The Show of Shows

Why a quarter century after it went on air BR Chopra's Mahabharat remains Indian television's most remarkable show

01 April 2013
(Left to right) Girija Shanker (Dhritarashtra), Firoz Khan (Arjuna), Renuka Israni (Gandhari), Virendra Razdan (Vidura), Nazneen (Kunti), Praveen Kumar (Bhima), Gajendra Chauhan (Yudhishthira), Nitish Bharadwaj (Krishna), Sameer Chitre (Nakula) and Sanjeev Chitre (Sahadeva).

IN DECEMBER LAST YEAR, between takes for the Hindi romance serial Pyaar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaara, Mukesh Khanna, dressed in a brown three-piece suit and a polka-dot tie, walked to his dressing room on the set of Rajshree Productions in Mumbai’s Film City. On the way, Khanna, who plays the leading man’s grandfather, ran into Kanwarjit Paintal, who plays a friendly in-law. The two men, both slightly bulging at the waist, exchanged pleasantries and discussed the day’s shooting schedule.

It was, in many ways, a banal moment: two spent actors casually chatting before their next takes for a regular television show. But there was something striking about it, too. Twenty-five years ago, at the very same location, these two actors were locked in battle as two of the most crucial characters in the most significant programme ever shown on Indian television: BR Chopra’s Mahabharat. (Paintal’s androgynous Shikhandi was used by the Pandavas to take down Khanna’s indomitable Bhishma in the battle of Kurukshetra.)

Akshay Manwani  is a freelance writer based in Mumbai. His book on the poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi will be published by HarperCollins in 2013.

Keywords: Doordarshan BR Chopra Mahabharat Ramayan Mahabharat Katha Nitish Bharadwaj Mukesh Khanna Rahi Masoom Raza