Puneet Issar relooks at 'Mahabharata' from the eyes of its greatest villain

Meghna Malik as Dharti Maa and Puneet Issar as Duryodhana
Thirty years ago, Puneet Issar was on the wrong side when an epic war was being waged. He’s still on the wrong side.

In 1988, when B R Chopra’s adaptation of the Mahabharata had Indian audiences glued to their television screens, Issar played Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas whose pride and jealousy leads to his ultimate fall. 

Exactly three decades later, he returns, again as Duryodhana — only this time on stage. And he tells the story of the epic battle from the point of view of its greatest villain. Playing the part of the younger Duryodhana is his son, Siddhant, who will portray the gurukul days of the warrior when he was just 16. 

Siddhant, 28, recalls the story of his own birth. “‘Congratulations! Young Duryodhana is born,’ was the first thing the nurse told my father at the hospital,” he says. So powerful was his portrayal of the eldest of the Kauravas that Issar had become synonymous with Duryodhana. 

“I was 95 kg when I first played Duryodhana. I am losing weight so that I weigh the same when I play the part again,” says Issar. His son, meanwhile, is bulking up. The two have scripted the play together.

But while we get to see Duryodhana’s side of the story, it doesn’t mean the outcome changes. “Duryodhana took the path of adharma, and that is not disputable. But there’s more to the story than that,” says Siddhant. It’s a conflicting point of view, but Duryodhana felt he was fighting for his rightful place in Hastinapura, and for the respect that Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandavas, commanded. The story also delves into the factors that seeded Duryodhana’s irrevocable animosity towards the Pandavas, and what becomes of him with his uncle Shakuni constantly whispering into his ears.

The play is also about the friendship between Karna and Duryodhana. Karna was not just Duryodhana’s greatest weapon but also his most loyal advisor and his best friend. “The depth of their friendship has remained unexplored and we will bring it out,” says Issar.

Karna’s death was the beginning of the end. It prepared Duryodhana for his final dual with his nemesis, Bheema. The play will attempt to do it right. “We have a 6-foot-3-inch Bheema,” says Siddhant. Danish Akhtar will play the role. Actor Rahul Bhuchar is Karna, who is also the producer and managing director of Felicity Theatre, the production house behind the play, Surendra Pal will return as Dronacharya and Meghna Malik will narrate the play as Dharti Maa (Mother Earth).

In a fateful twist, Urvashi Dholakia, the actor best known for playing the vamp Komolika in Ekta Kapoor’s Kasautii Zindagii Kay, will drape Draupadi’s sari. It will be Dholakia’s first theatre performance in a career of over 20 years.

“Everybody has a version of Draupadi,” says Dholakia. But she was never a damsel in distress. “Draupadi is fiery, independent and opinionated, and very similar to the woman of today,” she says.

The play is also a chance to question how the tale of Mahabharata has been told over the years. “It was never black and white,” says Siddhant. And the cast promises to bring out the shades of grey.

Mahabharat will be staged at Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium on November 17 in two shows, at 4 pm and 7 pm

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