This is a gift that just keeps on giving. Whenever TV channels are in doubt about what they should feed their viewers that isn’t the same, run-of-the-mill saas-bahu saga, they take shelter in mythology. Yes, it is more often Hindu mythology than anything else but the viewers don’t seem to mind.
Currently, the Hindi TV scene is riddled with mythological and historical shows and guess which one is more popular than all of them combined? Another adaptation of Valmiki’s holy text of Ramayana, Siya Ke Ram.
In 1986, exactly 30 years ago, Ramanand Sagar too caught the right nerve when he decided to televise the epic. The show was so incredibly popular, it even got its name on the Limca Book of Records for the World’s most watched mythological series. Streets would go bare, people would dine earlier than usual just to make it in front of the TV in time. Or at least that is what my parents have told me as it was long before I was even born.
Over the years, I have managed to watch the countless reruns of the show and on the basis of that, here is a comparison between the 1986 series and the 2015 series. However, apart from these two, Sagar Arts made another rather miserable attempt at Ramayan in 2008 with NDTV Imagine and we will talk about it too.
One very noticeable pattern in all these character comparisons will be how the actors just keep getting younger and younger. While Gurmeet and Ashish are more or less of the same age, Arun Govil looked like a Ram in his 40s.
Arun Govil’s voice was his biggest asset. It was so gentle and calming, you could actually listen to him with your eyes closed and attain spiritual bliss.
Ashish Sharma is a muscular, powerful Ram with a perennial pokerface. But he does look a lot more like a prince than Arun Govil. One can have no complaints against his acting which is always up to the mark and never too loud.
Gurmeet Chaudhary, however, was always over the top at everything he did. Always super angry, super romantic or super gentle, if that is even possible for anyone to be.
This is where Siya Ke Ram wins with quite a margin. They have always said it that the show is a retelling of the epic from Sita’s perspective and this gives Madirakshi a lot more room to be impressive. She is not mute or opinionless like Deepika Chiklis’ Sita. Yes, she is still self-sacrifising and demure like we know Sita to be, but she is also interesting. The initial few episodes of the series, where she was at the forefront, she was not just a beautiful princess but one who helps her father and the people of her land in moments of need. Madirakshi is also more expressive without ever going overboard.
Talking about people going overboard, Debina Bonnerjee overdid everything, just like Gurmeet. She would make the most forced faces like the one above and do things like talk while smiling through her teeth even when the scene called for a normal conversation. The 2008 version was too much into going all out with everything.
Of all these actors, perhaps Akhilendra Mishra is the only actor people know from other than this role. He is a great actor, no doubt and also pretty scary. But the shoddy job done by the series could not be saved even with Mishra on their side.
While all three of them look big and scary, Karthik still has a long way to come close to Arvind Trivedi, who made Ravana iconic with his pot-belly with a heavy moustache. Karthik is big too but in a ‘gym-jock’ way rather than a ‘fat-demon’ way. But it does seem logical that Ravana should be muscular because how else would he be able to wreak havoc on an entire army? Surely not with a pot-belly.
Karthik too is not perfect. His accent was not popular among the audience as many Hindi words would give him trouble. Like rather than saying ‘dha-nush’ he would always say ‘daa-nuss’. They did get a voice actor to dub over his words but it is all too evident on screen and a tad irritating.
Now that we still haven’t been introduced to Danish’s version of Hanuman, we can only compare the three based on their looks.
Dara Singh was brilliant. Period. There are two things expected of anyone who plays Hanuman- a) that he is big and muscular and b) that he is funny. Dara Singh was the perfect mix of both these qualities.
Vikram fell short on both these criteria. He was not very big, which we could have overlooked had he been funny.
Danish is huge! So here is a check on that. But his make up doesn’t seem too convincing from the initial pictures of him released online. But hey, we’ll wait till we see him onscreen.
The Sets and Costumes
The 1986 version was all about super bright colours and we can understand that considering how the Indian population was just getting introduced to colour television, sure the producers would go ballistic with the pinks and the reds.
Apart from the colour, the sets were rather simple and so were the costumes but hey, that was definitely a glorious venture considering the time and era.
On the other hand, looks like with time, the aesthetic eyes doesn’t always get sharper. Look at this:
‘And it was so yellow’. The entire 300-episode series was made in such overbearing yellows and sepia tones. All men were made to wear shiny, brown lipsticks, oodles of kohl and nothing about their make-up was natural.
Making an epic TV series means CGI is inevitable. In Siya Ke Ram, the computer graphics help give an appearance of grandeur and the largeness of the scale of the story. The attention to detail and the costumes are beautiful as well:
Notice the lamps behind the actors, the divan, the beautiful artworks and the colourful sheets. Everything is done to make it look like a king’s room.
Sure the CGI goes a bit awry from time to time:
While the earlier two versions stuck closely to the original work by Valmiki and Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas, Siya Ke Ram is taking full liberty with the content. For instance, they included the story of Ram’s elder sister which was something not many knew about. They even snuck in the sidestory of Ravana getting his sister Surpanakha’s husband killed because she married out her clan. So far, none of these tangents have been boring or unnecessary.
The great acting from even the secondary characters like Kaikeyi (Grusha Kapoor) and Dasharath (Dalip Tahil) is enough to keep viewers hooked. While the 1986 Ramayana definitely has the nostalgic value, Siya Ke Ram is also one of the better things to watch on Hindi TV right now.
The author tweets @soumya1405