At the same time, we are reminded that ours is an age of the electronic boom. Mahishasur Mardini is no stranger to the television too. The TV versions of the work, which recounts how goddess Durga battled the asura, flaunted names like Hema Malini and Tollywood stars like Debashree Roy playing the lead. Strangely, what has remained with us of the TV versions are only the names. “With due respect to the makers, the televised versions of Mahishasur Mardini were never a patch on the radio version,” says Ratna Sen, presenter with the All India Radio, which almost had a monopoly on the piece before the FM revolution. The reason why TV has never quite measured up to the radio version, says Sen, is probably because of the sensibilities associated with the ritual of listening to Mahishasur Mardini on the radio. “We are conditioned to the fact that listening to the recital is an early dawn phenomenon. The TV versions usually don’t air before 5 am,” says Sen. Also, since the emphasis is on the shlokas and how they melt into the songs in form of storytelling, what you hear becomes more important than what you see. “The TV takes your mind away from the essence of Mahishasur Mardini – the stirring recital,” says Sthitodhee Saraswati, an IT professional.
The reason why the reputation of the radio recital has remained undiminished despite the electronic revolution has to do with the comeback the radio, as a medium, has staged in the recent times. “The FM channels are as popular as TV. People are hooked to the radio all day. So, when the same medium strongly publicises the piece, people are bound to keep listening to it,” says filmmaker Arin Paul. Also, the fact that Kolkatans are as familiar with the piece like they are with their culture sees to the fact that they need no great cajoling to switch on the radio every Mahalaya dawn. “The legacy associated with the radio version of Mahishasur Mardini weighs down too heavily on TV. It’s almost a part of the Kolkata subconscious. Even advertisements and TV features during and before the Pujas constantly refer to the ritual of listening to the radio, identifying it as an important cultural icon,” says Rajarshi Burman, vocalist with city-based rockers Insomnia.
The production values of the televised Mahishasur Mardini also leaves a lot to be desired. Filmmaker Anindita Sarbadhicari, who has been approached to direct Mahishasur Mardini by TV channels, declined because she felt that a production with such content demanded high standards. “There’s so much that has to be done in terms of costumes, set designing, jewellery etc. Unless there’s thorough research and a seriously cinematic approach towards making the programme, it’s a futile exercise,” says Sarbadhicari. And stars don’t do much to give radio a run for its money. “Nobody wants to see stars in a tackily put together production. In fact, when AIR tried producing a new Mahishasur Mardini with stalwarts like Uttam Kumar there was widespread protest,” says Sen. The city, till now, has similar opinions it seems.