Friday, July 14, 2017

A Periyarist's take on communism

There's a famous scene from the 1995 Tamil film, Villathi Villain, involving Goundamani and Sathyaraj:

The scene opens with Sathyaraj working out in a gym. When Goundamani sweats in front of him, he asks, why do you sweat, if I exercise? The latter puts forth a series of rhetorical questions to him:
  • If the priest rings the bell, don't the women get possessed?
  • If poor farmers plough the land, don't the landlords get fatter bellies?
  • If labourers toil in the factory, don't the capitalists roam around in Benz cars?
  • If people vote for somebody in the elections, don't the beneficiaries (politicians) accumulate wealth?

Meanwhile, '[H]Alwa' Vasu, a sidekick, interrupts and asks him, 'Er, communism?' Goundamani retorts, yeah, this is what some people convey through 'play of puns', while some fly all the way to Delhi and blabber all this as 'Democratic socialism', and film stars lipsync to songs that praise all this in their films. He points out that the obvious similarity about all these men is that none of them are poor!

Out of nowhere, a silambam practising guy turns up. Goundamani, who stands beside him, tells him to practise (i. e., rotate the shaft) carefully so that the stick doesn't hit his eyes. While Goundamani and Sathyaraj continue their conversation, the guy turns up again only to hit the bull's (Goundamani's) eye. When Goundamani asks him, "why the heck did you hit my eyes man?", he says, "if one wants to learn something, obstacles shouldn't matter". An even more irritating Goundamani fumes, "hey, but that's intended only for the learners, why should the bystanders suffer?" THIS is where the joke ends. Now, when we look at the scene from a screenwriting POV, it does a 'full circle' and comes back to Goundamani. Simply put, the silambam practising guy and Goundamani are metaphors for capitalism and communism, respectively.

Sathyaraj, a self-proclaimed Periyarist, has won praise for his histrionic skills by playing a wide range of characters  - as a villain, a comedian, a hero, et al. He scored as a writer, too, in what happened to be his directorial debut. This scene is a testament to it!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The greatest warrior in Mahabharata

Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Bhima, Arjuna, Ashwatthama, Abhimanyu, Ekalavya, et al, are the names that strike our mind while discussing the greatest warriors of the Mahabharata. This never-ending debate can be concluded in two ways:

1. Wins/defeats tally:
Arjuna wins hands down. In fact, nobody (not even Krishna) fought more battles than Arjuna in the entire epic. Let's take a look at some of the incidents that establish Arjuna's supremacy over the aforementioned warriors:
  • Arms exhibition: The Karna-Arjuna rivalry starts when the princes are asked to display their skills at the arms exhibition. After equaling Arjuna's feats with utmost ease, Karna challenges him for a duel. The timely intervention of Kripa not only resulted in Karna being barred from the combat, but also questioned his societal status. Interestingly, that was the only time when Karna somewhat matched (or even proved superior to) Arjuna.
  • Draupadi Swayamvara: After Arjuna wins Draupadi's hands, the kings who took part and failed, collectively attack Drupada and the Pandavas, who were under the disguise of brahmanas. An intense battle takes place between Karna and Arjuna. When the latter summons to divine weapons, the former withdraws from the duel as he feels the brahmana is invincible.
  • Gosha Yatra: When the Gandharvas defeat and imprison the Kauravas in the Dwaitavana, Karna abandons Duryodhana and his brothers and flees the spot. It was Arjuna (aided by Bhima and the twins), who fought with the Gandharvas and used his influence to free the captivated Duryodhana.
  • Battle of Matsya: During the cattle raid in the kingdom of Virata, Arjuna defeats the entire Kaurava army that had the likes of Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Shakuni, Duryodhana, Dushasana, Karna and Ashwatthamma, single-handed (literally). The only warrior from the Kaurava army who somewhat matched Arjuna was Bhishma. Arjuna comfortably defeats the rest in a one-to-one encounter. Finally, when all the maharathas organise a combined attack on him, he launches a divine weapon called Sammohanastra, which renders all of them unconscious. Bhishma is an exception though; he acts as if fainted in order to put an end to the battle (and save Duryodhana).
  • Kurukshetra war:
    •  When the Kauravas formulate a plan to capture Yudhishthira alive, Drona admits his inability to do that in Arjuna's presence. Later, when Duryodhana blames Drona for not accomplishing this task, Drona says Arjuna's shooting speed, range and accuracy are comparatively much better than his.
    • On the 14th day when Arjuna was on the look out to kill Jayadratha, he penetrates into the Kaurava army after facing the likes of Drona, Kripa, Shakuni, Karna and Ashwatthamma to avenge Abhimanyu's death. Nobody was able to stop him or protect Jayadratha from his wrath.
2. Direct claims from original verses of the epic:

Almost all versions, abridged and unabridged, unanimously favour Arjuna.
During his stay at the heaven, Arjuna learns about divine weapons. Meanwhile, Indra instructs Rishi Lomasha to visit Yudhishthira and utter these words:
Your younger brother Arjuna will swiftly return, after obtaining weapons, but after accomplishing a great task for the gods, which the gods themselves are incapable of. Together with your brothers, devote yourself to austerities. Austerities are supreme and there is nothing greater than austerities. O bull among the Bharata lineage! I know Karna exactly. In battle, he is not worth a sixteenth part of Partha. O destroyer of enemies! I will dispel the fear that exists in your mind about him when Savyasachi has returned.
Later, Arjuna himself confirms what Indra had told him to Yudhishthira:
O descendant of the Bharata lineage! All the divine weapons are yours now. There is no man on earth who is capable of vanquishing you. O son! When you are engaged in the field of battle, Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Karna and Shakuni, together with all the other kings, are not worth one-sixteenth of you.
While either of one of these arguments (as a standalone one) may not look satisfactory, both put together definitely makes some sense. So taking both into consideration, one can safely conclude that Arjuna was the greatest/powerful warrior in the Mahabharata.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Radheya and chariots - I

Just before the Kurukshetra War, after Bhishma was made the commander of the Karuava army, he enumerates the warriors and classifies them based on their strengths. Bhishma had his own reasons (based on his judgement) to enumerate the warriors and their classifications. When it was Karna's turn, he rated him a half ratha. His judgement of Karna (as a half rathi) was ably supported by Drona. According to Bibek Debroy's English translation of the the critical edition of the Mahabharata, Bhishma's reasons for calling Karna a half ratha are:

Karna Vaikartana is harsh, boastful and inferior. He is your [Duryodhana] adviser, leader and friend. He is insolent and has been extremely uplifted by you. O king! He is not a full ratha. Nor is he an atiratha. Because he is always generous, he has been separated from the divine earrings he was born with. Because of Rama’s curse, the words of the brahmana and because he will be separated from his implements, it is my view that he is only half a ratha. When he meets Phalguna, he will not be able to escape with his life.
Enraged at this, Karna refused to participate in the war as long as Bhishma was in command.

However, Irawati Karve in her Yuganta, had an interesting take on this incident. According to her, Bhishma rated Karna as a half rathi because of his 'impulsiveness'.

Going further, Karve had a different perspective: A ratha (car-warrior) fights standing in a chariot (ratha). They also know how to drive a chariot. Krishna, Bhishma, and Arjuna knew both - driving and fighting. Karna on the other hand, never knew how to drive a chariot. Interestingly, he was brought up the Sutas, who were mainly charioteers by profession. It is said that in order to 'effectively' shoot the arrows from a moving chariot, one needs to know the nuances of chariot driving. Karna seemed to have lacked this skill completely.

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