Lifeok’s Mahakumbh attracted quite an interest right from the day it’s launch was announced, owing to grand promotions and a fairly unique concept. There was this story rooted into ancient mythology yet set up in contemporary times- What could it be about? The theme seemed to be dancing around psychology, religion, philosophy, history and science , all at once. When such rich content is promised with tempting visuals and creative teasers, it is natural that expectations go sky rocketing high. Consequently, Mahakumbh arrived amidst high speculations from a demanding audience.
Establishing the Premise:
On these lines, the first phase of the show got it just right. The first episode, in particular, was explosive (pun intended). The events were lined up in a breathtakingly tight sequence- A bomb blast at the Kumbh is engineered to kidnap Shivanand, following which, little Rudra is found by a wandering seeker –Udiya Baba and he in turn brings him to the aegis of Mai-Mui, a woman hardened by her occupation of handling funerals. The principal characters and the premise were thus established convincingly, against a very authentic looking background of the holy Varanasi. The story was all set to roll. And roll it did, as the child Rudra grew up into the traumatized but stoic adolescent who could not let go of the memory of fateful day he lost his father in the chaos after the blast. There was a shroud of mystery to both him and his Garuda birthmark. He had mysterious powers which kept manifesting without warning and the teenage Rudra carried it all with a nonchalance. The portrayal was very much in line with the frame of the story: Dark, complex and waiting to be decoded. It was not surprising that this show gained highest TRPs in the beginning weeks.
While it was more than evident from the start that the story would be one of the Good Vs The Evil, the many degrees of Evil conceived in multiple forms around the protagonist, made it strikingly different. From Poland to Kashi, an intricate conspiracy had been hatched for decades. A string of strong negative characters were in play, one being used by the other where no one knew the real motive. All the action was centered around a huge secret guarded zealously by a few: Every 144 years, at the time of the Mahakumbh, the mythical elixir of life, just like in the legend of the Amrit Manthan, reappeared and became accessible to the human kind. Amrit or Immortality would mean ultimate power, so in secret circles, a war had been brewing to catch hold of it for a 100 years. Therefore the quest of the Amrit was brought out into the script like the proverbial Holy Grail: Everyone was ready to kill but no one knew how to reach it. Rudra however, though unaware, was one of the seven Garudas who took birth every 144 years to guard that Amrit from going into the evil hands.
Missing Audience Connect:
Whenever a contemporary story is created on the basis of mythology, there is a huge scope of manipulating the public imagination into wondering if some of this could actually be true. Blurring the line between what is and what could be gives birth to a golden opportunity of turning a fantastical concept into an utterly relatable one. It was exactly why The Da Vinci Code or the Interstellar witnessed huge success: They captured the lure of the unknown and depended on the the fact that what cannot be proved cannot either be disproved. In Mahakumbh, this potential glittered for a while, specifically, when the age old legend was explained as a relevant theory in the halls of BHU by professor APG Rao. But as the show progressed, it got dangerously close to the pitfall of too much research. When Rudra discovered he belonged to a sect called Brahmanishth and met his- back from the dead- grandmother it was not only him who felt confused and bombarded with information but also the audience. The battle of science & tradition could not gather much connect from then on, as the story started distancing itself from a global audience by getting caught up with the depiction of rivalry between religious sects and personal beliefs- a theme not relatable to many of us.
The Team Garuda however, under the leadership of Rudra, continued holding a contemporary appeal. The assortment of the seven garudas is especially noteworthy because it subtly passed on a very important message that heroes are neither limited by age, gender or relationships. 2 women, a non-believer, a middle aged DSP, a father, son , and a demi goddess (Bhairavi), made the most unlikely team, but stayed supremely focused because of a common destiny. Again, it would have been interesting to see a little more on the backgrounds of all these garudas and how they came to be a part of this selected posse. More layers to all seven of them & their psychological differences would have made the central theme more intriguing. However, after Bhairavi’s arrival, the rest of them took a definite backseat and the action seemed centered around Rudra and Bhairavi, which also included a lot of repetitive scenes on dramatic rituals which could have been curtailed.
Mahakumbh’s execution regarding the element of emotion was another flawed aspect. In a fast paced thriller, many emotionally expressive scenes were incongruous and became a distraction in the movement of the story, rather than an embellishment. A hero who is born to save the world and has a team looking up to him for orders, does not shed as many tears as Rudra. There is no harm in creating a sensitive super hero but, a silent look back or a single sentence can express grief, confusion and suffocation a lot stronger than copious tears with extensive dialogues aiming to explain an emotion. Additonally, despite all good intentions, the portrayal of the female lead did not live up to the expectations. Maya, who started well, by standing up against her evil family for Rudra, ended up either getting kidnapped or poisoned all through the rest of the show, halting the pace of the story to frustrating levels. When an entire episode was spent on getting a poisoned Maya married to Rudra, the disrupted pace was highly disconcerting. The Rudra-Maya love story , which could have served in strengthening the core, unfortunately could not fit in. An overload of emotive scenes crippled the script at times.
When Rudra’s nemesis Dansh, entered the story as the head of the Naag clan, Mahakumbh seemed to have turned to the Raj Comics route. The apparent ease with which one act of violence succeeded the other without disturbing this anti-hero’s character even a little bit, reminded me of the pages of super commando Dhruv comic books where the villains would destroy the world with a casual ease, laughing all the way with an unexplained arrogant confidence. Dansh’s portrayal was exactly on the same lines. As the focus shifted towards the grotesqueness in Dansh who was given an ostentatious evil laugh punctuated with overt expressions & provocative dialogue delivery, it was obvious to start wondering whether this show could have done better by targeting children from the beginning? The theatrics provided to the Naags and the stark black & white war between heroes and the villains would work particularly well with kids for the same reasons that comics do: They provide an amplified version of both the Good and the Evil with guaranteed assurance that even if the world seems completely destroyed at a point, the Good will somehow triumph. As the show lurched towards the end, the story that started with a multi-dimensional approach had turned into this one dimensional premise.
All said & done, the show gifted us with some superlative performances. The first phase of the plot could make great impact owing to Seema Biswas, Robin Das & Siddharth Nigam’s ability to bring out the characters exactly as conceived on paper. Gautam Rode was also able to do the justice to the role of the adult Rudra, specially the emotive scenes where Rudra fights his vulnerability. All actors who played the negative shades, made a great impression with measured performances. Manish Wadhwa was consistently good as Rudra’s father and Team Garuda’s knowledge bank. All the seven Garudas did full justice to their roles. However performances alone could not carry a story alone and it became evident with constant diminishing TRPs.
The script seemed hurried towards the end when everybody started dying in quick succession with Mahakumbh turning into a completely fantastical story out of the pages from the likes of Amar Chitrakatha. But the creators should get full credit for trying something unique on TV and probably heralding a new age of creativity on TV. It provided good entertainment at times and ended gracefully when the quest of the Amrit ended with Rudra merging into it to get Ganga back on earth. One of the earliest shows to try the finite format, it would definitely count as a successful pre cursor of the finite shows to come.