It hasn’t been long since ‘Adipurush’ hit the big screen. The film, which looked at the story of Ramayana from a different perspective, faced huge criticism. In fact, as a powerful symbol of faith among the Indian people, Rama and his story are so ingrained in the soil, air and water here that audiences cannot tolerate any taint of him. Even Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayana’ serial, which was acclaimed in the late 80s, whenever something different from the popular story was shown, the audience sent a lot of letters in response. But the surprising thing is that the story of Ram-Ram has been seen many times on the cinema screen but Ramli has rarely been shown seriously in the cinema.
Ramkatha in movies
From the time of silent films, filmmakers started telling and showing Rama stories. The first attempt was ‘Lanka Dahan’ (1917) by Dadasaheb Phalke. After this, Ram and characters from Ramkatha were seen in many films. Actor Prem Adeeb and actress Shobhana Samarth (actress Kajol’s grandmother) played the roles of Ram and Sita in films like ‘Bharat Milap’, ‘Ram Rajya’, ‘Rambaan’ in the 40s with such depth that they earned equal respect. Arun Govil, who played the role of Rama, and Deepika Chikhalia, who played the role of Sita in the ‘Ramayana’ series, started to be respected by the audience. Mahatma Gandhi, who considered cinema bad for society, said the only film he saw in his life was ‘Ram Rajya’ (1943). Even in modern times many movies based on Ramayana have been made. Be it Manoj Kumar’s ‘Kalyug Aur Ramayana’ of 1987 or Mani Ratnam’s ‘Raavan’ of 2010.
Rajamouli’s ‘Baahubali’ was inspired by characters and events from Mahabharata and Ramayana. But Ramleela rarely got a notable staging in Hindi films. Usually the Ramlila stage was shown in films only as a joke or mockery. In a scene from Amol Palekar’s 1977 film Gharaunda, the character playing Hanuman on stage asks Balwant Singh (Sita) playing Ravana to leave, and the character playing Sita comes on stage drinking BD. Such ridiculous scenes are seen in many other films. Be it Ayushmann Khurrana’s 2013 film Nautanki Sala or Rakesh Omprakash Mehra’s 2009 Delhi 6, Ramli was only used in a humorous way. On the face of it, these scenes actually hinted at Ramlila’s depravity. It cannot be denied that the sanctity of Ramkatha has been reduced in some Ramlilas.
A story woven around Ramlila
Rajkumar Santoshi’s 2001 film Lajja portrayed the status of women through four heroines – Janaki, Vaidehi, Maithili and Ramdulari – who share the same name as Sita. There were also scenes of Ramleela in this movie. However, in Ashutosh Gowariker’s ‘Swades’ released in 2004, a deeper depiction of the Ram story was seen. It also has a meaningful line in the song written by Javed Akhtar ‘Mann Se Ravana Jo Nikle, Ram Aske Mann Mein Hain…’. Prateek Gandhi’s ‘Bhavai’, based on a story based on Ramlila, released in 2001, the name of which the audience may not have heard of. In this film, a young man who plays the character of Ravana and a girl who plays the character of Sita fall in love and the whole society stands against them. Now comes director Rakesh Chaturvedi Om’s ‘Mandali’, which focuses entirely on Ramleela and its ensemble cast. The film is the story of a city where things like item dance on the stage of Ramlila are polluting the atmosphere of Ramlila. The hero opposes this and re-establishes his closed group. In this film, Ramli also shows the personal life of the actors, their difficulties and dilemmas. Inspired by Premchand’s story ‘Ramleela’, this film can be said to be a worthwhile attempt to bring Rama’s Leela a place in the film industry.