Theatre/Play review : Ravanleela- a laughing virus attack!

Am writing this article with a premise that all of us know Ramayana- the story of prince Ram. If not, kindly buy a book or rent the entire DVD collection of Ramanand Sagar’s epic serial –Ramayan, which is how most of India learnt about it! The Ramayana play is staged during the Navratri festival leading upto Vijayadashmi, the day when Lord Ram killed Ravan and avenged the abduction of his wife Sita. Ramleela is the name given to the play format that is staged during the festival every year, more so in North India. It’s become more like a tradition that has to be followed come what may.
However what makes it interesting is the drama that is usually associated with its casting and the eventual screening. Today people have lost the interest in it, given mythology is uncool for the youth. Most stage actors, given the pittance of the sum they receive as remuneration for their performances don’t really care. Also women do not participate in such plays given the stigma associated with female actors especially in villages. So then it becomes an all male crew of whosoever is willing to act. Also to increase interest /generate footfalls there are occasional item numbers thrown in. Sponsorship usually comes in from the local politician who also views this as a populist opportunity.
 Yatri’s play by Om katare is a satirical take on the above and hence is aptly titled Ravanleela. It showcases all of the above and the added drama that creeps into the play, when its central character Ravan refuses to die for want of proper remuneration! Went for it the other day at Mysore association, Matunga .
The show is a play within a play and takes place in the fictional small town of Jigarpur. It is filled with all the nautanki that is usually associated in small towns. Audiences throw tomatoes, okra etc at the helpless announcer who time and again apologises for the late start of events. They jump on the stage at the slightest given opportunity. There are the usual goofups like actors forgetting their lines, the organizer having a tough time prompting dialogues apart from running from pillar to post to make the show happen and the background music overpowering the dialogues time and again. Male side actors come out to dance with an intent to add to the drama of certain scenes making the entire effort look like an item number. Every incident is hilarious and is wonderfully captured.
The play begins with the introduction of a ‘punjabi’ Ravan, who is the senior most actor in the troupe. He drinks, forgets his lines and is more concerned about his leaking roof than the play getting completed. One by one all the characters are introduced and each one has a nuance. Every scene is a delight and most of them have you in splits. The scenes of the unwilling and overweight male actor who is forced to play Sita, those of  Hanuman who gets injured on his leg leading to a limping yet standout performance throughout the play, the love angle of Meghnad with a female audience member are all wonderful moments that one will cherish. The icing on the cake is the scene where Hanuman challenges Ravan in his court and gets an impromptu applause from the crew and a reward of Rs 500/- from the audience .There are also cleverly designed behind the scene moments, which explore another dimension of the characters in the play. A special mention to the fashion designer also for increasing the cool quotient of the play and making it more relevant to the audiences of today. While Ravan has a playboy locket and a 'virus' chain that establish his credentials, Ram has 'anti-virus'!
The play's dialogues are top notch and deserve a standing ovation with every character getting his fame under the sun. The characters of Sita, the organizer Jagannath and Hanuman stay with you even after the play. But the showstopper here is the central character of Ravan. Played with aplomb, this punjabi Ravan is cool  and leaves a lasting impression. The best of one-liners delivered with splendid timing make him the hero of the play undoubtedly. This Ravanleena ,even the gods will enjoy and probably have a laughing 'virus' attack.

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