Duryodhan: A multi-layered character

Puneet Issar has written a play about the epic tale (Mahabharat) from Duryodhan and Karna’s perspective

Among most famous epics in Indian mythology, Mahabharat has always caught people's attention like no other.

The mythological story revolves around brothers who fight with each other for the throne, fame, and ideological values; the epic addresses innumerable philosophical battles a human being fights, often with themselves, as they try to understand their purpose in life.

Perhaps, this is why when the Mahabharat came on television in India for the first time, people couldn't help but keep watching it. Puneet Issar, who played Duryodhan, the oldest Kaurava in the 1988 television series, has now written and directed a play about the epic tale from Duryodhan and Karna's perspective.

While the story is generally told from the Pandavas perspective, who are perceived as the protagonists of the tale, Issar this time has decided to dwell on the moral and philosophical experience of Duryodhan and Karna as they waged their war against the Pandavas. Issar said, "History is always written by the victor. But they (Kauravas) were vanquished and they too have their side of the story."

The actor/director said that his play is about understanding the psychology of the character. "Duryodhan was not the villain in the story. He was the anti-hero for sure, but if you look at Mahabharat as a classical tragedy, Duryodhan was the protagonist from his perspective." Adding that the beauty of Mahabharat lies in the fact that the story always played around with grey areas, Issar said, "Maybe he (Duryodhan) was more black than white, rather dark grey; but he too had shades of positive light."

The play focuses on softer moments of the eldest Kaurava brother, such as his love for his parents; his devotion towards Karna as a friend, which broke an important barrier of inter-caste friendship in that era. "I always felt all the unknown aspects of his life – the human side of Duryodhana, like his immortal bond of friendship with Karan should be portrayed and shown to the audience," Issar said.

Interestingly, Issar has directed his son Siddhant as a 16-year-old Duryodhan, showcasing the legendary warrior in the early stages of his life; while he, himself will be stepping into the shoes of a mature, older Duryodhan, once again, this time on stage. "It was very challenging. People have very high expectations from the character. Stepping into my shoes is not easy. But the way Siddhant has prepared and worked on the character is incredible. He is outstanding as young Duryodhan – what I did 30 years ago. He has surpassed me by miles," Issar said.

He added that Siddhant, through his scenes, tries to depict inner psychology of Duryodhan – the thought process, emotions, vices, views and situations that transformed him into the 'super-villain' that he was.

However, Issar remains mindful of not glorifying some of the horrible things that Duryodhan so easily condones. He said that the play does not even try to justify these things. "We will address the good and the bad. We are just trying to bring out their perspective," he said.

The play, which will stage at the Kamani Auditorium in the Capital on July 27 and 28, is being promoted by India's leading entertainment destination BookMyShow.

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