'Broadway-style' Ramlila: An epic rendition

This grand Ramlila in the Capital is a combination of original songs, graceful dance sequences and an elaborate set.
e Aryan Heritage Foundation’s 'Ramlila'.
e Aryan Heritage Foundation’s 'Ramlila'.

Performers queued up in front of their make-up dada while an excited audience marked time at the venue until the Aryan Heritage Foundation’s (AHF) ‘Broadway-style Ramlila’ commenced on Thursday. As we waited for the show to begin, we heard a gentleman narrating his childhood experiences. “On these nine days, all my friends would show up at the Ramlila every day,” he told his son.

There was a time when witnessing renditions of Valmiki’s Ramayana—one of North India’s oldest storytelling traditions—would be an annual community affair during Navratri. Today, the format of Ramlila has evolved. While some groups amp up the storyline with dance sequences, others focus on elaborate sets. This Broadway-style Ramlila we were at—it has been taking place annually in West Delhi from 2011—is no different.

Experiments with the format
Rajender Mittal (founder of AHF’s Ramlila) grew up watching ‘nukkad ki Ramlila’ and came across Delhi’s famous Lav Kush Ramlila—it takes place over a course of nine days—after he got married to the daughter of its founder (the late Ram Krishan Gupta). “Who has nine days to come and watch Ramlila!? He [Rajender] thought, why not create something that concluded the same day so people get to watch the entire story,” shares Rajender’s son Saurabh Mittal, Senior Vice President of AHF. Four years spent conceptualising, writing, and then directing gave rise to what they call the ‘Broadway-style Ramlila’ in 2015. “The term ignites curiosity among the masses,” comments Saurabh.

Images from the theatrical production
Images from the theatrical production

Curating a grand experience
After witnessing this Broadway-style Ramlila, it was easy to point out that the highlights are its production elements. With a 3-D, multi-layer set—it has been divided into three segments—this production features 17 original soundtracks by well-known singers like Udit Narayan, Kailash Kher, etc. Indian actor Mukesh Khanna’s narration—as Valmiki—weaves the episodes of the Ramayana together while dancers drive the story forward. Directed by renowned choreographer Shashidharan Nair, this dance-drama is enhanced by a spectacular light design and theatrical props.

The larger-than-life movements and dialogues add to the grandeur of this production that is witnessed by more than 8,000 people annually. “The aim is to ensure the audience enjoys it and also learns something,” shared Nair. Confetti poppers, artificial fog, and even crackers were used in the course of this production.

This Ramlila has made a comeback in the physical format after two years of the pandemic and fosters a space for citizens to watch the epic with their family. Not certain if their self-ascribed parallel with the Broadway holds water but it does account for a massive celebration of the festival.

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The New Indian Express