Making arrangements for last rites at the cremation grounds of Manimajra by day, 50-year-old Madan Lal Acharya is the Demon King by night. The crematorium in-charge, who also sells flowers, has been playing Ravan in the Ramlila for the past 15 years, dying at the end of the epic tale underlining triumph of good over evil.
Acharya's association with the Ramlila goes back to 1973, when he first played the role of Ram's son Kush: "I started working as a child artist in the Ramlila. Through gradual progression, I got the role of Ravan." He is part of Azad Dramatics Club, Manimajra, which is 107 years old and has provided a platform to many like Acharya.
"There was time when we used to perform to vacant chairs, but now audiences are coming back. It is encouraging to see children among the audience," said Acharya. "That is why I disagree with the belief that Ramlila is a dying art. Young people approach us with requests to participate and play various roles. Every year, we get 10-15 young faces."
It's more than devotion for many. "People bring in their kids to rid them of stage fear. Our club provides them a platform," he added.
Acharya feels the Ramlila has had to undergo a lot of changes for better connection with audience. "It's more like theatre now. We hold intense rehearsals, where every actor is trained. The use of projectors, smoke machines and designer sets as well as dresses, are changes that have worked."