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When I posted my list of jewellery songs , blog reader Afsal posted a song from the Mahabharat—so I went and watched Mahabharat, and reviewed it.
And, when I mentioned in that review that I found the reduced-to-almost-nothing character of Karna very disappointing since I think of Karna as one of the most intriguing characters of the epic , another blog reader—kayyessee—recommended a film that might be of interest, since it focused on Karna. The Tamil film, Karnan, with Sivaji Ganesan in the lead role. So here it is: what Karnan is about, and my thoughts on it. The film begins with a young Kunti KV Saroja going down to the Ganga and placing her newborn son in an elaborate box, which also contains jewellery and a rich brocade sari.
Kunti weeps as she pushes the box away into the current and sees it carried away. Kunti is pure, but since no-one will believe that, she has had to let go of her baby.
This child will be very giving, very charitable, predicts the sadhu. Name him Karnan. Karnan, therefore, grows up as the only son of the charioteer and his wife, and does not realize—until his 25th birthday [rather, the 25th anniversary of their finding him in the river] that they are not his biological parents.
On that momentous day, Karnan Sivaji Ganesan —arriving for the ritual pooja that marks this anniversary—overhears his parents talking of how they had found him.
It comes as a shock to him, more so when they confess that they have no idea who his mother is. She must hate me; she must be ashamed of me, Karnan mourns. For which mother would willingly abandon her own child? Things move on. The ruling Kauravs and Pandavs, in one of their many attempts to assert their right over the kingdom, hold a contest.
This is a display of various skills, mainly archery, and Arjunan R Muthuraman has been acing them all. But he is stopped. Arjunan is a Kshatriya; a Kshatriya may only compete against another Kshatriya. Is Karnan a Kshatriya?
Then who is he? Fortunately for Karnan, the Kaurav prince Duryodhan SA Asokan has been watching this with interest, and has come to the conclusion that Karnan is made of the sort of steel that will be useful for the Kauravs. This man, even if he is not a Kshatriya, is a worthy warrior.
So Duryodhan springs up and announces that he bestows the kingship of Anga—which is part of his domain—on Karnan. Karnan is taken aback, but also extremely grateful.
Duryodhan and Karnan, just as quickly, become the best of friends. Karnan, being king of Anga, now goes to his kingdom—and has soon won the hearts of all the populace with his generosity. He literally gives away platters loaded with gold coins, jewellery, brocade, and other goodies to his subjects at court.
Just as Karnan is about to leave the pooja room, the idol of Surya calls out, cautioning him: This is no ordinary old man. This is Indra himself, in disguise. And he has come to ask Karnan for the earrings and breastplate which make Karnan invincible.
Karnan listens, thanks Surya for the advice—and then goes out to meet the disguised Indra. Things play out just as Surya had predicted. But Karnan cannot give up his inherent generosity; even though he confronts the old man and compels him to reveal himself in his true form as Indra, Karnan also takes up a knife and personally cuts off the earrings and breastplate. He hands them over to Indra, who is so touched by this selflessness, he gives Karnan something in return: the wounds from the cutting are immediately healed, and in addition, Karnan gets a weapon called the nagastra.
The latter, though, comes with a condition: it can be used only once. Duryodhan, in the meantime, comes up with an idea to make Karnan even more indomitable a warrior. Go to Sage Parashuram, he advises Karnan, and learn the use of the brahmastra weapon from him.
Karnan is doubtful; Parashuram never teaches a Kshatriya; he only teaches Brahmins. But, egged on by Duryodhan—who convinces Karnan that this is all in a good cause—Karnan goes to Parashuram, posing as a Brahmin, and is taken under the wing of the warrior sage.
He fails to drive it off, and the hornet burrows into his thigh. The pain is agonizing, but Karnan bears it without a twitch or a whimper of pain—even when the hornet finally emerges and flies off.
When Parashuram finds out what had happened, the truth dawns on him: no-one but a Kshatriya could have borne so much pain and not complained! Karnan is an impostor; he has learnt the use of the brahmastra under false pretences. Parashuram therefore curses him: just when he needs to use the brahmastra most urgently, Karnan will forget its use. We are now treated to a brief romantic interlude. Karnan, striding through the countryside one day, sees a runaway chariot, its horses racing madly along while the sole occupant—a beautiful woman Devika —screams helplessly.
She only manages to make some odd gestures to Karnan… … the meaning of which completely eludes him. Duryodhan and Bhanumati, however, are very interested in this episode and eager to see Karnan married , so when Bhanumati, told of the gestures, interprets them to mean that the woman is the princess of Chandrasailam, they know what to do. Duryodhan and Bhanumati take it upon themselves to visit the king of Chandrasailam with a proposal on behalf of Karnan. Duryodhan being the powerful king he is, the king of Chandrasailam agrees to the match.
His daughter, married to a man whose parentage is unknown? Who knows what Karnan is, what his caste is, his birth is, who his parents are? His unknown parentage attracts one insult after the other, rendering everything else—his prowess as a warrior, his charitable nature, his generosity and kindness—null and void.
My favourites were En uyir thozhi , Iravum nilavum which, by the way, is picturized amidst some beautiful ancient temples which reminded me of Belur and Halebidu and the lovely Kannukku kulamedhu.
The script, by AS Nagarajan. To give him his friendship. And from this emerges some excellent characterization. Karnan is a tortured soul, a man who—despite his being an invincible warrior—nurses the most grievous of wounds: of knowing that he was unwanted, that his unknown for most of the story mother abandoned him.
And his humiliation grows, sinking deeper into anguish, as Bheeshm names the people who will lead the assault on different fronts—and Karnan is relegated to a minor role, right in the middle. He says nothing, but the pain in his face is apparent. The original Tamil film clocks in almost at 3 hours; the Hindi version is so ruthlessly chopped up, it is an hour and 40 minutes.
The original Karnan itself was digitally restored and re-released in , so a good version of it, subtitles and all, is easily available. Share this:.
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