(Written by Anukampa Sharma)
Even during these modern times of smartphones and quick internet access, Ramleela is a crowd-puller, with most days being houseful, as people from different walks of life come together to soak in a performance that is timeless. Year after year, Ramleela proves to be a unique experience, its popularity untouched by films or television. Despite this, there’s surprisingly little work done on documenting one of the oldest forms of folk theatre. Ramleela is an extraordinary 10-day celebration of traditions and culture that spans back to centuries and deserves to be studied and appreciated at a larger scale,” says Chandigarh-based Abhishek Sharma, whose 45-minute documentary, Ramleela- The Ritual Theatre was recently screened at Theatre For Theatre’s 15th Winter National Theatre Festival.
Sharma, who started his theatre career playing various roles in Ramleela, including the lead role of Ram, moved on to direct short films and felt that he needed to give something back to the tradition. He began his research on the art form, which went on for more than two years. Sharma and his team originally started shooting the documentary in Chandigarh, but soon realised that expanding the project beyond the city would be the right course of action and that’s how they went on to shoot it in other parts of the country including Haryana, Punjab, Delhi, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Ayodhya.
Sharma describes the experience as an incredible journey of learning about the many creative ways in which the story is performed in different parts of the nation. “Each region has its own personalised and unique way of staging and sharing the story,” he adds.
The documentary strives to show to the world how Ramleela is performed despite a lack of resources, funds and support, and performed on a stage made with tents and curtains, with costumes of the actors handstitched by the team participating in the 10-day celebration. “Ramleela is a result of the passion of people who have their daily jobs, are not associated with theatre, but depict the characters they portray seamlessly and selflessly for years and years,” he says.
Part of theatre since childhood, Sharma’s first role was in the Ramleela performed in his locality. At the age of 16, he knew that theatre would be his future, with Sharma doing his Master’s from the Indian Theatre Department at Panjab University. His association with Ramleela continued, as the actor performed in many plays, gained experience in the field of direction and also worked as a dubbing artist and as an assistant director in Mumbai.
A special part of the documentary is the indoor Ramleela that is performed in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. Performed for centuries, even during the British rule, the area was prone to heavy rains and the king here built an auditorium to ensure that the Ramleela could be performed without any disturbance.
“It was a tradition supported by the local British officials and continues to enthrall people. The documentary is an effort to bring closer to people the many forms, faces, colours and expressions of the art form,” says the 31-year-old.
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