For the next 10 days, the oldest storyline — good trouncing evil — will be played out across the city. Only, the staging will be hi-tech. So while Hanuman will do a Krrish in one Ramlila, the sombre tones of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings will add to the drama in another.
There are around 800 Ramlila celebrations held across the city, but all eyes are on the big two— Sri Dharmik Leela at Subhash Maidan and Luv-Kush, next to the Red Fort. While the former is a veteran of 82 years, the latter prides in being the pioneer in all things novel in Ramlila celebrations in Delhi for the past 25 years.
This year, the ace up the Dharmik Ram Lila Committee’s sleeve is Krrish. "We will make Hanuman jump from 45 feet as Hrithik does in Krrish. It is going to be spectacular," says Vishwanath Gupta, Dharmik's mela chief. Stunt experts from Moradabad are being brought in for a 45-foot jumping sequence. "This is just one part of the big show," explains Gupta.
Dharmik has also roped in bamboo artists from Madhya Pradesh for an almost 100-foot effigy of Ravan. But the biggest draw, according to Gupta, will be the 45 ft by 50 ft Lanka being prepared by Shakila Bano, an artist from Madhya Pradesh.
"This is going to be the show-stealer this time," said Gupta, whose family has been on the committee for six generations. The emphasis, clearly, is on the spectacular.
Rival Luv Kush Ram Lila Committee is not far behind, its mantra being: double the fun. So instead of one Lanka there will be two. And in keeping with the turbulence of our times, there will be two imposing 100 feet high idols of the evil king Ravana.
There is a twist to the tale. When Lord Rama sets one gigantic Ravana on fire, another will be set ablaze by four individuals from different religious faiths "to burn the evil of communalism through secular power". Amen.
That is not all, this year the Ramlila known for all things novel will also bring back tradition with a vengeance. The story of Rama's victory over Ravana will be performed in the ancient pardah style.
"Men will play the roles of Sita, Kaushalya, Surpankha. This should add a dash of old-world charm to modern performances," said Sukhbir Saran Aggarwal, general secretary of Luv-Kush.
To ensure that its performances are in strict conformity with the original Ramcharitmanas, Luv-Kush has roped in Padmasree winner Ramlila artiste Swami Ram Swaroop Sharma of Uttar Pradesh.
The Dharmik Leela committee is also swearing by tradition. "Ours has always been a very traditional performance. We do not resort to gimmicks and cheap item numbers to ensure more audience,” said Vishwanath Gupta.
This year, the Ramlila has dug up little-known scenes of the Ramlila narrative for its visitors. Said lila mantri, Bramh Soni, who manages the performance, “We have introduced scenes in the Ramlila narrative that have not been staged too many times in the past.”
Dharmik, however, is relying on a host of audio-visual special effects, including fireworks. “When Ravana tries to cross the Laxmanrekha to get to Sita, a wall of real fire up to 6 feet heigh will emerge on the stage. Similarly, real flames will devour Lanka when it is set alight by Lord Hanuman. No other Ramlila can show you special effects like these," Soni said.
The Luv Kush Committee, on the other hand, is eyeing a global audience. "We will upload a 30-minute clip of the "Lila" on the Internet for the next 10 days. We want to showcase our culture to millions of people around the world. The concept is definitely going to be a hit with Indians in other parts of the world," said a member of the committee.
The Kalibari Ramlila Committee has borrowed scenes from Lord of the Rings for their background. "Such special effects are cheap and save time and energy. All you need is a good projector and some software for different backdrops,'' said Avdesh Gupta, one of the organisers. The Pitampura Ramlila Committee is also using special computer effects to increase and decrease the size of Hanuman's tail.
What the smaller players lack in terms of money power, they are making up in ingenuity.
The IP Extension Ramlila, for example, is organising a quiz show for kids called Kaun Banega Ramayan Expert. “This is to ensure the Gen-Next's participation in Ramlilas," said Jeevesh Sharma, publicity manager.
But as organisers go on the overdrive, there is a word of caution from the Delhi High Court.
The court had frowned on “sleazy” performances at a Ramlila in Karol Bagh. Ramlila Mahasangh, the nodal organisation that governs most Ramlila celebrations in the Capital, has issued a circular to its member organisers asking them to respect the court order or face action.