A popular genre from the ’60s to the ’80s, tales from the Mahabharata had all but disappeared in the past decade. Until Kurukshetra brought back memories of sitting in front of the television to catch the latest episode of one of the country’s oldest stories, ramped up in scale a thousand times.
Producer Munirathna took up the task of moving the Mahabharata out of pint-sized weekly instalments to the big screen, zeroing in on one of the epic’s most definitive battles - the one fought at Kurukshetra. The movie differs in one major way from the tales of yore, however, as it shows the battle from Duryodhana’s point of view. The character is portrayed by Darshan in his landmark 50th outing. With 3D technology, the war is played out in a feature-length costume drama, with the spectacular visual effects making for gleeful viewing.
The song, Saahore saaho, Ajanubaahoo, Rajadi Raja, Suyodhana, sets the scene for the movie, which starts straightaway with the introduction of Darshan as Duryodhana, explaining the circumstances that led him to help Karna get his position and the beginning of a deep friendship. It moves on to the conflict between the sons of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, and tells the tale of how the Kauravas challenged the Pandavas to a gambling match to take Draupadi (Sneha) away from them.
The rigged gambling scene, dominated by Shakuni (Ravi Shankar), as well as Draupadi’s humiliation and the divine intervention of Lord Krishna (Ravichandran), are the forbearing events that force the Pandavas into exile. Upon their return, the Pandavas seek their kingdom back, signalling the beginning of war.
Most of the tales of the ensuing battle are well known -- the entry of Krishna into the war ground, his offer to help the Pandavas and the historical climax, as Duryodhana and Bheema face one another. The story is told in stunning spurts of visual spectacles. At three hours, Kurukshetra also holds the distinction of being one of the longest films to be made in the Kannada film industry, perhaps necessary considering the extent of Mahabharata narrated in the movie.
Director Naganna has gone simply by the book rule, placing the facts in the movie, using the extract of the poem, Gadhayuddha by Ranna, written by JK Bharavi. Narration is simple and helps even those who know nothing of the epic understand the story.
It looks like the team has tediously managed to keep the story in a format that is likely to be widely accepted. That they managed to pull in such a massive star cast is sure to help their efforts as well. Dialogues by Nagendra Prasad, which balance colloquial lines with complicated verses, are finely executed while the art department, with a crucial role to play, has delivered under art director Kiran Kumar Manne.
There are pauses, but the hurdles seem enjoyable! Visual effects by Durgaprasad Ketha and Jeemon Pullelly Varghese, the man behind the 3D marvel that Kurukshetra is, deliver the goods. With Jo Ni Harsha at the edit desk, the first half of the movie is heavy on conversation, it is the war parts that occupy most of the second half. The epic also has songs composed by Harikrishna that blend into the movie, with lyrics penned by Nagendra Prasad. The background score, and cinematography by Jayanan Vincent lift the movie to new levels.
Darshan, playing the difficult-to-like role of Duryodhana, seizes the chance and challenges himself to take on a completely different avatar, justifying the character. With a pumped-up physical appearance, combined with the right body language, expressions and costumes, it is clear that a lot of homework has gone into effective portrayal of the role. He carries the character majestically, and with Arjun Sarja, who plays Karna, the performances are the highlight of the movie.
Ambareesh plays the role of the eternal advisor Bheeshma, while Ravichandran takes on the role of Krishna, the game-changer, Sonu Sood as Arjuna, and Nikhil Kumar as Abhimanyu. Danish Akhtar Saifi as Bheema faces Darshan for the ultimate end fight. Ravi Shankar as Shakuni shines while he explains the various lines of thinking that are part of the complex epic.
Other cast members include Srinivas Murthy as Dronacharya, Srinath as Dhritarashtra, Sashikumar as Yudhishthira, Yashas Surya and Chandan as Nakula-Sahadeva, Sneha as Draupadi, Meghana Raj as Bhanumati, Harirpirrya as Maye, and Chetan as Dushasana.
An ambitious project by Munirathna, which features one of Darshan’s most challenging roles, Kurukshetra is an honest attempt that showcases ancient mythology. It makes for a classic visual experience.
Cast: Darshan, Ambareesh, Ravichandran, Arjun Sarja, Sonu Sood, Nikhil Kumar and Danish Akhtar Saifi