its one of those constant, persistent phenomena in my life which has been there practically forever. legend goes that as a naughty, wild 2 year old, i used to sit with my grandmothers and watch mahabharata and ramayana back-to-back, and i could apparently recite their dialogues even in my sleep. thus, i don't remember ever watching mahabharata for the first time. but i do remember that as a child, i was always more partial to it than towards the other great epic, ramayana. initially, it was because the former tv show was better than the latter; later on in life, goaded by certain people who were more partial to ramayana, i read both the books, by c.rajagopalachari (his mahabharata is one of the finest books ever) and realized that i was still as partial to mahabharata! it can be attributed to two main things- a childhood fascination with the tv show (i mean COME ON...its one of the best things indian television has EVER shown!) and a genuine preference for complex characters.
i absolutely, positively LOVE the show; its one of the bestest things Indian television could ever produce and i salute to the timeless quality which it has. its been more than 20 years since they aired it, and i can still watch it with as much enthusiasm as i probably used to as a 2 year old. the songs are brilliant, the dialogues are super duper cool, the actors were tailor made to play the characters they did (i cant think of a single miscast person in the show) and the whole grandeur was fantabulous...i love it!
on a more serious, 'adult' level of analysis, i find the sheer complexity of characters fascinating. as a student of psychology (ya it makes me a superior being in every way :P) i have a certain sense of partiality towards the grey areas of human existence- i understand how no human being is perfect, and everyone has secrets, everyone has issues with the world...and sometimes intense love is as harmful, if not more, than intense hatred. thats precisely what mahabharat stands for. none of the characters (even the 'god' Krishna) has ever been portrayed as the greatest thing mankind would ever see- they were all flawed, all caught up with their own ego hassles and power struggles,every single character comes with their own bag and baggage, and has their own agendas in life....much like normal individuals. and as a viewer/reader, you are allowed to choose who you prefer- the sometimes good people who are on the side of wrong, or the sometimes bad people who are the upholders of the truth. i love how you are allowed to get irritated with yudhishtir when he starts to flaunt too much of 'holier than thou' attitude and how you feel like sympathizing with duryodhana when he dies all alone in the battlefield. i love how despite karna being on the 'bad' side and him doing some very ungentlemanly like things (like joining duryodhan and gang in insulting draupadi) you cant help but feel just so bad for the guy. i couldnt agree more with shekhar kapur when he describes karna as "the most tragic hero in all of literature". i love how each character, male or female, is so neatly etched out (except maybe the two random Nakul and Sahdev...poor guys never really got any presence anywhere!).
there's also a familial component to the obsession with mahabharata i.e. many members of the family (grandmom, parents being top of the list) could write a thesis on the subject. once, my grandmom and i watched 16 episodes back to back in a single day...neither of us even thinking of taking a break and watching something else (the good old days of video cassettes...sigh) we are the kind of people who get irritated if someone or something interrupts us in the middle of an episode...despite having seen each and every single episode at least a million times.
but i have never really met too many people of my generation who are as obsessed about the show or the epic as i am...many conversations are already running through my head...