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Mahakumbh 1-4: The Quest for Immortality

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Mahakumbh 1-4: The Quest for Immortality

Post by sashashyam on 2014-12-22, 16:40


I am decidedly late with this one, so let me begin by requesting you to bear with me nonetheless. I am very pleased to be in this new forum with so many of  my old friends, and I hope to make many new friends as well in the weeks ahead.  

For my new readers, I must warn you that my tongue is often in my cheek, and I indulge  in a good bit of satire, which needs to be taken as such! Then again, my posts might seem too long to you, but I simply cannot help it, for the write themselves, so to speak. I  hope you will  bear with me on this as well.

Now for what is likely to end up as random musings  on the first week of a very promising serial.

Patience with apparent plot holes: First things first. I feel that we should go with the (very fast paced) flow in Mahakumbh,  and overlook plot holes and illogicalities (of which more later) for the present. In fact, some of what seemed to be plot holes were sorted out on Thursday in Episode 4.

One of these was  something I had complained about earlier,  Rudra's age.  It has now been clarified that it was 4 for the kid Rudra (who looked quite big and  khaata peeta  for a 4 year old!) and 15 going on 16 now for the skinny, gangly teenage Rudra. Incidentally, December 12 is also the birthday of the writer of Mahakumbh,  Utkarsh Naithani!

Another was the question of why the kid does not seem to remember his mother and their family life all these 12 years. It is now clear that he does, and he sees his mother every night in his dreams. So we need to be patient and wait for seeming discrepancies, or at least some of them, to be sorted out in the script itself.

10/10 for starters: In another thread here, I gave Mahakumbh 10/10 for the freshness of its concept, the excellent, evidently hand-picked cast led by the redoubtable Seema Biswas, the tightness of the screenplay and the spare direction. And last but not least, the elegance of the minimal lines and even more so, the very many silences that speak (to borrow Ela's telling phrase), something that is almost miraculous in our normally ultra-verbose serials.

The leit motif: the quest for immortality: Mahakumbh  is clearly a mytho-historical thriller, and how can we have one such without a Secret Society (caps intentional)? So we have one here as well, even if their proceedings at times resemble a Keystone Kops caper hpee .

With very few exceptions, all these secret society/  organisation  tales are about the same in their basic concept, from Alexandre Dumas' Joseph Balsamo series about the Freemasons,  to Dan Brown and his Illuminati and now the one headed by our cold-eyed Polish Bishop,  whose menacing words are so much at odds with his outfit (He cannot be a  Cardinal, for they all wear crimson capes; his black cassock and red sash seem to indicate a bishop). And there is the Governing Board of the aforesaid  secret society,  with representation from every continent, Nice, very nice.

Next, any self-respecting secret society has to strive  for world domination hpee ,  and here  it is to be thru for the other human obsession, immortality.

It beats me how they intend to rule the world by living endlessly, but that is clearly a cardinal principle of theirs that cannot be questioned, so let it pass. Moreover, the idea of living on and on and on, alone while the rest, including all whom you care for, die off around you, is a frightful prospect, but  the human obsession with eternal life persists. As Steve Jobs noted "Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die"!

Lastly the villains in the various superhero series invariably call for a substantial suspension of  belief, whether it is Lex Luthor in the Superman series or Spiderman's Dr. Octopus, as do the  evil organisations that abound in this genre. So let us cut some slack for now to  the lot here - the icy Bishop, the ham-handed and  unlucky  Grierson,  who is so well up on the Gita, the clumsy khoye-paaye Pandey, the lowest common denominator in goons, and finally the one genuinely menacing element, the sinister Swami Balivesh, who seems unaffected by the red hot aarti stand that scorches Pandey's hands. His sadistic  casualness  as Pandey writhes in agony was chilling.

NB: Swami Balivesh and the Polish Bishop are clearly part of the same gang, or rather they are both working towards the same goal. Remember that when those 2 thugs are looking for a man with the Garuda Chinna mark on him, at the 1989 Kumbh at Prayag? One of them asserts that as the Swami had said the man would be there, he would be there, and immediately thereafter, he spotted Shivanand.

So they capture Shivanand and presumably deliver him up to Swami Balivesh. But where does he end up? In Poland. So clearly the Swami has handed him over to the Polish gang, and he would do that only if he is part of the same secret society.

The Garuda Chinna: This brings us to the other cardinal requirement of a mytho-historical thriller:  the Sign that marks the Chosen One, the savior or the redeemer of mankind. Since this one is about immortality, and thus about the Amritkumbh, we have the Garuda Chinna, which dates back to the legend of the samudramanthan,  and the original emergence of  the amrit kumbh from the ksheersaagar or ocean of milk.

As most of you would know, the Garuda, or the divine eagle, is the mount, or vahana,  of Lord Vishnu. After the Amrit Kumbh surfaced from the ocean during the samudramanthan, it was Lord Vishnu, in his Mohini avatar, as a beautiful woman, who took charge of the distribution of the amrit between the Devas and the Asuras.

She managed to prevent the Asuras from getting any of the amrit and this attaining immortality. (Except for Rahu, an Asura who disguised himself as a Deva and got a mouthful of amrit from Mohini before he was caught out and beheaded by Lord Vishnu's Sudharshan Chakra. However, as he had already become immortal, his head stayed on as Rahu and his body as Ketu). So, just as Lord Vishnu, in his Mohini avatar, was the guardian of the amrit immediately  after the samudramanthan, his mount, the Garuda,  apparently  became its guardian afterwards.

So  our hero has to have the Garuda Chinna  on his back, so  that his identity as the Chosen One is self-evident, and the consequent mortal danger to him be damned!

His father Shivanand too has it on the back of his right hand, and goes about displaying it openly, for all his warnings to his wife that the one on Rudra's back should always be kept concealed. But he had to goof up like that, for if he had worn a glove,  how would he have been kidnapped by Balivesh's goons and shipped off to Poland as clandestine human cargo without benefit of  a Polish visa?

The Garuda  Chinna on Rudra's back is not a tattoo. It is a self-regenerating mark; it brushes aside Rudra's juvenile attempts to get rid of it with amused disdain and reappears in a trice, to Maimuyi's great alarm. It is also noteworthy that while Rudra is scraping his back with that rough rope, the heavens darken and the thunder growls in protest at this sacrilege. As soon as the mark  has reappeared, the storm suddenly passes and the rocking boats are still in the water once more.

I must confess that I love this mark of Rudra's, our very own Garuda Chinna in all its calligraphic splendour, and  consider it superior to all the assorted superhero insignia that one has encountered down the decades!

Rudra- the character: He is a reluctant Chosen One, brooding over  the misfortunes that befall him because  of the mark  on his back, unable to comprehend as yet where his destiny is leading him. He is not yet at Peter Parker's With great power comes great responsibility  stage, for he is as yet not really conscious of his supernormal powers: the ability to stay underwater for long periods,  great physical strength,  and esoteric knowledge, as about the details his unique horoscope, of which  he is himself unaware till he starts spouting them to the jyotishi Nityanand Tiwari.

Above al, l he is tormented by the question that surfaces in the haunting song about the kid Rudra  Main kaun hoon..  koyi to bataye!  The historian Wendy Doniger once compared Harry Potter to Karna from the Mahabharata and to boy Krishna,  in the sense that  all of them had half-hidden origins and great powers that surfaced over time.

I never bought the parallel with Karna, who was no saviour of mankind, but  one could perhaps compare the young Rudra to Harry Potter or to  the young Krishna, both  eventually saviours of mankind.

Thus, I loved the hidden similes in Rudra's escape from captivity- with Samson when he pulls down the pillars in his prison, with the infant Krishna when he drags the broken pillars after him, just as Krishna dragged the mortar  to which Yashoda had chained him.

Rudra the actor: One bit of inspired casting in Mahakumbh  is that of Gautam Rode  as a splendid adult Rudra.

I  still remember my first look at him in the introductory scene in Saraswatichandra,  with Saras standing in a lake performing the obsequies for his dead mother. He looked  for all the world like a young  rishi,  a being not quite of this world, with eyes so remote that it was scary to look into their depths. If I had wanted to find the best parallel in our mythology, I would have said the young Rishyasaringa, who was so pure of soul that as soon as he set foot in a barren desert, the rains would come.

Here, with a role of an entirely different kind, and one tailormade for him, I am sure Gautam will be a treat for the viewers.  

But the real  casting coup in Mahakumbh is the teenage Rudra. With his eloquent eyes, his silences that speak more than words, his sombre, brooding persona, like a young Heathcliff out of  Wuthering Heights,  and his spectacular athleticism, young Siddharth is marvellous to behold. I have never seen such a thrilling rooftop chase as the one where he outruns his pursuers and ends up back with his initial rescuer. And when  he is finally sitting in the boat, dripping  wet, and suddenly smiles at Udiya Baba, one's heart turns over in empathy.

I was taken aback by the extent to which the boy has changed  and evolved from his  touching, playful double  turn as Sahil and Samar in Dhoom 3 .No wonder he is, I am told, going to play the young Asoka.

Maimuyi: the quintessential mother figure: Then we have the incredibly subtle Seema Biswas as Rudra's Maimuyi.  One has to be on one's toes so as not to miss  any of the changes  of  expression on her  mobile face and in her eyes.  Here, Seema Biswas combines some of the aggressiveness, and the cunning,  of a  Phoolan Devi when dealing with the outside world,  with the anxious, clinging, protective  love of a Yashoda for her Kanha when she is with her bachuwa.  When she  wipes his wet hands with her pallu, the ultimate expression of maternal tenderness,   when she beams in delight as he asks for extra helpings of the bhindi ki sabzi,  it is  the infinite, unconditional love of Yashoda that looks out thru her eyes.

In fact, when Udiya Baba posed that heartless and meaningless question to her, Tum uski kya lagti ho?,  I fully expected her to retort, Uski  Yashoda Maiyya, just as I almost expected her to sear him with the glowing rod of iron when she was raging about  his having led Rudra into that trap!

Seema Biswas proves once more that one does not have to be gorgeous, a glamour girl with pancake makeup and laden with jewellery  like a Christmas tree on Dec 25, to hold the audience. Her feisty, at times angry,  anxious Maimuyi, wrapped up, initially against her  will,  in the moh  for a lost little boy who cries out in the night and clings to her,  has all of us in the palm  of her work-worn hand.

Udiya Baba: Appealing but feckless: Ok, he  seems  at times full of ancient wisdom as he talks to the young Rudra, what with his Surdas bhajan and  his Agar, magar witticism. Plus he looks the part of a mentor and guide for the young. But I have a  several grouses against Udiya Baba (though not against Robin Das,  who plays him expertly)

The way in which the  he first takes the kid Rudra away from the mela site without even bothering to find out if his parent(s) is/are still around was highly irresponsible. Agreed, he is at first inclined to leave him to the police to look after, and he comes back for him only after something indefinable in the looks of the stoic little boy tugs at  heart. Still, any responsible person would have taken the child to the Lost and Found tent and let the Kumbh Mela management, which is geared for such things, deal with it.

Even worse was the way in which he casually decides to lug the teenage Rudra back to Prayag without a word to the woman on whom he dumped the responsibility of raising the kid for 12 long years. Or bothering about the boy's feelings,  or about the credibility of the so-called agency allegedly trying to unite lost kids with their parents. They could just as well have been a criminal gang trafficking in children. And why would the parents have taken 12 years to start looking for their lost kids?

In real life, the  average Kumbh mela, attended by anything from  30 to 50  million devotees, is  very well managed, while  the Mahakumbh, which has much higher numbers of pilgrims (the 2013 one  had between 70-100 million) is a  marvel of impeccable organisation that has been studied in depth by the Harvard Business School. Lost kids  at the Mahakumbh are dealt with at once and reunited with their parents.  No longer can the Kumbh mela be made the staple route for Hindi film directors to make their hero a temporary orphan.

All this said and done,  Udiya Baba is an appealingly  illogical and feckless character. He has his faults and his good points,  but the key thing is that he is one of  the two sheet anchors in the  early life of our hero. Which  is why I devoutly hope that he is not going to be killed at the Dussehra Raavan samhaar. I somehow think not,  I hope, and believe.  that Rudra will rescue him, even if it means his exposing another of his supernormal powers to the probing eyes of  the evil khoye paaye Pandey.

Shivanand: an enigma: I  am not going into this, partly because this post is already too long and my poor knee is stiffening up alarmingly (I had surgery  on it 2 weeks ago), but also  because he is still an enigma.

Though he has great control over his indriya,  his senses, and is able to shut out crippling sound barrages at will, he does not seem to have the kind of supernormal powers his son has, otherwise he would have broken loose of  his fetters and broken thru the wall of his prison in short order.  

I have no idea how he gets out using that nail, however, and he can probably conduct  a master class in safebreaking! hpee

His wigs,  whether the curly one  at the beginning, or the hirsute version now, leave a lot to be desired. Let us hope the Polish lady gets him a close cropped haircut! hpee

Punni Tiwari, clearly slated to be Rudra's boon companion,  is  pure delight, but he needs no analysis.

The Polish woman: a clean chit: I  just want, in conclusion, to share with you my take on the Polish woman whose car hits Shivanand, and who then takes him home and thus saves him from his pursuers.

I do not think there is anything fishy about her. She is a woman who is scared stiff of her husband. I wonder if he is just an abusive husband or he is part of the Secret Society staff. Let us see.

 She would not have risked taking Shivanand home but for the insistence of her son (who reminds Shivanand of the kid Rudra, as he walks towards the prostrate Shivanand). The really intriguing bit was in the Thursday precap, where Shivanand is asking the kid how he knew about Rudra.

Erratum: The 1989 mela is described as a Mahakumbh. It cannot be any such thing. The Kumbh melas are held, in rotation, at Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Nashik and Ujjain, once every 3 years. Once every 6 years, the Ardh Kumbh melas are held at Haridwar and Prayag. The Purna Kumbha mela is held once every 12 years at Prayag, which is what the 1989 mela must  have been. The real, once in 144 years Mahakumbh was last held in Prayag in 2013.

That, folks, is it for the present. Do I hear a huge sigh of relief hpee I hasten to reassure you that this sort of thing will not be a daily infliction!!

Shyamala B.Cowsik

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