Totally Shakespearean – it has love, jealousy, greed, lies, betrayal, revenge, war, death and redemption. Ramlila, the 10-day play held annually on the exploits of bhagwan Ram, is a mix of King Lear (exile), Macbeth (jealousy), The Merchant of Venice (swayamvar) and Henry VI (war).
On entering the green room of Luv Kush Ramlila, in the highly guarded August 15 ground that faces the Mughal-era Red Fort, we find actors in different stages of make-up. The Ramlila continues to play from 7 pm—11pm till Monday.
Bhagwan Ram, played by MBA student Bhaskar Joshi, shows no stage fright. "Nowadays, brothers fight each other for family wealth and young people ignore their old parents," says Joshi. "If they come to see Ramlila, they will discover the deep love between brothers and the unfailing obedience that children show to their parents."
Ramlila is based on Ramayan, a fascinatingly complicated epic that has several versions in various languages. Its sub-plots have rich ironies to invigorate the intellectual curiosities of pure atheists. In its grey areas, good is not always good and evil is not always evil.
However, the Hindus revere Ramayan the same way they worship Lord Ram. The sweeping story has a simple core: On the eve of being anointed Ayodhya’s king, Prince Ram is unjustifiably exiled for 14 years. While in the exile, Lanka’s demon king Ravan kidnaps his wife, Sita from the forest. Ram invades Lanka, wages a a war, kills Ravan, rescues Sita, returns to Ayodhya and becomes the king.
“All epics have relevance in today’s time,” says Vivek Gautam, who is portraying Ravan as well as Dashrath, Ram’s father. “If you take in even a little of the values from the Ramayan, your life will become better.” Gautam then leaves the green room, gets onto the stage and transforms into King Dashrath. He lip-syncs to the prompter’s voice, who is speaking the character’s lines from an invisible enclosure adjacent to the stage. Though there are not many people in the crowd (the VIP area is empty), if Shakespeare were to be here, he would have felt at home.