there for everyone” — author Krishna Udayasankar

Trade analyst Amod Mehra says it is too early to call it a trend. “Mythological elements don’t always mean it will work. It is very risky,” he says. “Karan Johar bought the rights [of the Meluha trilogy] nothing happened with it. So, it is too soon to say that more films will be made,” he adds.

Another project in the limbo is Udayasankar’s Immortal, a modern-day tale based on Ashwathama’s character. She sold the rights to Phantom Films, but now since the production company stands dissolved, there is uncertainty over when the project will take off.

But Udayasankar is optimistic. “Myth can be interpreted in many ways, whether as inspiration for a completely modern narrative or a more canonical representation full of magic and fantasy elements. There is something in there for everyone,” she says.

As Benegal points out, “Ramayana tells you the extent of the country from north to south through the movement of Ram. And Mahabharata is the east-west axis. There is enough material there to last forever. It can be adapted or done in the time for which it was written.”

First Published: Oct 30, 2018 14:30 IST