Monday, 6 November 2017

#38 A graphic novel

Vyasa The Beginning – Sibaji Bandyopadhyay & Sankha Banerjee

Mahabharata or the Great Epic of India has been told and retold a hundred thousand times in various forms, in numerous languages and by countless storytellers. Its scope is vast and the epic itself can take a lifetime to study. The many intricate and complex connections and side stories that run parallel to the main story are incredibly fascinating and can each be developed into a full-fledged tale by itself.

In a nutshell (if I could take that liberty!), Mahabharata is the tale of two groups of cousins – the Pandavas (5 brothers) and the Kauravas ( 99 brothers) who fight against each other in an epic battle in order to claim their right to the throne of Hastinapura. The plethora of characters and the complicated relationship between them will take you along a fascinating journey. It is well worthwhile!

So, into the many re-tellings comes another – am ambitious project which aims to bring out the Mahabharata in a graphic novel series beginning with this one – Vyasa. It was the sage Vyasa who is supposed to have composed this epic. Upon hearing its recital by one of Vyasa’s pupil, Sauti, a professional storyteller takes it to a group of hermits and presents it to them.

Sauti - the professional storyteller giving a dramatic rendition
This particular narrative is quite complex because Sauti is interrupted quite frequently with questions and comments by the hermits. It seems to be a very self-conscious post-modern retelling, with the steady interruptions. Sankha Banerjee does a fabulous job in transforming Sauti into a dramatic storyteller through his art.  But, overall it fails to make an impact – neither with the way the narrative flows, nor with the illustrations, except for a few spots of brilliance.
Opening scene of the battlefield

If you are looking for a more straightforward illustrated version of Mahabharata, probably Amara Chitra Katha’s version is a really good one ( which came out in 3 hardbound volumes or 42 single issues). But, those of you who have heard this tale in many guises, it would be an intriguing look at how Mahabharata could look in a different format. Hopefully it will live up to its promise in the coming volumes.  

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