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Curse of the king

So a star has made a terrible movie. You cannot tell him that. He will point to the box office earnings and claim it was a great movie. And if you insist on saying the truth, he will beat you up. Two weeks later, no one remembers the film, except his cronies.


Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

He has got A share of the wallet but not a share of the mind, that he actually craves as an artist. This happens again and again in Bollywood. The star creates a world of his own, where he hears all that he wants to hear, and gets trapped in a wonderland of his (or her) own making.

These stars suffer from what is called the curse of a king. Every time a king wears a crown, he is cursed. Everyone lies to him. Because everyone stops seeing him; they see the sword in his hand. So the king gets angry and seeks honest courtiers. But every time he snarls and screams, he alienates the honest and gathers the dishonest like bees to honey. This is best illustrated in a story from the Mahabharata.

News reached the king of Matsya that his son, Uttar, had singlehandedly defeated the Kaurava army, pushing back great warriors like Karna and Duryodhana. The city prepared to welcome the young prince -- the streets were watered, the buildings decorated with flowers and lamps and fluttering flags. King Virata's heart was filled with pride. His son had done the impossible. He ordered the poets to compose song in Uttar's honour.

"But sir," said a priest standing next to Virata, "Does it not seem odd that a slip of a boy was able to defeat such mighty warriors? Surely he had help. Maybe that of his charioteer, Brihanalla, the eunuch, who once served Arjun, the great archer." The king ignored what the priest had to say and continued praising his son.

Once again the priest said, "Surely sir, you do not believe he did it all alone. He must have had the support of another, perhaps Brihanalla, the eunuch, who once served Arjun, the great archer." Again the king ignored him and continued praising the king. Again the priest suggested that it might have been the eunuch-charioteer not the prince. Only this time, the king reacted violently. "Shut up!" he shouted and slapped the priest so hard that his nose started to bleed.

The priest had been speaking the truth. Uttar had been helped by the eunuch-charioteer, Brihanalla, who was actually Arjuna in disguise. But the king was not ready to receive the truth. He wanted to enjoy the alleged success of his son but the priest, in his relentless pursuit of correctness, did not appreciate a father's desire.

The priest was Yudhishtira in disguise. This event takes place in the final year of exile of the Pandavas when they had to lose their identity and live incognito. The purpose of this humiliation was to reveal to Yudhishtira the human desire for delusions and the importance of being gentle with harsh truth. Yudhishtira's truth was cold and insensitive. The king wanted compassion, hence delusion, for some time at least.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at devdutt@devdutt.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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