Connected \\ February 23, 2021
Telling the story of the Mahabharata
Family, duty, and rivalry—this is the story of the Mahabharata, one of India’s oldest and most well-known Hindu epics. To take viewers on a visual journey through the legendary pages, FableVision Studios partnered with PEM to animate an abridged re-telling of the epic as part of PEM’s South Asian Art gallery. This larger than life visual narrative is currently projected on a gallery wall and featured on pem.org.
The longest epic in existence, the Mahabharata is the source of stories and teachings that have been part of life in India for 2,000 years. It tells the story of the Pandavas and Kauravas, two families born of the same blood. Their legendary conflict is one that is morally grey, with heroes and villains on both sides.
To tell this story, FableVision worked closely with PEM’s team. Siddhartha V. Shah, Director of Education and Civic Engagement and Curator of South Asian Art, closely assisted in the condensing of the Mahabharata. FableVision writers created a script and sectioned the story into three major parts: the creation of the Pandava and Kaurava families, the development of their struggle for sovereignty, and the great battle between them. In each of those three sections were highlighted, important moments that ultimately led to the massacre of the Kauravas. The animation begins with author Vyasa, who unfolds the story of the Pandavas and Kauravas as they struggle to reconcile jealousy and rivalries that comes to a head in a grand battle. As Vyasa tells the story to the Hindu deity of beginnings, Ganesha, the epic comes to life before our very eyes.
The animated epic appears alongside paintings by Maqbool Fida (M. F.) Husain, one of India’s best-known modern artists. Initial inspiration for the artwork's direction was drawn straight from Husain's body of work on the Mahabharata. His compositions and imagery held such energy and intensity that would translate beautifully into animation. To introduce Husain's work and additional pieces inspired by his vision, FableVision wove elements of the prolific artists’ paintings into the animation and worked with subject matter experts and curators from the museum to create a compelling and poignant animated homage. The exhibit features works inspired by Husain’s vision of the Mahabharata, alongside paintings, sculptures, and other historical materials that showcase India's long and layered history.
Maqbool Fida Husain. Mahabharata, 1990. Oil on canvas. Gift of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, 2003. E301620. Photo by Barbara Kennedy/PEM
FableVision’s art team was led by Director of Art & Animation, Bob Flynn and Lead Designer on the project, Jane Winters. “Early on in development, I came across the work of Natalia Goncharova, Mystical Images of War. Bold shapes, striking composition, gritty textures -- all produced in black and white lithographs,” shared Winters. “We took these elements and used them in the overall design of characters, props, and backgrounds. Lastly, we made sure that the characters could be identifiable by silhouetted shapes because they all had such important roles in the story.”
Color played possibly the biggest role in differentiating the two sides of the family and setting the tone of each scene. Because we were working with a limited color palette, we wanted it to be clear which family was the Pandavas - Red - and which family was the Kauravas - Grey. As far as storytelling, we used a combination of close-up and wide shots to communicate the emotions and struggles through facial expressions, hands, weapons, and more.
FableVision is proud to partner with PEM to present this moving testament to the Mahabharata’s rich, significant, and complicated history. Watch the video now, and pay a visit to the exhibit to experience more of this vast and dynamic history. For a virtual tour of the gallery, go here. And be sure to check out our previous collaborations with PEM, including an interactive piece in the Asian Export Art gallery, which features the quirky, animated history of Augustus the Strong.
Still from screen saver image. Augustus the Strong swimming through porcelain.
Check out these related stories from the BBC and Boston’s WGBH.
Monica Chen is the Communications Strategist at FableVision Studios, based in Boston, Massachusetts.