Puneet Issar presents a refreshing view of Duryodhan in his retelling of the Mahabharat on stage

Revisiting the Mahabharata was not such a surprise, after all. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are two epics that are timeless and close to the hearts of every Indian. I realised its potential to be presented on stage in a magnum opus form was immense. And that’s when I decided to make it.

The conventional narrative undergoes a vast change when seen through the eyes of Duryodhan, the eldest of the Kauravas, the hundred sons of blind king Dhritarashtra and Queen Gandhari. The firstborn son of the blind king, he was the crown prince of the Kuru kingdom and its capital, Hastinapura, along with his cousin Yudhishtra who was older than him. ‘History is written by victors’ — the more I researched for the Mahabharata, the more I understood the complexities of Duryodhan. This play is a revelation as you get to know Duryodhan’s point of view.

Was Duryodhan given his due in the popular narrative? Absolutely not! And that is very unfair. According to me, he is the most pivotal and misunderstood character of the Mahabharata. Have you ever wondered, there would have been no Mahabharata if there was no Duryodhan! He had certain striking qualities. For starters, Duryodhan had absolute conviction in what he did. There was no ambiguity in his decisions — it was instant. For him, it was only black or white — no greys, no in-betweens.

Speaking of the bond between Duryodhan and Karan, it was one of selfless friendship. There were certain factors that led them to bond strongly, such as the fact that they had a common enemy. They also yearned to prove they were the best. Most importantly, they wanted their rights.

As writer and director, it was exciting for me to use theatre to unravel the selfless, unconditional friendship and loyalty between Duryodhan and Karan. This new version of the Mahabharata presents the point of view of these two eminent characters and highlights the causes that led to the destructive War. This rendition brings forth Duryodhan’s version of reality and truth as he saw it.

Telling this story about good prevailing over evil and presenting it in a poetic format, with a rhythmic rendering of dialogues, was exciting. It was an immersive experience to throw light on the human aspects of Duryodhan’s life such as his rock solid bond of friendship towards his friend — Karan, his relationship with elders of the Kuru clan and Draupadi. I am sure this version will be an eye-opener for many and allow audiences to view this epic tale with a fresh new perspective. This version of the Mahabharata emphasises on the fact that there is a little good in every bad and a little bad in every good.

By Puneet Issar