The impact of what was being said, hit Raj Kumar Sharma like a hard brick, especially when it came from his own people. One said, ‘chakha banega kya’ (do you wish do become a eunuch?), while another said, ‘yeah kya ghar mei matakta reheta hai (what are all these feminine moves you keep displaying around the house?.
The impact of it was felt for many days, months and years that followed. But as one moment rolled into the next, it was also making Sharma stronger. He would dance till eternity and let his heart feel every bit of this euphoric state. Today, when he stands on the coveted stage of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, personifying one of most revered Hindu deities, Ramachandra, in Sampoorna Ramlila dance theatre, he has put an end to all tittle tattle that suggested that dancing went against the grain of machismo, and that he should stop making a mockery of himself. But at last, Sharma triumphed.
This is the 62nd year of the dance drama. Produced and directed by Shobha Deepak Singh, the Director of the Kendra, we visit the rehearsals a day before the preview this year. Our steps lead us to the backstage where an army of artists, administrators, helpers and production staff run pillar to post to translate all the chaos transpiring behind the scenes to pure flawlessness in the front.
In the middle of it all, the most important person, rather character, Ram, is flexing and stretching, never once failing to smile. It’s as though he is immune to all the disarray surrounding him. “When you love something so much, like I do dance, everything seems alright, as long as you get to do enough of it,” he says.
What no one notices is that behind his happy face is an aching heart. His mother has had cancer for six years now. Seeing her evening makes him vulnerable. However, he cannot allow himself the luxury of self pity so he comes to work each day with a broad smile and makes a hard earned living. “The show must go on,” he says, inhaling deeply, feeling every bit of the line. He has watched his guru, Shobha Deepak Singh, make her work her priority and never using her personal tragedies to prevail over professional matters. “The day her mother passed on, rehearsals for Ramlila still took place. She specially phoned the Kendra and said the play shouldn’t suffer and that this personal set back shouldn’t affect her production,” he recalls.
Sharma enjoys acting but dance is what drew him to the world of performance arts. He started with the semi classical dance form of Chhau. Then he moved to ballet. That was the time when he started thinking in terms of characters and how he could shed himself to become somebody else on stage. Before he played Ram, he received the roles of the Golden Deer and Jatayu. When Ram came to him, the character wasn’t like it is today. “The role was mostly about standing, smiling and blessing, but I was itching to dance. So, I requested Shobha ji to reconsider the plot, and she was kind enough to do so,” he says.
In 1999, the script changed from Avadhi to Hind as Singh wanted to make the play more inclusive, specially for the youth. Dance become a big part of it and Sharma found himself on top of the world. “What you see today in Sampoorna Ramlila is choreography by me with the blessings of my guru, Shobha ji,” he says.
Scene after scene in the presentation, Sharma fulfills his duty of walking the path of righteousness. He is not only himself when he is on stage. He is somebody millions of Indians are looking up to as God. Big shoes to fill, we must say.
As the show concludes, you see several audience members sprinting to get photos with him, while others bow down to him with respect, lay prostrate and seek his blessings. They forget, in that moment, that Sharma is merely an embodiment of Ram. “In the beginning when people would fold their hands in front of me teary eyed, I would resist it. Then one day an old lady told me, ‘don’t deny us this expression. For us, you are Ram and you must remain so till we’re around you’,” he remembers.
Sharma has learnt to forget himself. He becomes what he is expected to play. He has given a piece of himself to his audiences; it seems, not only as Ram, but as a human too. On till November 5: From 6.30 pm to 9.15 pm, at the Kendra Lawns, 1, Copernicus Marg, Mandi House.