30 years after Mahabharat was telecast to an enraptured audience it is back on Doordarshan to a massive audience trapped indoors by an unforeseen nationwide lock-in.
Actor and former parliamentarian Nitish Bharadwaj wishes Mahabharat and his role as Lord Krishna had made a re-appearance at a happier time. “But the relevance of Krishna Bhagwan is timeless. His teachings are as important now as they were 30 years ago, and will be just as relevant 30 or 300 years from now. Since 1947 our education system has no religious studies in the syllabus. Studying the Hindu religion in schools is considered to be a sign of fanaticism whereas learning about other religions in schools is fine. It is up to the Ramayan and Mahabharat to educate our children. Our school teachers are not doing their jobs properly. So whatever time our children could have spent on religious studies is spent on their syllabus subjects. How many children know about Ramdhari Singh Dinkar? We need a complete reform in our education system so that there are no more Sonakshi Sinhas in the future.”
As for religion being used in politics, Nitish says, “Isn’t that the way it has always been the world over? Even during the Freedom Movement? A serial like Mahabharat brings the entire nation together as one. There are no Hindu viewers and no Muslim viewers. I remember during Mahabharat’s first telecast I met Johnny Lever on a flight and he told me, ‘Hamare Mussalman mohalle mein aaj kaal Khalasree and Abbasree and Ammisree chal raha hai.’ The current telecast comes at time when religious polarization is at its peak, what with the Tablighi Jamaat turning even moderate Hindus into cynics. But I still would like to believe that the average Mussalman is not represented by elements that think they can go around infecting people. And God forbid, if the Government decides to discipline them then it would be an infringement of minority rights.”
This is where the teachings of the Bhagvat Gita come in. “Krishna taught us how to be tolerant and inclusive. It is unfair to pull up Sonakshi Sinha for not being clued into our ancient scriptures, as Mr Mukesh Khanna recently did. It’s the entire youth of the nation that needs to be introduced to our heritage.”
Recalling his initiation into deification Nitish who played Krishna several times over in different serials, says, “After Mahabharat was telecast I was suddenly in the vortex of this immense veneration. My Brahminical upbringing did not permit me to approve of this deification. I was taught to remain grounded, close to my roots … and here I was being raised to the skies! It was disorienting. But over the year I’ve accepted that Lord Krishna has himself chosen me to be his face voice and messenger on earth. I accept that huge responsibility very humbly.”
Recollecting his wonderful association with B R Chopra and his son Ravi Chopra during and after the making of Mahabharat, Nitish says, “So many memories… my first audition in 1986. I looked horrible with a moustache. In 1987 when I started playing the lead in Marathi and Hindi films the mouche went. But during my audition for Mahabharat I felt I didn’t have a chance. In fact, I was chosen not to play Krishna, but to play Vidhur. For Krishna B.R Chopra saab had another senior actor in mind. But then Vidhur’s role was taken from me. And then there was re-think on Krishna’s casting. The entire team decided they needed someone younger. And B R Chopra Saab’s son my dear friend Ravi Chopra stood up for me. I was eternally indebted to him. We not only did Mahabharat but also Vishnu Puran later. When I turned director with the Marathi film Pitruroon I went to see Ravi who was on his death bed for his best wishes. He always believed in me and in fact during Mahabharat I’d sometime set up the shot for him in the morning before he arrived at 9 am.”
How does Nitish Bharadwaj view his patent role? “Krishna was never regarded as a God during his lifetime. Very few sawthe ansh of God in him and what he represented to mankind. Everyone had his own vested interests. Krishna thought only of dharma. Everything he has explained in the Bhagvat Gita is dharma. For example the different definitions of the word yogya. Gyan is dharma. Kissi na kissi ka todharma hai gyan batna?”
As for religion being used in politics Nitish says, “The backlash was bound to happen. We failed to be a truly secular nation after 1947. After the country’s Partition, Dr Ambedkar had suggested that the reservation policy should be reviewed after every ten years . The successive governments failed to treat every Indian equally and propagated the politics of appeasement. I am all for supporting the underprivileged class. But today the underprivileged are not restricted to any one community. There are so many impoverished Brahmins and Khatriyas. And so many privileged Muslims… So the reservation and appeasement policies mean nothing. We should’ve followed the British system of education. I’ve lived in the UK. Two of my children from my first marriage were educated in Britain. The UK government monitored their education and healthcare closely. What have we done to ensure the education and health of our children? Mr Modi has good intentions. He will take care of healthcare, education and law & order. These are the three areas where we have failed. In 1947 the Government had a golden opportunity to build a healthy infrastructure. We let it go. All along we are paying taxes. Where does that money go? When I was an MLA in Jamshedpur the rural schools had no roofs any teachers. Look at the quality of food grains served to children at daytime meals! In serving up a politics of appeasement we have failed miserably in looking after our children. Government after the government failed and then finally the BJP asked, ‘Who’s going to look after the rights of the majority? Agar yehi rawaiya raha toh the majority will become minority. What an eye-opener to see my Muslim brothers and sister pelting at and heckling the healthcare soldiers!! They have no respect for our administration. The politics of appeasement had to end. Yeh to hona hi ttha.”