Monday, June 24, 2013

Mythologizing historical characters

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

Television is a wonderful medium for not just infotainment, but also as an arena for struggles between the good and the evil in the traditional sense as well as in its more contemporary ethics versus compromise paradigm. Devon Ke Dev Mahadev on Life OK depicts Lord Shiva’s battle of attrition with His archrival Jalandhar. Such engrossing good versus evil combats are fine entertainers, especially because of their mythological character. But what does one say when historical characters are mythologized? Indeed, Maharana Pratap was a great warrior and had been steadfast in his opposition to the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. But, in Sony TV’s Bharat Ka Veer Putra Maharana Pratap, he has been bestowed with attributes that resemble Lord Ram’s, viz., unquestioning obedience towards his father, his yearning for taking on Afghans (a throwback to Ram’s campaign against asuras) and his keeping a spare sword that he may offer his disarmed enemy because the Maharana was loath to attack an unarmed enemy. Actually, Indian entertainment TV has been guilty of similar makeovers in case of other historical characters too, like Shivaji (Colors), Tipu Sultan (Doordarshan) and Rani Laxmi Bai (Zee TV). This becomes problematic because the narratives are in stark contrast to what history textbooks say. Is there really a need for blurring the lines between mythology and history?

However, in the more contemporary serialized TV fiction, gray areas in individual characters are too salient to be either ignored or placed in a specific slot. However, the black and white portrayal of characters has not gone out of fashion yet. Antara, in Life OK's Do Dil Ek Jaan, has been brought up on a diet of unadulterated sense of the right and the wrong, courtesy her father. She had witnessed him lay down his life for his principles in Srinagar. The tragedy turned her mother into a nervous wreck. On the insistence of her maternal uncle, she and her family migrate to the supposedly safe Mumbai, only to realize that she is caught up in an equally, if not more, dangerous situation. If there are terrorists in Kashmir, then in Mumbai local goons prey on vulnerable outsiders. One such gangster is Daya Naik and his henchman Raghu. People in the locality live in fear of them. However, circumstances and her inherent values impel Antara to confront the thugs, even as Raghu’s better or softer side shows hints of manifesting itself. It will be interesting to watch how the narrative develops in the coming weeks.

But, the RK versus Sultan conflict, in Madhubala (Colors), is not about principles. Both of them have the good and the evil within them; they are ordinary mortals with extraordinary egos and traits that result in intriguing profiles. RK, a successful Bollywood star, is besieged with so many insecurities that he dons arrogance as his shield, to the extent of becoming cruel towards those who love him. Sultan, a gangster, struggles with vagaries of life where distrust becomes his weapon and armor. Their confrontation is about inheritance and identity, which has its genesis in their father's marital perfidy. This struggle is going to keep viewers engrossed for a few weeks until the soap's scriptwriters can think of a new twist to the plot.

Confrontations of the political kind too were on view, courtesy our news TV channels. The first one was over the death toll in Uttarakhand. Depending upon who was enumerating, the toll ranged from 77 to 15,000. Even as the blame game between BJP and Congress looked suspiciously like a friendly sparring, Arnab Goswami on Times Now rightly asserted that for the first time the two major parties had joined hands to fight the media’s onslaught.

There was other kind of politics too. Like Nitish Kumar’s real motive behind breaking up with the BJP. However, for a change Times Now came up with a low decibel, in-depth and incisive interview, with Goswami asking the right questions and Nitish Kumar, despite his best efforts, failing to camouflage his prime ministerial ambitions. Great job.

Published in The Financial World dated 24 June 2013


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