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Scribe of the Mahabharata

a film by Peter Brook

"It's about you . . .  If you listen carefully, at the end you'll be someone else."

Peter Brook’s 1989 film, The Mahabharata (88 mins, Part I; 78 minutes, Partbrook.jpg (6495 bytes) II—Parabola Video Library)--which means "The Political Story of the Human Race"--was originally planned as a 9-hour version of the 18-volume Sanskrit text, is based on his celebrated stage production.  Brook cut it to 6 hours for television.  The Parabola Video Library edition cut the original six hours of film to a little under three hours.  Screenplay:  Peter Brook, Jean-Claude Carriere, Marie-Helene Estienne.  Director of Photography: William Lubtchansky.  Editor: Nicolas Gaster.  Produced in Association with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, NEH, NEA.  The actor who plays Ganesha also plays Krishna. Cast listMallika Sarabhai, dancer/actor who plays Draupadi in Brook's film.

Director Peter Brook's screen presentation of the legendary Indian myth uses international cast, to emphasize the nature of the epic as a universal story of all humanity.  The film stars Vittorio Mezzogiorno as Arjuna, the leader of the virtuous Pandava clan, which wages war throughout the epic with the power-hungry Kauravas, who are led by Arjuna's half-brothers, Karna (Jeff Kissoon) and Duryodhana (Georges Corraface). Although the benign Lord Krishna (Bruce Myers) cannot intervene, he provides advice for both clans on protecting dharma, the order of the universe.

The film was broadcast in the United States on the PBS network.

Synopsis for The Mahabharata DVD.  Director Peter Brook's screen presentation of the legendary Indian myth. Given an added universal dimension by its use of a widely varied international cast, this epic film is based on Jean-Claude Carrière's impressive, nine-hour stage adaptation of the allegorical Indian poem.  For your own copy, type in "" in your locator window.

Background on the Mahabharata and Online Texts |
Essays and Other Resources | FilmReviews |
Family Chart and Some Film Photos |
MiraCosta College Honors Enrichment Seminar on The Mahabharata

Peter Brook | intercultural performance | soundtrack

Peter Brook Interview, by Faynia Williams.  In September 2001, Peter Brook won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of Great Britain--and consented to an interview for the Guild's journal, DIRECT.

Another Peter Brook Interview (Nancho Consults).

"Peter Brook and Traditional Thought," by Basarab Nicolescu (Trans. David Williams) published in the Gurdjieff Review

"The Readiness Is All: Peter Brook's Thirty Years in Paris," by Janet Savin (in Shakespeare Bulletin: A Journal of Performance Criticism and Scholarship).

"Peter Brook, the Mahabharata, and Intercultural Performance," by Craig Strobel (1999).  On Brook's   international group of actors trained in methods and traditions of acting and performance of their native cultures and his  experiment with a universal or cross-cultural performance style or language.  Also on the problem of cultural appropriation and insensitivity.

"Peter Brook's The Mahabharata: The Exigencies of Intercultural and Intersemiotic Translation," by John Hellweg 

Sotigui Kouyaté interview:  "When I joined Peter Brook, I didn’t feel out of place. I could see everything was happening inside a circle, just like in Africa, and on the third day, he took my hand, looked me in the eye and said: “Sotigui, from today, you’re part of the family.” That was a magical moment for me. He didn’t say: “You’re part of our group, of our company.” He’d understood the soul of an African, he’d embraced my culture. Brook is a universal man. For him, there are no barriers between people, which is rare in today’s world. Some people don’t understand my loyalty to Brook. But how can I not be loyal to someone who defends such values in today’s world, where separation and individualism hold sway? // At his International Centre for Theatre Research were 22 actors from 18 different countries. In The Mahabharata, the five Pandava brothers were played by a German, a Frenchman, an Iranian, an Italian and a Senegalese. This bothered no one, and the play travelled the world for four years. Only Brook could have pulled off such a feat. There aren’t any races or skin colours in his mind. I’ve also played Prospero in The Tempest under him. It was the first time a European director, a British Shakespearean to boot, had staged this play with a black Prospero."

"The Readiness Is All: Peter Brook's Thirty Years in Paris," by Janet Savin (in Shakespeare Bulletin: A Journal of Performance Criticism and Scholarship).

The soundtrack also features an international group of musicians and composers. The base of Hindu religious music is interpreted and performed with instruments from other countries such as Japan, Turkey, and Australia.  Among the composer/performers are the Nobel-Prize winning Rabindranath Tagore, Djamchid Chemirani, Philippe Eidel, Kudsi Erguner, Kim Menzer Mahmoud Tabrizi-Zadeh, and Toshi Tsuchitori. Dr. L. Subramanium was the musical advisor for the stage production.  Dr. Subramanium has also scored the music for Salaam Bombay and Mississipi Masala, and is featured as a soloist in Little Buddha by Bernardo Bertolucci.


"A work of beauty and exhilarating experience."--Los Angeles Times

"Richly evocative...above all a great yarn." --The New York Times

"A masterpiece...The Mahabharata offers more food for thought than every other movie released this year combined." --Billboard Magazine

"A 100,000-stanza Sanskrit poem, more than 10 times longer than the Bible, it's one of the oldest and most sacred works of Indian literature, and one of the world's longest written works. For his 1985 stage version, Brook distilled this metaphysical marathon down to nine hours; for the film, he's got it down to three densely populated hours. . . .  Two warring bands of brothers, offspring of kings and gods, fight savagely for dominion. In this corner, we have the five virtuous Pandavas, led by Arjuna, versus the ragingly macho half-brothers Duryodhana and Karna. Both teams get sideline advice from the benevolent god Krishna, who tries to teach them to restore earthly harmony by abandoning their bloody lust for power. . . .   Made in three months for a shockingly low $5 million and filmed on a set colored with spice, smoke and stone, and lit by candles, torches and mist-shrouded moons, The Mahabharata is often gorgeous." (Joe Brown, Washington Post. 03 Staff August 1990)

"Simplifying a bit, we might say that The Mahabharata (which can be translated as 'The Poetical History of Humanity') is the story of a war between the Kauravas (the bad guys) and the Pandavas (the good guys)--a war in which dharma itself, the order of the universe, is threatened; a war in which Lord Krishna, a manifestation of the great god Vishnu, will be a participant on the side of the Pandavas. The story is interrupted and diversified with many byways and digressions (one is the Baghavad Gita, the lofty book of Brahman ethical teachings) and vivified with striking characters, curses, bitter vengeance, ambiguities and eccentricities, but it is a great story. It is not for everyone's taste, but those who like it are apt to like it enormously.

"The film falls into three parts. In the first, 'The Game of Dice,' all of the Pandavas, their kingdom, possessions, freedom and family are lost in a rigged dice game with a relative of the Kauravas. Their wife, Draupadi (all five of the Pandavas share a single wife), pronounces a terrible curse on those who have doomed her to slavery, and the war becomes inevitable. Tensions build in the second part, 'Exile in the Forest,' and the dire consequences of Kaurava greed and intransigence burst into almost universal destruction in the third part, 'The War.'" (
Joseph McLellan, Washington Post, 03 August 1990)

The Mahabharata, in its original Sanskrit probably the longest epic ever composed, embodies much of the essence of Indian culture.  Said to be written down by the god of writing and beginnings, Ganesha (the elephant-headed god), it is a fascinating story of a feud between two parts of a single Indian ruling family (the Bharata), featuring a gambling contest in which one set of cousins is tricked out of their kingdom.  The culminates in a vast, cataclysmic battle, told in a heroic and moral context.  Krishna teaches the warrior that the ultimate battle is not about land and riches and worldly power.  The ultimate battle, waged on cosmic ground, is about the human spirit.  The Ultimate Weapon is summoned, a weapon that if used will destroy the world of both matter and spirit. Shrinking from one's moral duty, refusal to act even when it is most difficult to act, and egotistical attachment to one's actions--these human weaknesses pose the greatest dangers to survival of the individual and the species.

Gloria Floren, Letters Department, MiraCosta College,
One Barnard Drive, Oceanside, California 92056. U.S.A.
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Created February 2000. Revised 20 September 2003.  Contents Copyright 2000-2001 Gloria L. Floren.  All rights reserved
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