By Neha Kirpal
Filmmaker and bestselling author Trisha Das has just released her latest book of feminist mythological fiction, Misters Kuru: A Return to Mahabharata (HarperCollins India, Rs 350).
A sequel of her book Ms Draupadi Kuru: After the Pandavas (HarperCollins, 2016), the racy, sassy roller-coaster ride, full of action, adventure, romance and comedy, is written as a kind of continuation of the Mahabharata set in the modern-day Kalyug in Delhi.
Previously, Trisha has also written and directed over 40 documentaries in her filmmaking career, and won an Indian National Film Award (2005) as well as was UGA’s ‘International Artist of the Year’ (2003).
She talks to us about the importance of reimagining and rewriting mythology from a female perspective, her earliest influences of Indian mythology, and incorporating comedy in a mythological context.
How were you motivated to write a feminist retelling of the Mahabharata in a contemporary setting?
The Kuru novels aren’t so much a retelling of the Mahabharata as they are a sequel of sorts. The story of Ms Draupadi Kuru picks up in the modern day, thousands of years after the end of the original Mahabharata. Draupadi and her friends come down to Delhi from heaven. In The Misters Kuru, the Pandava brothers follow their women to Delhi.
My motivation was simple – I wanted to give these characters another shot at their lives, at reshaping their destinies. So many of them were forced into living lives they didn’t want to – being stripped of their kingdom, exiled, et cetera. I thought it would be fun to see what kind of lives they would choose, given the choice.
What were some of your earliest influences in life when it comes to Indian mythology?
My maternal grandfather started my fascination with mythology as a young child. He was religious, but in an inclusive way, and he told the best stories from both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
I read various versions and interpretations of the Mahabharata growing up and, as an adult, delved into the Ganguli and Debroy translations, alternate versions like the Bheel Mahabharata and mythological fiction. I also used to watch the TV series every Sunday on Doordarshan and point out mistakes, which everyone in my house found thoroughly annoying.
What do you feel about the conventional depiction of women in Indian mythology?
It sucks. They’re praised not for their achievements, but for their sacrifices or their beauty. Any kind of resistance to being pushed around or attempt at self-determination is severely punished and the women constantly suffer for the stupid decisions of their menfolk. Consent is virtually non-existent – just ask any beautiful woman trying to have a bath in the forest.
Apparently, a mythological woman only has influence over men if she has a tiny waist and lotus eyes or if she’s their mother.
Recently, several authors have been reimagining and rewriting mythology, particularly from a female perspective. Why do you feel it is important to do this in contemporary times?
To keep the stories relevant and relatable to the inhabitants of a modern society. That’s how the Mahabharata and the Ramayana have kept up with the times, instead of dying out like European mythologies.
Millions of authors have rerecorded the epics over thousands of years, so rewriting and reimagining mythology isn’t a recent thing at all. It’s part of Hindu tradition.
Would you say that feminism exists in the ancient Indian context?
Yes and no. Feminism is a modern concept, but female power has existed in one form or the other throughout history. Women have always been influential, even when the official narrative didn’t support it. They worked from behind the scenes, or wielded power by dressing as men or becoming saints or a thousand other ways that circumvented the system. Nowadays, feminists are trying to change the narrative and modify the system – same result, different approach.
Please give us instances of the comedy you have incorporated in a mythological context in your book.
The humour comes across in the writing, not in the plot – mostly when the old and the new collide with each other – when Yudhishtra tries to understand the concept of a ‘brand’ or Draupadi mistakes a chandelier for a divine being, et cetera. They’re people who are thousands of years old, falling into a modern city so there’s obviously a lot of potential for comedy.
Relate to our readers some instances of unconventional sex/romance in Indian mythology.
Well, there’s Draupadi having five, legal husbands, which would be fairly scandalous these days. Sikandi is a gender-fluid character who borrows a penis from a yaksha, and the concept of niyoga, in which the wife of an infertile man can be impregnated by his brother. There are also instances of premarital sex, extramarital sex, voyeurism and incest.
As a keen filmmaker, tell our readers what is the essence of a good documentary.
One that tells a story and inspires a call to action – without being preachy.
First published in eShe’s Summer 2021 issue
Syndicated to Money Control