Of Gods and Men

Rama arrived on the stage in many forms — and refuses to leave. We list the varied interpretations of the Ramayana, from the timeless to the subversive

Written by Dipanita Nath | New Delhi | Published: December 29, 2014 12:34 am

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Stage to Screen

Ramnagar ki Ramleela is soaked in lore, myth and wonder. A few kilometers from the ghats of Varanasi, the sleepy town of Ramnagar transforms into a giant stage for Ramleela every autumn. Episodes from the epic are enacted by local actors serially in different venues across the town over a month, a tradition that has continued unbroken for 200 years. The king is a guest every evening, watching each show from the top of an elephant. This year, for the first time, the organisers allowed in cameras as Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts documented the Ramleela. The recordings run into several hours, and are being edited. Maybe, we won’t have to make that trip to Varanasi after all to soak in the fervour and faith of India’s oldest promenade theatre.

Classic Turns

The Meghdoot amphitheatre of Sangeet Natak Akademi was overflowing with people, and more streamed in by the minute as Kalakshetra’s Ramayana, directed by Rukmini Devi Arundale, was staged in Delhi over six days. This was also the first time that the production travelled out of Chennai, except for one performance in Lucknow several years ago. The dance drama, created between 1955 and 1970, was astounding in its contemporariness in terms of costumes, stage design, lighting and dances — proving that classics
are forever.

Poetry in Motion

This was a performance that could go wrong in so many ways. Young actors — little more than children — were presenting an adaptation of one of Hindi poet Suryakant Tripathi Nirala’s toughest works, Ram ki Shakti Puja, in an amphitheatre of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Yet, when the music began to play and the epic drama of a Rama battling sorrow and distress began to unfold, the ingenuous performers held the audience captive. Stereotypes of monkeys were folded into layers with the subversive elements such as casting girls as the epic heroes.

Divine Ten-sion

Coming up is Adishakti’s production, The Tenth Head, which tackles a problem that only Ravana could have had — what if one head wants to assert his individuality? Directed by Veenapani Chawla, who passed away a few weeks ago, the play uses the “10 heads of Ravana as a metaphor for the tension that exists between the individual and the collective”. According to Chawla’s concept note, “nine of the 10 heads of Ravana are a company who are quite happy to conform to a common way of seeing things. The tenth, however, is the odd man out”. The play will be staged as part of the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the annual theatre festival of the National School of Drama, in February.

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