Direction : Ram Daund
Writer : Ram Daund
Cast : Nishant Kadam, Tejasvi Parab, Priti Sonar, Uday Bhrathe, Amol Gavare & others

HEY RAM Play Review

Deepa Punjani

 HEY RAM Review
No upcoming shows.

Ramleelas and Jatras in the quintessential god's name are celebrated in many a small town and village festival and in traditional performances in large swathes of the country. HEYY RAM, written and directed by Ram Daund, is inspired by one such festival (Ram Rath Jatra), that used to take place in the village of Lonwadi in Niphad Taluka in Nashik District, Maharashtra. The origins of the festival date to 1885. The festival gained more prominence when it was beset by the killing of a man from the Mang community: a scheduled caste tribal community in the village. This incident exposed the etched caste lines and religious segregation. Neither the lower castes, nor the Muslims could participate in the performance known as the Bohada. The high caste Patil community dominated the village, controlled its resources and was in charge of the festival as well.

HEY RAM Marathi play

When the case came before Justice Madhav Govind Ranade who incidentally was born in Niphad, he simply said that he would stop the festival for good if the killer were not turned in. All that he was interested in was the truth of what had happened. Eventually the village buckled but the more significant outcome of this incident was that Ranade ruled that all communities in the village, including the minorities should be allowed to participate in the Jatra, so that such incidents would not occur again. Justice M.G. Ranade, a Chitpawan Brahmin by caste, was nonetheless a great social reformer, scholar, and a founding member of the Indian National Congress. He was a beacon to Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who in turn inspired Gandhi.

Ram Daund first found inspiration in a story about this incident, penned by Sadanand Deshmukh, the Sahitya Akademi award-winning Marathi writer of the novel 'Baromas'. On stage, in his production, Daund has masterfully cast an ensemble close to 65 actors; what a pull-off it was on the little stage of the Godrej Dance Theatre just in terms of its sheer management during the NCPA Pratibimb festival, and in spite of the technical glitch, caused by the theatre during the penultimate scene of the play. This great show of professionalism was doubly amplified by the spirited ensemble of the villagers and the superb performances of all in the principal cast of actors. There was excellent coordination and timing. Daund has also made a sincere and a laudable effort to re-create the Bohada, known for its mukhas (masks) donned by the characters and their footwork. The actors have studied this and it shows in their performance. Interestingly, they are all non-mainstream actors from the suburbs of Mumbai and beyond - from Mulund, Thane, Kalyan, Ambernath, Bhiwandi and Pune.

HEY RAM Marathi play

Daund without overly dwelling into caste politics presents a sensitive and meditative insight into the viciousness of caste and its rampant inequity. In the post-show discussion he drew attention to how the Hindus proudly claim that Lord Ram partook of Shabri's tasted berries even though she was of a low caste. But this selective memory does little otherwise to broaden social consciousness and be more interrogative in the process.

All that the play's simpleton Mang hero, ironically named Prabhu (Nishant Kadam), wants is to play Ram as he has done for 13 years and not be deprived of the opportunity. He even goes against his strong-willed yet loving wife Nagita (Tejasvi Parab) to do so, knowing that he has to fulfill onerous tasks a month and a half prior in preparation of his role as determined by tradition. As he says to his interviewer (Shraddha Sukale) who is part of the TV channel that has come to document and film the festival, it is the inner Ram he is concerned with, and that there are different Ramayanas unfolding, even not too far from his village in another festival.

HEY RAM Marathi play

In his heart-broken death of being denied the opportunity, a cry of humanity is raised at the end by his inebriated superior Pintoo Sheth (Uday Brathe) who has taken on the role. The mismatch of his person and the character Pintoo Sheth has taken on to play is amusing and redemptive. In an oblique reference to Ranade's judgement, a Muslim takes on the role of Narad Muni, but not before the Panchayat coffers are filled. Even Pintoo Sheth whops out 50000 rupees for the cherished role.

The end may appear as a romanticised ideal; those who constantly battle caste and communalism know the ugly truth better. As recent as 2016, the consummate film actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui was denied the role of Ram in the native Ramleela of his hometown Budhana in Uttar Pradesh. History is repeating itself and wise men like Ranade are gone. In the circumstances only the unquestioning faithful can take a benign view of the heavily appropriated god. Even Prabhu's wife Nagita in the play is not fooled by the overlay of patriarchy but she knows she is in the minority. As caste atrocities continue through the length and breadth of India and prominently in States like Maharashtra with the complicity of an increasingly strident Hindu Right, HEYY RAM at its best lets out a tragic sigh, resonant of Gandhi's last words.

*Deepa Punjani is the editor of this website.

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