Monday, March 20, 2006

She would have made Ayn Rand proud

Some time ago Nilu switched from posting nasty and provocative comments on other bloggers and initiated an interesting discussion. He asked his readers to name their favourite character in Mahabharat and explain the reasons for their choice. Karna was of course excluded because then the topic would have been entirely Karna-centric.

A very interesting discussion brewed in the comment section and a few of the commenters mentioned Gandhari as their favourite. Nilu did a second post asking readers to come up with a character analysis of their favourite women characters in Mahabharat. I was really looking forward to reading about Gandhari as I hadn’t given much thought to her character before this. Unfortunately that post didn’t get much response.

However, his post prompted me to think about women characters in Mahabharat and the first one that came to mind was Ganga. I wouldn’t say she is my favourite, but she is definitely the most intriguing of them all. I still vividly remember how as a kid I felt extremely uneasy while watching the initial episodes of Mahabharat on Doordarshan. Ganga used to take her newborn babies and cast them into the river and return smiling to Shantanu, her husband. I couldn’t fathom the motives and was too young to understand the story completely and felt extremely scared.

As with most Indian mythological tales the story owes its twists to curses. Ganga has promised to help Vasus, who have been cursed to lead the lives of men upon angering Vashishta rishi. She agrees to be their mother and kill them as soon as they are born so that they can return to their heavenly existence without spending time on earth.

Strip the epic of all the mythology/curses etc. and then look at Ganga’s actions. If one overlooks the fact that she drowned her children to help the Vasus get rid of Vashishta's curse, then Ganga comes across as someone who is ruthlessly, unambigiously selfish. Her conditions for marrying Shantanu may put any present-day pre-nuptial agreements to shame.

O king, I shall become your wife. But on certain conditions that neither you nor anyone else should ever ask me who I am, or whence I come. You must also not stand in the way of whatever I do, good or bad, nor must you ever be wroth with me on any account whatsoever. You must not say anything displeasing to me. If you act otherwise, I shall leave you then and there. Do you agree?

She has Shantanu by the balls and despite him being the king, she is the one whose dictats are followed. She definitely knew how to keep a man under her toes. He does not even utter a word as she drowns seven of his children for the fear of her deserting him. This gives you an insight into her complete hold over him. By keeping Shantanu guessing about mystery surrounding her actions, she adds to her allure.

Imagine what it must have taken to be such a free bird for a woman in the era of pativrata naris like Draupadis and Gandharis. In C Rajagopalachari's version, one gets an insight into her motives behind drowning her children. It is sinister to say the least.

"O great king," she replied, "you have forgotten your promise, for your heart is set on your child, and you do not need me any more. I go.

Ganga comes across as someone who is ruthlessly selfish and someone who wont share her love no matter what. No character of Ayn Rand comes this close in their selfish love. In fact, Ganga is the quintessential Ayn Rand character. In a way it can be looked as if she leaves because she realises the king loves the child more than herself and her conception of love has no place for sharing. A truly fascinating woman!

Do contribute your take on women characters in the epic in the comments section, especially those of you who like Gandhari. I am really curious to know which aspects of her character you guys find so admirable.

17 comments:

Suyog said...

After reading Parva (Yes, the same book I insist you read :P), there is no character like that of Kunti for me - a close second would be Draupadi. But then I think depends on individual perception...

I think u should simply read that book to see what I mean hehehehe :D

More laterz

Suyog

sumanth said...

Mahabharata was written more than 2000 years back. The actions of Ganga and many other women in Mahabharata show that there was no clear cut gender stereotyping.

Cruelty towards husband is something you can find both in Mahabharata and Ramayana. The motives may vary. In Mahabharata it is Ganga indulging in infanticide where as in Ramayana Kaikeyi tortures her husband to death as all other males just watch on helplessly.

According to me Draupadi is the worst character in Mahabharata. She did not exercise her choice and in stead she wanted to be trophy (to be won). Trophies when own by a team or one member are kissed, shared by all. Sometimes trophies and medals are even sold. Draupadi's genesis has only one motive (revenge). She was the tool for revenge.

Subhadra is someone on whom there has not been much research. She exercised her choice and also brought up the son independently. Most probably she was the most balanced and independent woman in Mahabharata.

Patrix said...

I don't want to but you are judged by the company you keep is all I would like to say.

anangbhai said...

Draupadi would have be my favorite female character, with Kunti close behind. Mahabharata is a lot more modern than people give it credit, if you take away all the mystical explanations (gods, curses, divine intervention). Kunti with 5 little children is nothing if not the personification of the single parent. And when her children go on exile for the second time she lives in a stranger's house (Vidur).
What will society think? Her husband couldn't even touch her, and yet she bears him 5 children who are nothing alike. Hmm....

Mahabharata is filled to the brim with strong female characters. Kunti and Satyavati retain their virginity after having premarital sex with strangers. Jesus christ there's a lot of guys getting some in this book.

Nilu said...

Hmm...will get around posting character analysis of Gandhari, Skikandi and Kunti. Thanks for reminding me.

And Patrix, are you judged by your penile length?

Chetan said...

Suyog: Yup. I am looking forward to reading Parva, yet another Kannada friend recommended it to me. I am currently reading Mrityunjay which is a Marathi novel written as if it is an autobiography of Karna. It look at Mahabharat from Karna's perspective. It has helped me look at Kunti in an altogether new light. As I said Ganga isn't my favuorite character but someone whom I find most intriguing because it is difficult to empathise with her motives. Off-topic... I hope India trip is going well. Waiting for photos to be uploaded on your blog.

Sumanth:
You are right about there not being a clear cut gender stereotyping in Mahabharat. Don't quite agree with you about Draupadi's assessment. It is much more complex according to me than just the trophy thing. You are right about the revenge part though. And thanks for bringing to notice Subhadra. I hadn't thought of her that way.

Patrix: I am sorry that you feel that way. I hope you reconsider your assessment based solely on my actions. And even if you don't I still would hold you in high regard. Would love to hear what about your favourite woman character from Mahabharat.

Anangbhai:
Could you please elaborate on the reason why Draupadi is your favourite? I would love to learn what you find so fascinating about her. As I said to Suyog, I have come to have a new appreciation for the layers underneath Kunti's character after reading Mrityunjay.

Nilu: Looking forward to the analyses. Also when you write that post please elaborate on why you chose Satyaki as your favuorite.

I do wish you had not made that last remark. Ridiculing me in any language is totally kosher here. But why pick on commenters? Many of the readers may not be aware of the background and whichever way I respond, be it ignore/delete/berate/preach, I become an unintentional actor in this fracas which has nothing to do with me.

Kya yaar tu bhi said...

sumanth bhai, on contrary this Draupadi was interesting lady. In war(rior) zone, best thing a princess can ask for is multiple princes/warriors - statistics - some will die in battle, atleast 1 will survive, slog like dog to provide food/support. We glorify Arjuna's archery prowess with little mention of his 100s of wives, then why morality issue with 5 husbands. Let her also enjoy some variety in bed. Variety spice of life. By the way there is one scene where Draupadi doing Yudhistra. this voyeur Arjuna watching from sidelines. Afterwards he apologizes & says he was looking for his bow & arrow! Jesus what horrible excuse why anybody will keep their bow & arrow in elder brother's bedroom ?! But our clever Arjuna makes a guilt-trip to Manipur and Tripura, marries a few more times and produces a clone Babruvahana. Babruvahana then kills Arjuna. Then Lord Krishna will make everybody alive again. What all drama dude! I wonder how Bobby Bedi will tackle all these adult(ery) issues in epic movie. If you ask me only Mallika Sherawat can do justice to Draupadi role. the sex scenes must ofcourse be crisp and raunchy. No dialogbaazi. Just sex, action, and right amount of logical philosophy, followed by more action. Some more sex also ok. I think Ratnam can pull it off provided some loser like Rahi Masoom Resa is kept far away, otherwise they will botch it up with needless dialog.

Chetan said...

Kya yaar tu bhi: Arjuna's vouyerism story seems vaguely familiar, but don't remember reading it in the books that I have read. About the movie -- you should definitely be considered as a dialogue writer, if not for the whole movie then at least for Shakuni mama's dialogues! It will be many times more entertaining than the current version I am sure. ;)

Kya yaar tu bhi said...

Chetan, Quite surprised you don't know all these intimate details.
Basically whole problem because of this lady Uluchi.
Chetan I have done cutpaste of Uluchi google -
.............
Hi
Somebody asked about Uluchi. I will write what I remember.
Uluchi is Arjuna's wife whose son is Babruvahana. Arjuna marries Uluchi
when he goes on Thirthayatras before he marries Subhadra. Later on, Dharmaraj
performs Ashwamedha yagam where Arjun goes along with the horse. Babru captures
the horse and kills Arjuna in the fight. As soon as he comes to know that Arjuna
is his father, he goes somewhere and fights with a lot of people and gets
Amrutham and saves his father.

All this story is from the movie "Babruvahana" in which NTR acted as Arjuna
and Chalam acted as Babruvahana. I saw this movie in 1964 when I was 8 years
old. I remember this much only. I still remember Krishna's Sudarsana Chakr
chasing some jaint who was troubling Babru who was getting Amrutham.

That's all I remember.
BYE
JUBV Prasad
.............


Now, let me first of all say this JUBV Prasad is spouting horseshit. NTR cannot act to save his life, in fact if you want proof you should watch Superman I, with NTR playing Superman. If you can conceive of a superflabby rotund looking guy in a leotard, that is NTR. It was complete joke I lost 110% respect for Telugu film industry on that day. How can they cast an aging fatso as Superman ? I mean, what gall ?! It would be like casting present day Shammi Kapoor as Spiderman, instead of Hulk. But you know gults are naive so they have made Superman I into a hit film. But thankfully NTR kicked bucket before making sequel.

Now coming back to true story, which is chronicled in minute detail in sooper bumper hit KANNADA movie Babruvahana, directed by SRI Hunsur Krishnamurthy, starring DOCTOR RAJKUMAR as Arjuna, again DOCTOR RAJKUMAR double-acting as Babruvahana, and lots of pretty damsels including Srimathi Saroja Devi, lyrics also by SRI Hunsur Krishnamurthy, playback singing also by DOCTOR RAJKUMAR. That movie went on to make Kannada Film history. It grossed more money in those days than all this LOTR Titanic nonsense put together. Even today audio cassette of Babruvahana is available in each and every respectable cassette shop in Bangalore and constant airplay on radio TV throughout Karnataka. There are Kannadigas who know Babruvahana dialog by-heart and I have met so many of them I have lost count. It is by far the biggest movie produced south of Vindhyas.

So story goes like this - Draupadi, as you know, is trophy wife. She has married 5 husband. Everyday she must sleep with one one husband. I mean at night. Day we don't care what she does, probably works in some local call center.So Draupadi is sleeping with Yudhistra that night. They are in bedroom. Lights Off! Actually lights must be dimmed, because otherwise junta cannot see anything it will become black screen. Now in parallel track we are narrating another story. That is the story of many sages. These sages doing penance but one rakshas attacking them. Sages running fast to Arjuna. Arjuna Arjuna kapadisu! Meaning Arjuna Please Save us da. So Arjuna needs his bow arrow. He steps into palace and in next shot we show closeup of bow arrow hanging on wall. Pull back to reveal that said bow arrow wall is actually the bedroom wall of Yudhistra Draupadi lovemaking scene. So our Arjuna in two minds. He cannot help looking at hot sex scene but outside rakshas must also be killed. So he takes discreet look, then grabs bow arrow and heads to slay the rakshas. Now rakshas killed, sages bless Arjuna. But Arjuna realizes he has seen his elder brother having sex. So he says to sages, I must apologize and repent. Then he walks into bedroom - by now intercourse is complete and both Draupadi and Yudhistra wearing crisply ironed royal garments, in conversation with Sri Krishna. Arjuna says, sorry I saw you having sex. Then Yudhistra says that's ok you needed bow and arrow. But Arjuna says no no I must repent. So this Sri Krishna pokes nose and says, let us send Arjuna on Thirthyatra to compensate. So Arjuna heads on Thirthyatra, that point this JUBV Prasad has also correctly got

But here is where crucial mistake made. Arjuna actually goes to East India states Tripura Meghalaya and Manipur. Now at that time no ULFA problem but he still wants to take bath in Indian Ocean or is that Arabian Sea so if I remember correctly he is captured by the ocean goddess Uluchi. Uluchi and Arjuna have sex on ocean bed and some hit songs are also sung. Then they get married and this Babruvahana is the product.

Then Lord Krishna interferes, rescues Arjuna from Uluchi clasp and puts him back in Manipura after complete memory wipeout. So in Manipura, our amnesia victim Arjuna marries a second damsel Chitrangadha. Then I think this Tirthyatra pretty much complete so he goes back to Hastinapur.

Then again our JUBV Prasad is on right track - the Ashwamedha Yagna performed, white horse goes in procession, by now our Babru has become clone of Arjuna, he captures horse and forces Pandavas for fight. Pandavas are led by Arjuna. Now as I have told before itself both Arjuna and Babru played by DOCTOR Rajkumar. So in those days showing double acting in same frame father son fighting without knowing they are actually related, it is all very major breakthrough like today stem cell research. So father Arjuna tells Babru he will only fight with prince of known parentage. So he asks Babru who is his father. Now Babru has not been given that info so he is tounge tied. Now our Arjuna uses the bad word Sule maga to describe Babru. As you know Sule means Prostitute, so Arjuna calls Babru, his own son, a bastard. At this insult, Babru fights a long violent battle and finally chops off Arjuna's head. Arjuna's head is taken on indolium plate and presented to Uluchi. Now you have to understand in those days no computer CGI etc. so you must appreciate how they pulled off major stunt like this indolium plate head without special effects department. Anyway even if you don't appreciate it is ok movie has already made millions of rupees. But finally Sri Krishna joins Arjuna head back to torso, does another Amnesia attack, and puts Arjuna back in Hastinapura, where it is his turn to go to bed with Draupadi, without knowledge of all this hungama. Uluchi and Chitrangadha will sing one song in end and this Babru is reinstated King of Nagaloka. Also this Manipur Father-in-Law ie. basically Chitra's father, he has some major role to play. But because I have seen movie in early childhood I can't remember exact plot points so please you must forgive memory lapse.

take care Chetan now I have to do some snow shovelling other wise my wife will join this Uluchi Chitrangadha brigade and produce one Babru to chop off my head also so ok bye.

Chetan said...

Kya yaar tu bhi: You were right about the me not knowing 'intimate details' part. Thanks so much for taking the time to share such a wonderful tale and peppering it with your observations about the Kannada and Telgu film industry and its heroes. Absolutely loved reading this tale with all the masala you put in there.

kuffir said...

ntr can't act but mani ratnam can direct?..kya yaar tu bhi..

rfan said...

Ratnam can direct for sure. Dil Se is one of the best movies of all time.

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vamsi krishna said...

re idiots donkeys have no shame you are spoiling great arjunas and draupadis character. i will tell babruvahana story later. ithink you are christians