Disney India Tries to Tackle ‘The Mahabharata’ With ‘Lord of the Rings’-Sized Budget

By  · Published on March 24th, 2014

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Disney, proving that they’re an ever-moving machine that doesn’t stop to take a break, has announced their new project. Out of Disney India is coming the two-part live-action version of the beloved story of the mythological epic The Mahabharata. The story of warring clans has gone through innumerable adaptations since its inception in 400BC, but none have quite made it to such a grand scale as the one proposed by Disney.

Directed by Abhishek Kapoor (Rock On, Kai Po Che) and written by Ashok Banker (best known for an eight-part novelization of another massive Indian epic The Ramayana), the film has thousands of shoes to fill. There have been films, stage plays and television shows all trying to capture the magic of the classic tale. A television adaptation that ran from 1988–1990 in India was the highest-rated program of the time period.

In 1985, the famed British theatre and film director Peter Brook put together a nine-hour stage production of the mythological tale, featuring a multinational ensemble as his cast. Somehow, that didn’t do so well. It was re-released in 1989 as a six-hour miniseries.

In 2013, the animated film Mahabharat attracted an all-star Bollywood cast to voicework, like Amitabh Bachchan, Vidya Balan and Ajay Devgn. Last year as well, Indian animation company Graphic India launched an animated web series on YouTube with Batman comics writer Grant Morrison called 18 Days, based on the ancient story. With all of this material already existing – not counting the likely unfathomable number of adaptations that likely also exist since the story was first told so long ago – it seems like Disney India’s latest stab at the tale isn’t necessary. But despite the popularity of The Mahabharata, nothing has quite gotten it right yet; at least, there’s always room for improvement as the years progress.

Said Banker: “It’s an epic as relevant and powerful today as it was millennia ago. Our attempt is to make the Mahabharata that brings alive the great human drama, the terrible conflict, and unforgettable characters, in a way you’ve never seen or thought of them before.”

As it turns out, when Disney India and Kapoor and company described the new film as an “epic,” they weren’t kidding. Though a finalized budget hasn’t been released just yet, Kapoor has made his intentions clear to make the two-parter on the same scale as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Be prepared for years of production, a sea of extras in ridiculously expensive costumes, and probably lots of animals. It’s just in India this time.

The Mahabharata, for those out of the loop, is the ancient story of two clashings clans of cousins, the Pandavas and Kauravas, who fought in the Kurukshetra war. The story contains the sacred text of the Bhagavad Gita, which is delivered by Lord Krishna to Pandava warrior prince Arjuna at the battlefield right before the start of the war.

Like so many other Indian entertainment companies, this isn’t the first time Disney India has tried their hand at adapting the story, either. In 2012, the studio produced Arjun: The Warrior Prince, an animated movie focusing on the one character in the epic war tale. It sounds like the epic will fare better.