Valmiki’s epic gets a modern spin
What happens when a great writer discovers that his magnum opus is only second-best? Find out at a play where Valmiki has just finished penning the Ramayana when Narad tells him that Hanuman has written a better version. Enraged, Valmiki goes to Hanuman, demanding to read it, only to realise that it is indeed better.
Hanuman ki Ramayan, a nautanki musical produced by the Gillo Theatre Repertory, is directed by Devendra Sharma and based on a short story of the same name by Devdutt Pattanaik. Sharma’s father, Ram Dayal Sharma, has composed the music. Expect to hear a myriad of musical styles, including doha (poetry in couplets), chaubola (poetry in quatrains), qawallis, lavanis, set to the tunes of the dholak and the harmonium.
“A nautanki includes all the elements of theatre; there is dance, dialogue and music. So it’s perfect for a retelling of mythology,” says the director. Prasad Dagare, who plays Hanuman, says the kids especially love the music and sense of drama. “While the setting and context are mythological, there are contemporary subtexts that the older audience will see, from copyright laws to political nuances,” he says.
Ram Dayal Sharma says the nautanki form respects that there are several versions of a story, and this one has plenty of layers for grown-ups to appreciate. “Narad’s character is introduced by equating him to the media,” he says. Shaili Sathyu, artistic director of the Gillo Repertory Theatre, says keeping it contemporary is deliberate. “[Theatre is] not folk or traditional or fossilised, but alive and vibrant,” says.
In the traditional nautanki form, females were not allowed to perform, men played all the characters. It evolved as a gender-neutral form, where the any actor, whether male or female, can play any role. “To me, it is both a challenge and an empowering act to play Valmiki,” says singer and actor Sriparna Chatterjee. “It also makes me realise how there’s a range of emotions and characters that women have never had access to.”
For Dagare, however, the best part about nautanki is how interactive it is. “Everyone is involved. The actors break the fourth wall. The audiences answers questions, sings along. It’s a whole lot of fun.”