Review: Mari Selvaraj’s ‘Karnan’, with Dhanush, Lal, Rajisha Vijayan

Posted on April 9, 2021


Spoilers ahead…


The best of screenwriters cannot imagine writing something like the Mahabharata because there are so many plots, subplots, and characters. And oOne of the most fascinating characters is Karna, who is born a demi-god. He is the son of a queen (Kunti) and a god (Surya). But he’s abandoned by his mother and raised by people from oppressed communities. So it’s no wonder he’s often seen as an outsider; a tragic figure who never gets what he wants. He doesn’t get to be with his mother, brothers, or even the woman he loved (Draupadi, in some versions of the epic). 

My favorite film version of the Mahabharata is Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug. He sets the tale between two feuding industrial families, and Shashi Kapoor plays the Karna character. But Tamil viewers are probably more familiar with Mani Ratnam’s unofficial “biopic” of Karna, Thalapathi. The film has all the familiar characters — Karna, Draupadi, Kunti, Duryodhana — but Karna is the hero of the story, rather than the traditional Arjuna. And then we have the actual biopic called Karnan, starring Sivaji Ganesan and made by BR Pathulu in 1964. 

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