On the banks of Sarayu, less than two km from where the Ram temple is being constructed, a star-studded Ramlila has been planned for audiences of social media, satellite television and YouTube between October 17 and 25.
“No audience will be allowed due to Covid-19 restrictions. All episodes will be filmed at the location, Lakshman Quila, and broadcast like a film so that people can watch from the safety of their homes,” said Subhash Malik, founder of Meri Maa Foundation, the organiser. Malik adds that BJP MP Parvesh Sahib Singh is the main patron of the Ramlila.
In the Ramlila, BJP MP from North East Delhi Manoj Tiwari will play Angad, Gorakhpur MP and Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan will play Bharat, Vindu Dara Singh will reprise his role from TV as Hanuman, actor Raza Murad will portray Ahiravan and Asrani will appear as Narad Muni.
“One of the highlights is Shahbaj Khan, whose powerful voice will bring alive Ravan on stage,” says Malik. Ritu Shivpuri will play Kaikeyi and Rakesh Bedi will play Vibhishan.
For the role of Ram and Sita, Sonu Dagar and Kavita Joshi have been selected, respectively. “I consider it my good fortune to play Mata Sita. It is one of the happiest moments of my life, especially since our Ramlila will be staged for the first time on the same soil where the adharshila of the Ram Mandir has been laid,” says Joshi, who has acted in more than 25 films in the Haryanvi film industry.
In preparation for their roles, she and Dagar, who is a part of Vighnaharta Ganesh on Sony TV, have started eating simple food and sleeping on the floor. “Ram was maryada purushottam, who lived an ordinary life. I am trying to understand his life better,” says Dagar.
Meri Maa Foundation, founded in 2016, has been associated with a number of prominent Ramlilas in Delhi. Malik says, “Casting for the Ayodhya Ramlila was based on the experience of the actors on the Ramlila stage in Delhi. I have watched them and can vouch for the power of their performance.”
Tiwari had played Parashuram in 2019 and Angad in 2018 at a Delhi Ramlila. Kishan has been Parashurama, Bhishma, Karna, Dronacharya and Angad on the Ramlila stage.
The Ayodhya Ramlila has a budget of Rs 4 crore, much of which has been used to build a stage of 90 ft x 25 ft in which a grand durbar is flanked by a space representing forests. The rivers Ram travels through, as well as other outdoor scenes, will be depicted through LED. “Our main focus is on clear sound and state-of-the-art lighting. Normally, people watching Ramlila have a problem hearing the dialogue but not this time. The audience will be able to listen to every nuance of the speeches, just as in a film,” says Malik.
An integral part of Dussehra celebrations, Ramlila revisits the story of Ram’s war with Ravan as a symbol of the victory of good over evil. “While I had been thinking of organising a Ramlila in Ayodhya, it was only during the pandemic that I became determined to realise the plan,” says Malik.
While Malik works through the paperwork to get permissions from the district administration — ADM City, Ayodhya, Dr Vaibhav Sharma has no information about the Ramlila — several traditional Ramlilas in Ayodhya are battling the impact of the pandemic. “Due to Covid, artistes and various leela mandali are in financial difficulty. For these local performers, Ramlila is an ancestral tradition and they do not know anything else. The Ramlila season is when they earn,” says Manish Das. organiser of the Avadh Adarsh Ramlila Mandal, which will not be taking place for the first time in a time of peace in its 300-year-old history.
Das has heard of the Ramlila that will feature Bollywood actors and said he “will watch it if it is telecast”. “We wish the government helps traditional Ramlila artistes too,” he says.
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