Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ramayana: another take on the epic

Ramayana by Jalabala and her team
I had heard about one lady performing multiple roles in the epic story of Ramayana and thought it must be boring to have just one person on the stage trying to convey the entire gamut of emotions and action all by herself.
Watching Jalabala and her team perform at the Akshara Theater in Delhi on a navratra night was an unexpected pleasure.
Jalabala was on the stage wearing a beautiful orange silk saree and sitting in a chair. She was Dashrath and Kaikeyi by turns.
There were long monologues in literary words and she delivered them as if she were just talking to someone. It was almost effortless. I could see how much effort had gone into this seeming effortlessness.
There was the old Dashrath and the insistent Kaikeyi in their personal quarters arguing over her wish for Bharat's accession to the throne and a 14 year banishment for Ram.
They sounded like any normal husband wife who were at an impasse. There was no theatrical Manthra coaching Kaikeyi to say this or that.
It was just one woman who thought her son should be king rather than her co-wife's son and she could ensure this would happen as the king owed her from before.
He had promised to grant two of her wishes for services rendered during a fierce battle.
And this is what she wanted NOW.
Or the king could deny her and accept that he was a LIAR.
This she knew he could not do as he would rather die than be called a liar.
" Raghu kul reet sada chali aayee pran jaye par wachan na jayee"
The king cried like a baby and implored her to relent but she refused.
Lights darkened on the scene and lit up the stage in a few moments again to show Ram, Sita and Laxman in their forest home.
Ram was suitably princely looking and also benevolent as a God would be. Sita matched him with impeccable acting and diction. ALL actors had their parts down pat and did not miss one cue or one word from the long literary dialogues and frequent monologues that many of them had.
Scene followed scene and we were transported to the traditional Ramlila held every year during Navratra to mark this epic story and its culmination in Dussehra and Diwali.
How lucky we are to have such enduring stories in our lives!
The actor playing Ravan was superb in his rendition of the learned but supremely arrogant king of the Golden Lanka . He inspired awe and fear, even fascination as evil is wont to do.
The mirage of the golden dear was suitably elusive and flighty and so attractive as to tempt Sita and then Ram to catch it as a gift for Bharat.
The girl playing the golden deer had also checked our online booking and issued our tickets earlier in the foyer. It was really great to see everyone pitching in any which way to get things done.
The girl playing Mandodri was ushering the audience to their seats in this tiny and intimate all wood theater. I was pretty thrilled by the entire experience.
The guard at the theater asked us to park the car right near the gate in a safe place as a favour because we were there to watch the play and maybe because it was just my daughter and I and the play was about to begin.
It felt great, personal and intimate. As if we were guests in their house and not ticket buying public who came to watch the play.
We were taken through the entire story in this confident manner with scenes that defined focal points of the story.
The best scene was probably the one wherein Ravan abducts Sita from her forest home. Sita's struggle to break free was really impressive and so real.
The subsequent planning for war on both sides and its execution were more symbolic than theatrical.
In this version the story was taken to the bitter end when Sita is troubled by her twin sons behaving like typical teens. She is calmed by the Rishi Balmiki in whose ashram she had taken refuge.
Jalabala was the calm Rishi and a distraught Sita by turns. And it was completely believable.
There was tomato soup on the house for all who wanted it and the writer and main patron made an impassioned plea to save the theater as the government seems to be doing some 'shenanigans' to take it away from them.
I am glad I have discovered them even if so late in the day.
They have been performing this play for almost forty years now. Their grandchildren and some other young actors have joined them and hopefully are learning from them to carry this tradition forward without a break.
This Sita, Dashrath, Kaikeyi, Balmilki all rolled in one must have others who can take on where the senior member leaves off.
I admired her sheer will power that allowed her to do so much even though the body betrays signs of age. The spirit soared in the sky and took us all with it.
Do watch it if you get the chance to do so. You will not regret it.


  1. I am impressed reading about this. Wish could have a chance to see it.....

    1. Thanks Geet. I am sure they perform periodically. Do stay tuned to catch their next performance.

  2. Enjoyed reading about one man/woman show. It is unbelievable how she performed all the acts on her own.

    1. It was really wonderful Shelly. The lady has so much grace and wore beautiful plain silk sarees (yellow and then saffron). Her talent and performance defeated age. I loved it. Ishita had booked the seats and driven us both in her car. It felt great! :)


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