On the big screen – Myth and history: back to the starting point | Blogs / Reviews
Mythology and history are making a big comeback on the big screen! After all, that’s what we started our shooting with. The notable films being “Raja Harishchandra” and “Alam Ara”. It was thought that genres were forever lost on television. In fact, a few genres, like family soap operas, aka family social activities, as well as mythological themes, which had their own captive audiences, have been picked up by TV series makers.
With these themes, a series maker could stretch the stories, highlight all the characters, and continue a series for as long as the viewer was interested in turning them into mega series. Both were aimed at families, especially women. And that translated into TRP. If other genres like action, romance, and horror were spared, it’s because they weren’t good for family viewers in prime time. As for comedy, no serial maker would dream of venturing there because we barely have competent comedy writers for a two hour movie, making an episodic series is too much to ask. If we observe, even on OTT platforms, comedies are rare.
If mythologies are making a comeback on the big screen, it’s a nice surprise. As for histories, as defined by the filmmaker and not necessarily based on history, what is called creative freedom, such as “Mughal-e-Azam”, “Anarkali”, “Taj Mahal”, “Razia Sultan” , “Noorjehan,” “Jhansi Ki Rani”, “Prithvi Vallabh”, “Sikander-e-Azam”, in addition to films about Chandragupta, Ashok, Shahjehan, Rana Pratap – many of them had a romance at the center.
Recently we had “Bajirao Mastani”, “Padmavat”, “Manikarnika”, “Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior”, “Jodha Akbar”, “Mohenjo Daro”, etc. All with a mixed box office formula. On television, the early mythologies, “Ramayana” by Ramanand Sagar and “Mahabharata” by BR Chopra, attracted more attention than any other series and set the tone for more such programs. Since then we have had a series of mythologies.
These serials have found a ready audience. There was a generation who had read both volumes, the Ramayana as well as the Mahabharata, while those who had not read them had, at least, a superficial knowledge of the stories and it was great to watch them unfold. ‘screen. As if that wasn’t enough, believers began to watch these soap operas with religious fervor. So much so that a bath and taking off the shoes became mandatory before the soap operas started to play.
Mythological tales abound in India and to add children to the list of viewers, versions of childhood stories of deities have followed the great epics, “Bal Hanuman”, “Bal Ganesh”, “Bal Krishna” and “Luv. Kush “aimed at appealing to children. In fact, even as a series on Radha Krishna airs on Disney + Star, another series on Krishna’s childhood exploits, “Jai Kanhaiya Lal Ki”, has just taken off on the same channel! As with the other soap operas, the one that has been the favorite of the creators is on Sant Saibaba. Many series about his life have been made over the years, while at least two more are currently airing on two different channels!
There was no way for film producers to compete with TV series when it comes to mythology. A normal movie lasted 150 minutes at best at the time, while on television a series could go on and on in detail and expand. Special effects were easy and done on the table whereas in movies it was done on sets and required experts to create the sets as well as in the cinematography departments.
The filmmakers have made denominational films for special occasions and festivals. “Shiv Mahapuran”, “Vishnu Puran”, “Jai Bajrangbali”, “Tulsi Vivah”, “Jai Santoshi Maa”, “Hari Darshan”, “Dhruv”, “Bhakta Prahlad”, “Subhadra Haran”, “Raja Harishchandra”, “Bhimsen”, “Danveer Karna” and many others, some of them specially planned for the godly month of Shravan. Likewise, Muslim parties have been organized to attract Muslim audiences, especially for the month of Ramzan and the feast of Eid.
So what made the filmmakers come back to these two genres, especially knowing that they come with huge costs, besides the fact that today’s generation may not be familiar with them? ? Also, most of the upcoming films are based on pre-Mughal history or mythological heroes and may not appeal to a section of the audience that boasts of a better cinematic tradition.
One attraction for the filmmaker who opts for mythology or history as a theme is that he tests the filmmaker’s vision and imagination. It would need opulence and immensity which make the film a visual delight. He must have greatness. After all, it was the norm in the 60s when a manufacturer thought of 70mm! It would be relevant to take a look at some of the new announcements made recently. A film about the greatest Indian thinker and strategist, whose wisdom is shared and followed even today, Chanakya, will be made with Ajay Devgn in the lead.
Ram Setu, a film starring Akshay Kumar, lives on the mythical bridge built by Lord Ram’s monkey brigade between Rameshwaram in South India and Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. The bridge and its existence recently made headlines as international media discovered that its existence was real. The film will mix the myth with the contemporary as Akshay Kumar plays a modern-day archaeologist.
Prithviraj, the legendary warrior, will be played by Akshay Kumar. A lot of things are working for this project. The first being that Prithviraj Chauhan was the complete hero in the sense that his story is about defeating an Afghan invader and marauder, Mohammed Ghori, and his romance with Princess Sanyukta makes it a perfect movie formula. To add to the value, the film is directed by Dr Chandra Prakash Dwivedi and supported by Yash Raj Films.
Then there’s the upcoming launch, “The Immortal Aswathama,” a modern day action hero film starring its Mahabharata-inspired main character, Aswathama. There are other announcements that can be made in Hindi or as bilingual. What sparked this sudden urge among producers to embark on production ventures as large as life that can eventually prove difficult to execute and make the stories plausible to an audience that has no idea what? topics? The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are doing well, but how many can relate to films like “Suheldev”? What seems to have aroused the envy of gigantic films on historical or mythological characters is the unprecedented success of “Baahubali”; it was not made in Hindi, but a dubbed version captured the box office all over India and also the imaginations of filmmakers, both in Hindi and in the languages of South India.
Once upon a time, every filmmaker wanted their own ‘Sholay’, now it’s ‘Baahubali’ that directors aspire to match.
(Vinod Mirani is a veteran screenwriter and box office analyst. The opinions expressed are personal.)