Popular dance drama Shri Ram entered its 64th edition this year amid the pandemic. Choreographed by Padma Shri Shobha Deepak Singh, renowned classical dancer and director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra (SBKK), the show — that has been going on uninterrupted since 1957 — had its inaugural performance on October 17, 2020, at SBKK lawns, and will continue till October 24. Besides, with virtual shows becoming the new ‘normal’, the performance will also be streamed on YouTube from October 28 to November 14.
Organising an event as legendary as Shri Ram in these times came with its own set of challenges and modifications, and Singh, a COVID-19 survivor herself, spoke to indianexpress.com about how things have changed this year.
How did you manage to organise such a prestigious stage performance in the times of the pandemic?
We adhered to every health-related precaution, from social distancing to sanitising. Because of social distancing, due to which people are sitting far apart from each other, we could not accommodate more than 150-200 people at the show. It is a long show but this time, we have not been allowed to offer any edibles. But I am happy that people are still coming to watch it.
This time, even the green rooms are much bigger to ensure social distancing is maintained. We feel a sense of social responsibility and are making sure we observe all the rules and regulations.
Before the show opened, we had recorded the whole performance just in case we were not allowed to perform it live. The recorded version can now be watched on YouTube.
You conducted online rehearsals for the show. Were there any challenges?
We started online rehearsals in July. People adapted themselves to it very quickly. Besides, physical rehearsals were done with face masks and keeping all precautions in place. Before the show, the entire crew also underwent the COVID-19 test twice, and all of them tested negative.
The dance drama is also available on YouTube. What makes an online show different from a stage performance?
When you see a performance on stage, you are five to 10 feet away from the stage and would see the show from a distance. For the digital version, we could take close-ups, wide-angle shots, and other techniques to engage the audience. But I cannot say that the digital show substitutes for the actual one. This dance drama is a popular show — over four generations have witnessed it so it is like a legacy. I would say there is no substitute for the original stage performance. It is like comparing Amitabh Bachchan in a film and seeing him live.
Actually, I never wanted to produce the show as a video. But had no choice this year.
This is the 64th edition of the dance drama. How did you ensure that it remained relevant over the years?
Earlier, the whole performance was in Devnagari, which is not easily understood by most people because the television has also played its part in presenting simplified versions of the Ramayan and Mahabharata. So, we made the show in Hindustani to make it more accessible to our audience. We also incorporated 30-40 Powerpoint presentations which not only tell you what is exactly happening in the story but the underlying subtext, too. Hanuman jumped the sea to go to Lanka, as per the legend, but you cannot really do it in actual life. Rather it symbolises one’s determination — if you are determined to do something, you get the power to do it, no matter what obstacles come your way.
Coming to other technicalities, the revolving panel was something my husband incorporated into the show. Earlier you could either set up the stage as a forest or a court. With this new panel, we can have one side of it designed as Ravana’s court of Ram Rajya and the other side as a forest. This has helped us change the scenes in a split second.
Besides I have also improvised the costumes and jewellery over the years.
As a COVID-19 survivor, how did you manage to continue working for the show?
The only people who tested positive were my husband and me. Now that the show has started, things have fallen in place, although initially, it was a challenge. Even now, I feel very, very weak and sleepy all the time. Up until the first show it was very, very tiresome. Now that the show is ready and has been live since October 17, I usually go to the venue right just before the show opens.
What is the USP of this year’s dance drama?
The entire show is the USP. The unfortunate thing is whatever I do this year will be copied by a lot of other Ramlilas next year or in a couple of years, and by that time I would have changed it in my production. But we do not have enough copyrights or necessary laws for it. I believe you can be inspired by something but you cannot copy it completely.
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