Originally appeared in The New Indian Express on July 31, 2010.
SATIRIZING THE MAHABHARATHA
Sandeep Sood, creator and writer of ACK!, has no idea how two characters from the Maharbharatha ended up in modern day Jersey. Press him further and he says, “maybe it had something to do with Guantanamo.”
ACK! is Sood’s brainchild- a satirical version of the Mahabharata that he says originated in his 8-year old mind. “The idea came from reading comic books about the Mahabharata as a kid. At the same time I learned about the Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats etc, and soon I was mashing these epics together in my 8-year-old brain.” These comics, of course, were Amar Chitra Katha and the title ACK! is a nod to the comics’ role in teaching him about the epics as well as a tribute to the artists who created the pieces. In fact, the artwork in ACK! is obviously reminiscent of the old comics with brawny characters, square jaws rendered in full colour with captions that evoke the flavour of Amar Chitra Katha‘s best efforts. Of course, the humour is all totally new, radical and side-splitting; especially when Dhushasana, ticked off at not being recognised by an NRI girl at the bar, says to her, “What, don’t you recognize me?! Yo, I was HUGE in the Mahabharata.”
The webcomic, which is updated every Friday, is illustrated by Sood’s friend and collaborator, Aron Bothman. “Just like Ganesha was Vyasa’s scribe, this 27-year old gay Jewish dude is my scribe. Perhaps Aron is a reincarnation of Ganesha,” Sood jokes. The comic follows the adventures of Dhushasana and his 50th brother, simply referred to as ’50’, as they navigate through modern day New Jersey. Sood says he chose the Mahabharata over the Ramayana because, “Ramayana is everyone’s favorite…it’s always Rama this, Sita that. Enough! I wanted to give the characters from the Mahabharata some publicity.” Besides, he adds, “the Ramayana people get all the parts in the Diwali play, while the Mahabharata characters (at least the ones who survived the war) are all unemployed.” Beyond this altruistic motive, Sood concedes that he has always been fascinated by the characters and stories in the Mahabharata. “It’s full of fantastic and absurd stories,” he says.
Similarly Dhushasana and ’50’ were not chosen without reason. Sood’s main reasons for choosing Dhushasana is the character’s infamy- the fact that he’s known mostly for pulling Draupadi’s sari (which, of course, he never gets to end of); and also because his name can be shorted to ‘Dhush’, which in Sood’s comedic view is the coolest part. His earnest brother ’50’ is actually Gandhari’s 50th son- Chitrayudhaa. In Sood’s Mahabharata, Gandhari tires of calling her 100 sons by their long Sanskrit names and ends up referring to them in a form of numerical shorthand.
But like any good satirist, Sood has something to say with his comic. He hopes that people will laugh when they read it, of course, but he also hopes that people will learn not to take their religious epics so seriously. “I really think that the joke is on us; that even Vyasa himself never meant for us to take this stuff so literally. And for that matter, neither did the mortal writers of the Bible, Torah, or Koran. The stories are a fantastic part of our cultural heritage. But the fervor, the close-mindedness, the blind belief….all that stuff is just silly.”
The fact that he’s received hate mail for the comic does not deter him; it simply proves his point. It makes me wonder if Shashi Tharoor received similar letters for his Mahabharata-inspired historical satire, The Great Indian Novel. When he’s not working on ACK!, Sood is busy with his animation studio ‘badmash.tv’ and an animated series called Doubtsourcing which he guarantees is “funnier than NBC’s Outsourced.”