I drew many parallels between Mahayoddha Ram and the state of society today.
In the midst of ADHM and Shivaay, I decided to catch the animated Mahayoddha Ram. It wasn’t as bad as some said. Infact I was in for a surprise!
I’m a self-confessed mytho junkie - I’ve read every Hindu and Greek mythology book I could lay my hands on (Bhakt Alert - I’m not one). So after I got tired of ‘I like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’, ‘I hate Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’, ‘KJo is a genius’, ‘KJo should retire’ and ‘Shivaay I want my money back’ stuff on my timeline, I decided to catch Mahayoddha Rama, a modern-telling of Ramayana by director Rohit Vaid. Yes, I did feel a little out of place surrounded by a bunch of kids, but once the lights went out….
Now both the story and the hero of Valmiki’s Ramayana have always been problematic:
1. There is no clear antagonist till 2/3rds of the story is over. You would think it’s Rama’s step-mother Kaikeyi who insists on his 13 year exile. But suddenly in the last year of his exile, Surpanakha happens to come across Rama and falls for him, triggering Laxman to cut off her nose, which in turn triggers Ravan to abduct Sita. As a writer I have always asked the question- what if Surpanakha did not stumble upon pretty boy Rama that day?
As Ravana in the film says, “Na rahega Ram, na banegi Ramayana!” No brotherly revenge, no Sita abduction, no surgical strike into Lanka! (yes it dates back to ancient times)
2. The Maryada Purushottam (the upholder of his word, the most superior man) Rama who battles a demon-king Ravana to rescue his wife Sita, takes a 180 degree turn and abandons his pregnant wife. Doesn’t quite add up.
Mahayoddha Rama is a brand new take on the Ramayana
In Mahayoddha Rama this story arc has been addressed - Gulshan Grover as Ravana is omnipresent. He realizes Vishnu’s avatar has been sent on earth, who in time to come will be the death of him. So throughout the story, it’s Ravana who attacks Rama in different forms, even influencing Manthra and Kaikeyi to send Rama into exile, where he can deal with him by himself.
The second has conveniently been left out- the film ends just after the battle, not getting into Sita’s abandonment. Considering the film is meant for kids, that was probably a smart move. They have enough time to deal with relationship issues when they grow up. In that it’s a brand new take on the Ramayana - a 10 headed schizo Ravana with 10 talking heads confusing the hell out of him (voiced by the late Sadashiv Amarpurkar, Ameen Sayani, Roshan Abbas and the ultimate Bad Man - Gulshan Grover) AKA major 90’s throwback!
The usually serious and serene Rama is a mischievous tiger-fighting prince who grows up into a romantic hero (with hair that belongs in a shampoo commercial) and indulges in a beautiful ‘hand dance’ on his wedding anniversary with his wife of 13 years. (Sigh!)
Sita is fresh as a warrior princess- an expert swordswoman, a talented archer fighting off demons shoulder to shoulder with Rama and Laxman in the forest. It was SUCH a relief seeing an empowered Sita for a change instead of the usual damsel-in-distress waiting to be rescued. And the claps from the kids in the audience reaffirmed this when Sita gives a flying kick to Ravana’s 10 heads! I could hear murmurs of approval from my feminist friend sitting next to me. A true 90’s heroine.
It was SUCH a relief seeing an empowered Sita for a change instead of the usual damsel-in-distress
But the one who clearly steals the show is Gulshan Grover as Ravana. He’s power-hungry. In the film’s most iconic scene where he stands on one foot during his tapasya demanding of Brahma, “Mujhe sab chahiye!” with his signature Bad Man laugh, he reminds me of a manipulative dictator who shuts down any form of dissent, even when it comes from one of his own heads who happens to be a Ram-bhakt. He is quietly put to sleep. In his defense, the head was being anti-national. And you know what that means. Also I couldn’t help but notice his more than 56 inch chhaati with which he manipulates his army to fight a side who comes to rescue one of their own. Hmmm…
Kunal Kapoor and Naagin Mouni Roy lend their voices to Rama and Sita. And everyone’s go-to character - actor Jimmy Shergill, plays Laxman. A cool element was an ancient form of social media - Udti Khabar, that could make every piece of news go viral. The beginnings of Facebook?
The music has a retro feel, the lyrics are grand and the rhyming dialogues have the makings of a Mogambo Khush Hua refrain.
Some of the ‘Laugh Out Loud’ moments of the movie are -
- Ravana dressed like a dandy to go to Sita's swayamvar. He asks his wife Mandodari not to wait for dinner. It’s also mentioned that they’re going through couple’s counseling. Love that!
- A 10 head cut-out in Ravana’s door for him to go through.
- A moon-walking Laxman.
- Sita's flying kick to Ravana's 10 heads.
- Punjabi speaking Vanars.
- Bihari speaking Kaikeyi (Considering she's from the kingdom of Kaikeya, which is now Bihar).
After watching the film I met the Director Rohit Vaid. Here’s a 101 with him.
Me: Does Ravana have a split personality in your film?
Rohit: He has multiple personalities. Many in one.
Me: Are you more Ram or Ravana?
Me: Why mythology?
Rohit: We have a treasure trove of stories. They’re gathering dust and time is passing by. This is an attempt to rejuvenate and give them a fighting chance. And I really wanted to make a Ramayana that didn't put me to sleep.
Me: Has your film - 9 years in the making, set a record?
Rohit: 2 years in making. 7 years in banwaas.
Me: If this was live action, who would play Ram and Ravana?
Rohit: Exactly the same people and some serious VFX.
Me: Who was the most fun actor to work with?
Rohit: Gulshan Grover. He was an institution of madness and learning.
Me: Are you trying to educate or entertain kids with your version of Ramayana?
Rohit: Entertain. Education could be a by-product. Not my endeavour.
Me: Have you received more praise or censure for your film?
Rohit: Praise from most. Censure, sure from the puritans and traditionalists.
Me: What's the worst thing someone said about your film
Rohit: To my face? Nothing. A couple of critics have had a field day. " Rama-yawn".
Me: And the best?
Rohit: The most unexpected rendition. Madcap and truly Ramayana unleashed 2016."
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By Smriti Dewan