The Ramayana Cinematic Universe and Mahabharata Cinematic Universe!

These days we are (as a family) rewatching the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) on weekends – one movie per night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I’m using this chronological sequence to watch the films (source: Techradar).

We completed Spider-man: Far From Home last night, incidentally! It was thrilling to watch the films back-to-back over weekends even if we have seen all these films in theaters and occasionally on TV. The sequencing makes them particularly interesting because of the interconnectedness.

After each watch (most of which we have already watched in theaters), I read through the production and background details on Wikipedia and I’m amazed at how all this came together over so many years, leading up to the Infinity War-End Game combo, and going further. This, even as so many different writers and directors were at the helm.

What was particularly so exciting were 3 aspects:

  • how they built the coherence in the plot leading to Thanos taking over the infinity gauntlet with all the stones.
  • how the movie version significantly deviated from the source stories in the comic books. The amount of thinking in the deviation is astounding since they could have easily used the actual comic book plots as-is without reinventing the stories. For instance, Thanos destroys much of the world to impress (lady) Death, and not for the morally ambiguous cause shown in the film.
  • the incredibly and thoroughly enjoyable use of the end-credits (or mid-credits) and post-credits scenes in most of the MCU films, as a precursor to what would happen in subsequent films. When you see the films back-to-back in your home, you realize the amount of thought and imagination that has gone into stitching so many plot points together even in such throwaway scenes in the end. But given the detailing, they got so much attention and became so much fodder to build on the fandom. (Here’s a full list of all the end/mid-credits and post-credits scenes from all the films in MCU).

But all this nuanced detailing gave me an idea – how would it be if there was an RCU – Ramayana Cinematic Universe or an MCU – Mahabharata Cinematic Universe?

So, I used my imagination to create them!

Given the many, many variants of both the epics and the myriad branching stories, I have used my memory of the 2 epics from my many reading, the Indian TV series and the most important source: my grandmother narrating the epics to me in Tamil while I was a child growing up in Srirangam.

I’d love to see the 2 epics being made with the same amount of passion, detailing, aesthetic sense and technical wizardry as the films in MCU or Lord of the Rings or Baahubali, and hope they get made in my lifetime. But, for now, for the sake of reading through my imaginary cinematic universes of the 2 epics, please use your imagination to picture the scenes or snapshots of scenes I have described. This, considering most of us in India know these stories quite well already.

Presenting…

The Ramayana Cinematic Universe:

Movie 1: Rama and Sita
The origin stories of Rama and Sita, leading up to their wedding. Then, the exile happens and during the 13th year of exile, in Panchavati, Shurpanaka woos Rama and gets her nose cut, followed by an ascetic abducting Sita and flying off in a pushpaka vimana. Raavana is not introduced in this film.

The end-credits scene showcases a child Hanuman reaching for the sun, thinking it to be a ball. This is a precursor to the 2nd film in the Ramayana Cinematic Universe.

The post-credits scene shows magnificent aerial shots of Lanka, built by Mayan, as a foreshadowing for the 3rd film.

Movie 2: Hanuman
The origin story of Hanuman, leading up to Hanuman (now a Minister of Sugreeva) meeting Rama and Lakshmana in the forests of Rushyamukha Parvata, when he disguises himself as a sansyasi.

The end-credits scene would briefly show Hanuman flying over a burning Lanka with the city up in flames. This is a precursor to the 3rd film.

The post-credits scene shows Sita undergoing the agni pariksha briefly, as a precursor to the 5th film.

Movie 3: Rama Vs. Raavana – Part 1
The big battle, including origin stories of Raavana and Vibheeshana, and part of the battle. This is almost the whole of Sundara Kaanda (including origin stories of Sugreeva and Vaali) and early parts of Yuddha Kaanda.

The end-credits scene has glimpses of a lot of effort to wake up Khumbakarna (who we do not see) – a direct precursor to the second part of this film.

The post-credits scene have Hanuman making a fortress out of his tail, as a precursor to the Mahiraavana chapter in the next film – also a glimpse of the 2nd part of this film.

Movie 4: Rama Vs. Raavana – Part 2
The origin stories of Indrajith, Khumbakarna and Mahiraavana, among others. The film concludes Yuddha Kaanda, and ends with Lakshmana reluctantly dropping Sita in a forest for another exile, post the agni pariksha.

Only an end-credits scene, featuring Luv and Kush taking Hanuman as a prisoner.

Movie 5: Luv Kush
The whole of Luv Kush kaanda, with the brothers meeting their father again in Ayodhya, and ending with Sita going back to Mother Earth and the death of Rama and his 3 brothers.


The Mahabharata Cinematic Universe:

Movie 1: The Warring Brothers
The origin stories of the 2 main warring factions: Pandavas and Kauravas. From the birth of Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura, to the first two sons’ marriages, and how their wives Gandhari, Kunti and Madri conceived the 100 Kauravas and 5 Pandavas. The first film ends with both sets of brothers asserting their claim to the throne.

The end-credits scene has the Pandavas entering the Lakshagriha (House of wax) as a precursor to the 3rd film.

The post-credits scene shows Krishna lifting the Govardhan hill. A direct teaser to the next film.

Movie 2: Krishna
The origin story of Krishna, in its entirety. It ends with Pandavas meeting Krishna for the first time during the swayamvara of Draupadi (in which Arjuna takes part, in disguise. The Pandavas are not shown in this film at all).

The end-credits scene shows a Brahmin aiming at the eye of a moving, artificial fish on the ceiling (a teaser of the 4th film).

The post-credits scene shows snapshots of the infamous dice game between Pandavas and Kauravas. (precursor of the 5th film)

Movie 3: Karna
The origin story of Karna (an aspect of Kunti’s life that is shown in the first film), in its entirety till his friendship with Duryodhana. The lakshagriha episode where Pandavas are presumed to be dead (shown in the end credits scene of Movie 1) is showcased in greater detail here. This film ends with Karna taking part in Draupadi’s swayamvara and is interrupted by Draupadi herself. And an unknown Brahmin then takes on the challenge – this is Arjuna (with the Pandavas in disguise).

The end-credits scene show Kauravas visiting the newly built capital at Indraprastha as a teaser to the next film.

The post-credits showcase glimpses of how the infamous dice used by Shakuni was made (a precursor of the 5th film).

Movie 4: The Ascent of the Pandavas
The first segment is about Draupadi’s swayamvara, her wedding with Arjuna, her becoming all 5 Pandavas’ wife (because of Kunti’s careless response). The second segment is about the Pandavas building a new capital in Indraprastha, Yudhishtira performing the Rajasuya yagna, them inviting Kauravas to their new palace. The third segment is Draupadi/few Pandavas insulting Duryodhana in their palace and Duryodhana plotting to get back at them with Shakuni.

The end-credits scene shows the Pandavas going on an exile as a direct teaser of the next film.

The post-credits scene shows Balarama arguing with Krishna before going on a pilgrimage (just before the Kurukshetra war that is not shown or hinted in this scene) – a precursor to the 6th film.

Movie 5: Pandavas in exile
The big dice game and its fallout. The complete adventures of the Pandavas in exile, featuring myriad characters like Dhrishtadyumna, Bakasura and Hidimba, Bhima fighting Kubera’s army, Hanuman meeting Bhima (THE greatest crossover in the history of world epics*), Jayadratha kidnapping Draupadi, Gandharva defeating Duryodhana and Karna and Pandavas freeing them, Pandavas taking refuge in Matsya Kingdom under disguises (incl. the famous eunuch disguise by Arjuna, as Brihannala), the vanquish of Keechaka and finally, Abhimanyu marrying Matsya princess Uttara and ends with the Pandavas coming out of their exile.

The end-credits scene shows Krishna going to the Kauravas as a mediator to negotiate the return of Pandavas to Indraprastha – a teaser to the next film.

The post-credits portend to a much darker scene – of someone lying bloodied on a bed of arrows, though we are not shown who it is.

* Hanuman meeting Bhima (a move from Treta Yuga to Dwapara Yuga!) and the way he makes Bhima realize his own arrogance seems like the precursor to the banter around Mjölnir, Thor’s hammer, in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Vision is the only other person to be able to lift the hammer, in that scene, making Thor a tad uncomfortable! That narrative gets a fantastic and whistle-worthy (probably my single most favorite scene from Avengers: Endgame) scene when a person other than Thor (no spoilers!) lifts the hammer at a very, very crucial time!

Movie 6: The Battle of Kurukshetra – Part 1
The big battle. The central point of the entire Mahabharata epic, in all its gore and glory. Part 1 focuses on days 1 to 9 of the battle. The crux of Part 1 is on Day 1 of the war – on Geetopadesh, to be specific.

The end-credits scene briefly showcases the Kauravas, led by Bheeshma planning the Padmavyuha.

Movie 7: The Battle of Kurukshetra – Part 2
Part 2 focuses on days 10-18 of the battle. The crux and focus of the second part is Abhimanyu’s defeat in the Chakravyuha. The film ends with Gandhari cursing Krishna.

The end-credits indicate the next installment as a mini, made-for-OTT special, with the Pandavas walking up a mountain dressed only in rags. A lone stray dog follows them silently.

Made-for-OTT mini-film:
This mini-film starts with the Pandavas renouncing everything and Yudhishtira led by Yama (as the stray dog) to hell, and their eventual death. It ends with the death of Krishna by the hunter Jara.

Cover pic credit: Amar Chitra Katha, of course!

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