Mahabharata is an Indian epic that runs in the blood of Millions in India. However, it’s interesting to know that it’s popularity is not just confined in India but all across the globe. None of us knew about this French adaptation of Mahabharata until British playwright, Peter Brook came into light.
Three years after British playwright and screenwriter Peter Brook staged his French production of the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata by the river Rhône at a quarry in Avignon, France.
The Mahabharata that played on Doordarshan was an instant hit. In the 1980s, the national television channel was a nest for adaptations and stories engaged with the larger social realities of a young nation. The good people in Doordarshan were building up a reservoir of some of the best screenwriting ever produced in India. However, Brook has portrayed the epic from a different lens.
Le Mahabharata, which Mr. Brook turned into austere film production in 1989, was the stark opposite of the TV serial. Its ambition had a different DNA. With a multi-racial cast of 21 actors from 16 different countries which included Mallika Sarabhai from India in the plum role of Draupadi, it was a vast, immersive enterprise that took the playwright several years to make and write with Jean-Claude Carrière. Although parts of the epic have been used for at least a hundred years in Indian films and other art forms, most significantly in Kathakali, this was the first time the whole epic was adapted for the theatre, and then as a feature film.
Like all epics, the Mahabharata wasn’t just for the country of its creation. The New York Times was generous and exaggerated in its praise of Brook’s work: “Revered in India but little known in the West, The Mahabharata is to South Asians what the Bible along with the Iliad and the Odyssey are to us.”
But expectedly, the multi-racial didn’t go down well in India. In 2015, just before Battlefield, Brook’s sequel of Le Mahabharata premiered in Mumbai, Sarabhai told Hindustan Times in an interview that racial bias had prevented Brook’s Mahabharata to be staged in India when he tried to bring it here a few years after the English version had premiered in Europe. The official reason given was: the TV serial was on, and this play would “confuse” the Indian audience.
The epic becomes intelligible and universal – and tells us why something as captivatingly human as the Mahabharata should not belong just to one nation or race.