ON 16 SEPTEMBER 2013, after an expensive promotional campaign that included everything from a hail of Facebook ads to LED-equipped vans posted at strategic locations around the country, Star Plus launched its new television show based on the Mahabharata. With a budget of Rs 120 crore, the show is pitched as the most expensive ever produced in India. Several big names—including the mythology expert, writer and corporate guru Devdutt Pattanaik, the legendary screenwriter Salim Khan, and the Oscar-winning fashion designer Bhanu Athaiya—are associated with the project.
Before the show went on air, the channel’s marketing team stressed that this Mahabharat, the latest television adaptation of the epic, would tell the Mahabharata from Krishna’s point of view, and specifically target the country’s youth, who are presumably in need of divine direction. Accordingly, even though Krishna is absent from the early stages of the plot, which pre-date his birth, he appears on screen to recite a concluding monologue. This Krishna, played by Saurabh Raj Jain, is not quite buff like the other male characters on the show, although calling him feminised would be an overstatement. He gives life lessons—not quite along the lines of the Gita’s teachings—on the banks of a river whose water looks suspiciously like plastic sheeting. On occasion, he caresses frolicking bunny rabbits and geese while speaking to the camera.
After each episode airs, these three-minute video lectures are uploaded as “bonus material” on the show’s website and Android app. The titles of the videos include “Lord Krishna introspects about human expectations” and “Lord Krishna introspets [sic] if Dharma can be found in traditions.” In short, Krishna, in this iteration, is a gasbag whose speciality is dealing in platitudes. He smiles a lot, perhaps to hoodwink us into forgiving his babble. Like many professionals from the self-help industry, he seems unconvinced by his own words. But the strategy has succeeded with its intended audience. The press has declared the show, which airs every weeknight on Star Plus, an emphatic success. Television ratings are a murky business at the best of times, but reports indicate that this show has bettered even the incandescently popular reality show Bigg Boss.