In light of Hardik Gajar’s controversy over Bhavai – the original title, Raavan Leela. It was changed after protests from our usual mob of professional offenders and boycott supervisors. I stepped in and wondered if that was an impolite and distorted take on the mainstream Ramayana.
Or at least something that might confuse the heroes and villains in our epics by puritans. Who have a clear idea of good and evil. A sympathetic image of Raavan may be. As a wise and pious king crushed by pride – or Surpanakha as an unjust woman.
Such a picture is neither new nor radical.
Most of the country’s high-end literature and theatre. Alongside renowned studies such as Trista Ramayani AK Ramanujan – emphasize the versatility of the epics and their unique characters.
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(It happened to be returning from a Bhavai demonstration and found the new book The Living Ramayana. Exploring Many Vayanada Epics and the World on my desk.) The kids of my generation even found a slightly watered-down version. In the comic Amar Chitra Kata (which many now consider too conservative).
Ultimately, it suggests that Ram Raja could be an excuse to execute those who don’t follow a publicly approved path. Something that could be seen as a commentary on real-world politics today. But it comes at the end of a mostly screened film. as a slow and safe television drama.
The simple plot involves a dramatic troupe (or nautanki) arriving at the Gujarati village of Khakhar to cast Ram Lila. Much to the delight of local boy Raja Ram Joshi (Pratik Gandhi), who dreams of becoming an actor. (“Maine gehoon peesne ke liye janam nahin liya” – I’m not happy with wheat milling – he tells his disapproving father pandji.)
A series of random events leads this Ram to play the role of Raavan in the production. Which is helmed by Bhavar (Abhimanyu Singh), the mighty. And immediately falls in love with Rani (Aindrita Ray), who plays Sita. But their romance should not take place for reasons. That may not be obvious to viewers this is due to Bhawar’s desire to maintain tight control over his entourage. And the inappropriate participation of “Raavan” and “Sita” in life.
Meanwhile, local politics is moving fast in the background:
Vishwa Jagriti Senna orchestrates rat yatras and the like to spread the glory of Lord Ram. Or, instead, use religious beliefs as a blindfold and secure power for oneself).
Bhavai’s aesthetic and pace are often similar to modern Hindi mythology series (Gajar has also directed shows such as Devon to Dev. Mahadev and Siya to Ram).
By starting with the opening title in Devanagari’s script. She was accompanied by flawless Sanskaari drawings depicting the animated Story of Ramayana narrating. And ends on a happy note with a triumphant return Ayodhya – no lazy dhobis, no expulsion to Sita.
There was static reaction material as the villagers watched Ram Leela’s appearance. There’s romance in a playful beat, full of blurry close-ups, happy smiles and bits of lip biting. And perhaps more metaphors and images of fireflies than would be healthy for a film.
(During a lengthy conversation, Ram and Rani compare themselves to a “jugnu” trapped in darkness which must fly away.) And there is an attempt to create dramatic tension from the ordinary situation. (“Aaj se milna bandh” has even been said to lovers.)
The lead role was enjoyable enough (though Gandhi deserved a better performance. After his excellent performance as Harshad Mehta in 1992’s Scam).
The supporting cast – that includes Rajesh Sharma as the Bajrangi. Who played Hanuman – defended himself quite well for having something to do. Among the more interesting pieces is the cinematic depiction of the daily life of the drama troupe. With soft jokes running through the actors’ relationships.
And sometimes the pressure and frustration of this life.
Lahhu, played by Ankur Bhatia, is a good-natured prankster. And restless as he longs to be “raptured” from Laksmana to Rama. The actor who played Rama – Ankur Vikal. It felt terrible about being paraded and “adored”, but they didn’t give him anything to eat or drink. “Bhagwan ban to galti kar di,” he muttered. In the current climate, the original Ram could agree.