Bollywood actors and television artistes add flavour to Delhi’s Ramlilas
It is five in the evening but for 40-odd artistes in a makeshift enclosure next to a big stage near the Red Fort, the day has just begun.tv Updated: Oct 05, 2016 11:54 IST
It is five in the evening but for 40-odd artistes in a makeshift enclosure next to a big stage near the Red Fort, the day has just begun.
Decked in heavy makeup and richly embroidered clothes with exquisite gold jewellery, some rehearse dialogues under their breath for the Ramleela performance three hours away. Others huddle around a rickety wooden table with brushes, kohl pencils, lip colours and small glass containers full of bright colours.
Amid the chaos, Vijay Kumar Kataria (34) is busy applying shades of blush on the cheeks of a skinny young actor. He is one of the five makeup artists engaged by the Luv Kush Ramlila Committee (LKRC) this year.
But Kataria isn’t a regular make-up artist – until a year ago, he was the star of the Ramlila and played Ram, but has found himself pushed out by top television and film actors, such as Film and Television Institute of India chairman Gajendra Chauhan.
“I have been playing ‘Ram’ since 2008. But the organisers have roped in Bollywood and TV actors this time, rendering artistes like me jobless. As I am trained makeup artist, I was offered this task,” says Kataria, who lost his role to TV actor Gagan Malik.
“A few of us are helping in production and others are involved in different jobs.”
Malik played Ram in Ramayan: Sabke Jeevan Ka Aadhar on Zee TV produced by Moti Sagar. He has also worked in Sankut Mochan Mahabali Hanuman, Shakuntala, and Kumkum.
Bollywood in Ramlila
Malik is only one of 70-odd artists from Mumbai who will be performing in Ramlilas across the walled city of Delhi this year. Chauhan -- best known for his portrayal of Yudhishtir in BR Chopra’s teleserial Mahabharat -- will be seen as ‘Ravan’.
BJP parliamentarian from northeast Delhi Manoj Tiwari and his friend and Bhojpuri film star Ravi Kishan are essaying the role of Angad and Kevat respectively.
The long list of actors participating in the Ramlilas includes Shakti Kapoor (Kharad), Himani Shivpuri (Shabri), Ritu Shivpuri (Kaushalay) and Aarya Babbar (Narad). Gurleen Chopra, who has appeared in Hindi and several regional language movies is playing Sita.
A Gurgaon-based artiste Vikas Siraswal, who claims he works in the Haryana chief minister’s office, is playing Indra.
He says local artistes work hard to improve their skills throughout the year but with professional actors coming in, they have nowhere to go.
A majority of artistes performing in Ramlilas across the city are not trained actors. They are professionals working in various fields who take a break to join the Ramlila.
“If these opportunities are open to them (Bollywood and TV actors), how will people like us grow?” he asks.
Supporting local actors
However, Chauhan says film and TV actors are not a threat to small-time actors. “We are here not to replace anyone. It is a way to express our gratitude to God. I started my acting career with playing different characters in Ramlilas in West Patel Nagar. I always love to come back to Delhi during Dussehra,” he adds.
Local residents say film stars have been a part of Ramlilas for two decades but would earlier only make an appearance for a few minutes. Last year, they were employed as full-time actors for the first time.
Several technicians, action directors, and directors from Bollywood are also working with Ramlila committees in old Delhi this year.
Madan Kabir, who has worked in popular TV series such as Balika Vadhu has donned the director’s hat at the Shri Dharmic Leela Committee (SDLC). Kabir and six Mumbai-based artistes are overseeing the production work and background commentary.
Actor Priom Kataria is playing Ram in the Nav Shri Dharmik Lila Committee (NRLC) Ramlila. He has played various mythological characters in TV serials such as Jai Veer Hanuman, Santoshi Maa and Kuch Rang Pyar Ke Aise Bhi. The committee has also engaged Mumbai-based director Amitosh Singh.
Gagan Malik justifies the grudges expressed by small-time actors but adds that any such phenomenon was an opportunity. “Performing with big actors is a great opportunity to learn. It helps to boost confidence level. I will try to offer part of my role to the person who had been playing it previously,” he says.
The organisers seem satisfied with the audience response.
LKRC chairman Ashok Agarwal says professional artistes add efficiency and eminence to Ramlila.
“The moment they come to the stage, they are in character. This makes a huge difference. Our aim is just to make Ramlila perfect, impressive, and real. Not only actors, we are taking services of technicians and action directors to bring realism.”
He says roles aren’t reserved for anyone and committees have asked non-professional artistes to take up other responsibilities. “We have not asked them to leave,” he says.
Despite the trend of hiring film and TV stars, one of the oldest Ramlila committees in the city-- Shri Ramlila Committee (Ramlila ground) – has decided to continue with traditional artistes of Moradabad.
“We maintain the sanctity of Ramcharit Manas and don’t require Mumbai-based actors to spread Lord Ram’s teachings. Inviting stars is a desperate attempt to deal with sparse audience,” says Rajesh Khanna of the Ramlila committee.
With Ramlilas turning into a star-studded affair, budgets have also gone through the roof.
The average cost of a 10-day event used to be around Rs 80-90 lakhs which, at present, is Rs 1-3 crore.
“Every year, we try to introduce distinctive features. Those innovations lead to cost escalation. This time, we have put a 25-feet high Hanuman installation made up of 26, 000 small bells, which rings simultaneously. And if people come from Mumbai, they are provided five-star treatment, which also adds to the cost,” says Ravi Jain, press secretary of SDLC .