In adapting the 100,000-stanza Sanskrit poem that is roughly India's equivalent to the Bible, renowned stage director Peter Brook has created a work that is more filmed theater than fluid moviemaking. (In fact, Brook first tackled this material in a nine-hour stage production). This
version, the result of trimmings from other stage and television presentations, runs just under three hours. In spite of all this cutting and pasting, THE MAHABHARATA manages to be both overlong--a byproduct both of its staginess and of its emphasis on talk over action--and underdeveloped. Yet the
cumulative power of this 2,000-year-old tale is undeniable, and Brook's approach, if debatable on an artistic level, is nevertheless respectful without being overly reverential.
THE MAHABHARATA tells the story of two warring families, the Pandavas, descendants of King Pandu, and the Kaurava family, the offspring of Pandu's blind brother, Dhritharashtra. That the above synopsis covers only a small part of what actually occurs in THE MAHABHARATA is indicative of the film's
main problem, the overcomplexity of its plot. It takes a tremendous effort just to follow the story, let alone to savor its subtleties. Moreover, the talky script--co-authored by Brook, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Marie-Helene Estienne--and staginess of the action are added distractions.
Nonetheless, what Brook, his collaborators, and the uniformly excellent cast are able to accomplish in THE MAHABHARATA far outweighs the film's weaknesses. Brook manages to emphasize what is uniquely Indian in the epic poem that provides the film's basis without neglecting its points of contact
with other enduring works of spiritual enlightenment. As much as possible, the international cast, many of whom appeared in the stage version, also labor to give the characters a human realism, imbuing the tale with a poignant intimacy to match its epic sweep. Though filmed at minimal cost, THE
MAHABHARATA is a story for the ages.
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- Released: 1990
- Rating: NR
- Review: In adapting the 100,000-stanza Sanskrit poem that is roughly India's equivalent to the Bible, renowned stage director Peter Brook has created a work that is more filmed theater than fluid moviemaking. (In fact, Brook first tackled this material in a nine-h… (more)