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Puneet Issar excels in title role in “Raavan ki Ramayan”

Puneet Issar in the title role in “Raavan ki Ramayan”, staged by the Films and Theatre Society, in Delhi on August 6, 2016.
Puneet Issar in the title role in “Raavan ki Ramayan”, staged by the Films and Theatre Society, in Delhi on August 6, 2016.
Ravana, reviled as a villain in the mythological epic Ramayana and whose effigies are burnt every year during Dusshera, gets a fresh look from his perspective in the play, “Raavan ki Ramayan.”
 
Written and directed by Atul Satya Kaushik of the Films and Theatre Society, a group of youngsters working in varied fields brought together by a love for theatre and films, the play staged here over the weekend features Bollywood actor Puneet Issar as Ravana.
 
The opening scene had Ravana at Kailash, the remote, cold and snowbound abode of Lord Shiva, who is sitting in deep meditation. Ravana, through the sonorous chanting of the prayers that he himself composed, arouses the Lord to a state of Tandava, the cosmic dance.
 
Ravana, the King of Lanka, who has not only conquered all the three worlds but is also a great scholar besides being well-versed in all the arts, had come to Shiva to seek boons to increase his powers further. Despite warnings from Shiva that such powers would lead to overweening pride that would be his ultimate downfall, he persists with his demand and wins the sword of Shiva, the ‘Chandrahasam’ that makes him practically invincible.
 
Kaushik weaves in contemporary social issues in the litany of complaints that Ravan, who is of mixed parentage, half Brahmin and half Asura, has against the Devas (celestial beings). Referring to the churning of the ocean of milk for which the Devas had sought Asuras' help, he says all the good things that came up during the process were appropriated by the Devas.
 
The same theme of alienation continues into the next scene, when Ravana’s sister Surpanakha, rushes into the court, wailing that she had been disfigured by Lakshmana, when all she wanted was to marry Rama. She tries to provoke Ravana into action by saying that though he had conquered the world, his writ runs only in Lanka.
 
Soorpanakha, who was berated by her grandfather Paulasthya, for wandering about unchecked, says it was in fact her brother Ravana, who killed her husband (shades of honour killing) and then told her she was free to go and choose anyone as her husband.  
 
Elsewhere, the ascetics freely wander about wherever they want and even write treatises on beauty that discriminates against those who look different. Despite warnings from his grandfather Paulasthya, Ravana decides to avenge Surpanakha’s disfigurement by abducting Sita, Rama’s wife, who had accompanied him to the forest to share his 14-year exile.
 
He declares that unlike Lakshmana, he would not touch Sita but would keep her in Lanka till Rama comes to claim her and then battle it out.
 
The next scene depicts Ram and Sita in their Ashram. Ram wants to recite a poem that he just wrote, but Sita, busy with household chores, has no time for romance. Instead, she asks him to go out and get something to cook.
 
Ram wins her over by saying he would try to catch one of the golden deer he saw early in the morning. He cautions her not to step out of the hut till he or Lakshman, who had also gone out, returns.
 
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However, Ravana, in the guise of a Sadhu abducts her and takes her to Lanka, keeping her in the ‘Asoka Vatika’. Here she is visited by Ravana’s queen, Mandodari, who wants to find out why her husband has become enamoured of her.
 
Though burning with lust, Ravana decides not to touch Sita till the name of Rama is in her heart. She, on her part, does not hear any of the entreaties of the King of Lanka, keeping her mind fixed on Rama.
 
By this time, Ravana’s brother Vibhishana, has defected to Rama’s side and is on the other side of the ocean, where Rama’s army of monkeys and bears are about to build a bridge to cross over. Ram wants to perform a puja to Lord Shiva to succeed in his mission to invade Lanka but no Brahmin is available.
 
On Vibhishana’s advice, Ravan, who is half Brahmin, is invited and being a Brahmin he cannot refuse. Filled with ego at his being a favourite of Lord Shiva, he agrees and performs the puja.
 
In the final battle, Ravana is defeated, his children killed in the battle and the once prosperous island laid waste.
 
Puneet Issar impresses as Ravana, on account of his stage presence, helped by his 6 foot three inch frame, rippling muscles due to the workouts that he continues with despite being in his 50s. Ram and Lakshman, in contrast, look ascetic and puny, though authentic, with long hair, moustache and beard.
 
Veteran BJP leader LK Advani was the chief guest, who lit the lamp and spoke of how his daughter Pratibha, kindled in him a love for film and theatre. Veteran Bollywood actor Raza Murad, who gave commentary for the play, also found himself mobbed by selfie takers during the interval.
 
The stage settings were kept to the minimum. A raised stage at the back served to keep the throne of Ravana in the durbar scenes as also as Sita’s kitchen in the Ashram scenes. The two platforms on both sides of the stage also served such purposes in various scenes. The costumes were more elaborate, on the lines of the mythological TV serials.
 
This is not the first time that Kaushik has taken up themes from Indian mythology. In 2013, he had staged “Draupadi”, a play set in a Haryana village, that also had a play within the play with women enacting the story of the princess who had to take all the five Pandava brothers as husband, despite only Arjuna winning her in an archery skill contest.     
 
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