Rajiv Chilaka of Green Gold Animation has directed the OTT platform aha's first animated original
A nine-year-old boy Vignesh and his pet (a rat) cheerily arrive at a temple in the quest of a 'prasadam' (the food offered to the almighty). Their excitement isn't about the prasadam alone; they're also keen to listen to the many tales narrated by the elderly priest in the temple. After having their tummies full, the priest decides to tell them the legend behind the birth of the elephant-headed God Vinayaka. Both the rat and Vignesh are as curious as ever, paying rapt attention to the priest's words and are full of questions as he narrates the various episodes of the story.
In an age full of over-complicated, multi-layered, convoluted narratives, it's a relief to watch an animated show where the storytelling is simple, straightforward and not-too-saccharine. While the target audience of most animated shows is the younger lot, the real test is to cater to the demands of an unforgiving adult viewer. Maha Ganesha, the first animated original on the Telugu OTT platform aha, doesn't undermine the intelligence of its audience and retells the tale of the elephant-headed God with verve, touching upon a gamut of issues relevant to this era as well.
It's always a challenge to decide the standpoint from which a well-known legend like Ganesha's is narrated. The show takes off at a temple that a kid frequents, with the excuse of eating the prasadam. Unsurprisingly, he has a tiny companion, a rat. Along with the prasadam, there's a bonus; the temple priest also tells them a tale of Vinayaka. This gives a firm authority to the narrator's voice, while his intermittent commentary on the many events in the life of Vinayaka provides a strong context to the storytelling.
The early episodes revolving around Gajasura's penance are particularly impressive. The monstrous avatar of a demon like Gajasura is recreated quite well. This is by no means a vanilla narrative too; the makers use his story as an opportunity to discuss animal cruelty, showcase vignettes of Telugu culture by featuring performances by the Koya tribe, Kuchipudi dancers and haridasulu as well. From stating how Shiva knows no bounds while showering love upon his devotees to proving why Vishnu never falls back on his promises, there's so much that audiences get to know beyond Gajasura as well.
Before Vinayaka is beheaded by his father, humour is smartly weaved into the story within the initial conversations between Parvathi and her young son (particularly the comparisons the former makes between Shiva and Ganesha). The scene where he doesn't even let a beautiful butterfly pass through the area where his mom is bathing is laced with innocence and charm. The many adventures of Vinayaka and the rat add up to the show's fun quotient. All along, the show doesn't resort to any childish gimmicks to please kids.
The best part of the show is preserved for the final stretch where Vinayaka discovers he has a younger brother (Karthikeya) and the two fight over a fruit in Kailasam. While Vinayaka reigns supreme in this fight, this sets up a solid foundation for the later episode where their parents Shiva and Parvathi challenge the children to tour around the world thrice and return at the earliest. The dialogues are simple throughout and it's interesting to see a priest liberally use English words as he explains the larger meaning of the mythological stories.
While most of the animated mythological characters, right from Nandi to Shiva to Narada are a delight to watch, Vishnu's beefed-up avatar looks slightly odd. Srinivasa Sarma Rani's title song leading to the popular kirtana Maha Ganapatim is an instant earworm and the restrained background score is a relief to the senses. The show-creators avoid caricaturish voices while voice-artists too do justice to the material. Maha Ganesha makes a perfect family viewing for this festive weekend.
Maha Ganesha is a wonderful show to introduce children to mythological tales, but it has a narrative that can be savoured by adults alike. You're never too old to watch an animation show and revisit mythology from a newer lens.