From Duryodhan to Raavan: Puneet Issar on playing the anti-hero
A new play in the city, which also marks actor Puneet Issar’s stage debut, is set to revisit Ramayana from Raavan’s perspective
Between the ’80s and ’90s, actor Puneet Issar (55) was one of Bollywood’s leading villains. His filmography features over 150 negative roles. But his stand-out performance remains that of Duryodhana in BR Chopra’s TV adaptation of the Mahabharata (1988 to 1990).
Twenty eight years later, Issar is back to essaying yet another mythological character. The actor is gearing up for his stage debut in Atul Satya Koushik’s play, Raavan ki Ramayana, where he plays the eponymous protagonist, arguably the most notorious villain in Indian mythology.
With the growing number of books being written on mythological characters and plays being adapted, Raavan ki Ramayana, by Delhi-based theatre group The Films and Theatre Society, stands out in its approach. The play looks at Ramayana from Raavan’s point of view. We wonder how accepting the audience would be with the drama glorifying the antagonist. When we spoke to Issar last week, he squashed our doubts. The play, Issar claims, opened to full houses in Delhi last month, and ended with a standing ovation.
An excited Issar says that he is at the “right stage of life” to play Raavan. “I played Duryodhan, the young prince, 28 years ago. People still identify me as Duryodhan. But at 55, I cannot hope to play a 25-year-old. When I heard about the play last year, I was intrigued. After this play, I hope to be remembered as Raavan,” he says, assuring us that his portrayal of the anti-hero will be different from the traditional depiction of the character in Ram Leela performances. At the end of the play, the audience gets to decide whose side they are on — Ram or Raavan.
Issar adds that the mythological drama steers clear of “preaching or manipulation” and relies on folklore. “History written by the victims trickles down in the form of folklore,” he says.
To look the part, Issar claims to have lost 15kg, and undergone intensive weight training.
However, the most challenging part, he says, was to build conviction in Raavan’s story and memorise soliloquies. “The entire play is composed in verses. It took me eight months to learn them all. In prose, if you forget a line, you can say something else in the same context. But, since it was all poetry, it was a herculean task to remember the metres and lines,” he explains.
Raavan ki Ramayana, will be staged on October 1, at 7.30pm
At Rangsharda Auditorium, Bandra (W); October 2 at Sophia Auditorium, Breach Candy
Price: Rs 300 onwards, on bookmyshow.com