Production of epic proportions

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Hyderabad will see a huge musical Ramleela on stage for three days this week

Think Ramleela and one visualises the bright musicals held during Dasara festivities. Thanks to theatre group Rangeen Sapney, this epic narrative comes to Hyderabad from May 4 to 6. The group has been rehearsing for it at Phoenix Arena for more than two months now.

It is a dream come true for director Surender Sahil Verma, who has been wanting to stage the show in Hyderabad for over a year-and-half. “It takes at least 45 hours to stage the production; that’s why Ramleela shows are held for 15 days with a three-hour performance every day,” he points out. He took seven months to adapt Radheshyam’s Ramayana to stage. “We often see important episodes in Ramleela being staged in Telugu; but a full-length Hindi production has never been attempted in Hyderabad,” he says.

The two-and-half-hour-production begins with Ravan’s curse and the killing of Shravan Kumar by Dasaratha. The scenes unfold taking the story forward and end with Ram’s return to Ayodhya with Sita and his coronation as king.

Casting challenges

Casting for this huge production was a challenge, shares Surender. “There are more theatre groups but fewer actors in the city.” As a result, most of the artistes play multiple roles. Vishal, who is a co-director, plays the characters of Meghnath, Nandi and Parusuram and also gives a voice over. “It is challenging but also exciting to shift between different characters; my mind is constantly thinking of the characters whether I am going to office or returning home,” he states.

Rahul Reddy of Octopus Studio plays Kumbhakarna in the production. “When I heard Surender’s dream of Ramleela, I thought it is impossible. I know the scale of Ramayana and it is difficult an to stage the epic in a complex environment like Hyderabad where Hindi-speaking actors are few,” he explains.

It is a different situation for stand-up comedian Avinash Agarwal, who plays Ram. “My friends and family said, ‘Tum to Raavan ho; Ram kaise ban gaye,” he laughs. Often he does opening acts for the plays, but since theatre is his first love, he is elated at this opportunity. He can’t resist cracking jokes during rehearsals. “Mujhe masti bahut aata hai. If there is a joke to tell, I can’t wait; the co-artistes are a ready-made audience.”

Avinash feels there is more discipline and dedication among theatre artistes; they equate the stage to a temple, it is not viewed like that in stand-up. “There are bound to be cultural differences; stand-up has evolved out of theatre; it is a subset of theatre.” A dash of humour surely eases tension among artistes. “Hasi mazaak toh bahut hoti hai but one never crosses the line. Since most of us are strangers this fun helps to break the ice and bond.”

Surender, who will play Hanuman affirms the epic is shown only from a moral point of view. “We want to show the triumph of good over evil which can be in any religion. We want children and youngsters to discover our superheroes. Every one knows the story of Ramayana but except Ram, Sita, Lakshman, Ravan and Hanuman, they do not know about other characters or why some things happened. On television, the scenes are dragged until one gets restless and changes the channel. We want to tell a good story and according to the tastes of this generation.”

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