Johnson Thomas

Direction : Puneet Issar, Siddhant Issar
Writer : Puneet Issar, Siddhant Issar
Cast : Puneet Issar, Siddhant Issar, Vindhu Dara Singh, Yashodhan Rana, Samiksha Bhatnagar, Payal Goga Kapoor


The Ramayana in whichever form and wherever it has been performed or screened, has never failed to garner audience affection and the Issars' home production is likely to be no different. This live musical production, JAI SHRI RAM RAMAYAN, is a voluminous mythological saga based on Valmiki's Tulsi Ramayan. Adapted for the stage by Puneet and his son Siddhant Issar, it has a propensity for verse rather than dialogue. The treatment by the director duo is a mix of traditional Bollywood tropes and TV series-like-segmentation (akin to Ramanand Sagar's Ramayan mainly), costume and effects. So, what you are getting, in the guise of formal theatre, is a ceremonial representation of the Ram-Lila.

At the outset, RJ Anuraag Pandey, entrusted with introducing the production, pitches his words to invoke religious fervor. 'JaJai Shri Ram' he chants out loudly and exhorts the crowd to do the same. Connect with the audience is already established thus, and the passionate performance of a much loved and venerated myth does the rest. The chants continue to rent the air in between sequences and the cast and audience are on the same page on that.

The giant, stage-sized digital screen backdrop with moving images representing locations befitting the enactment and interchangeable props in the foreground, serves as an effective enough setting for the drama. The focused lighting camouflages the changes brought about between scenes quite effectively. The sound design is also of high order with every inflection, tone and pitch coming through with resounding effect. While the costumes are largely 'blindingly bling' there are a few â€" like the black and gold ensemble worn by Raavan, and Ram, Lakshman and Sita's costumes during vanvaas - which lend definition to the characters and their respective agendas.

The Issars choose to have their main players making entries from the aisles in the auditorium â€" beamers announcing their presence et al. This sort of production design gets the audience involved and invested without much ado. It's also an easy-on-the-eye effect that allows the actors more room for movement and, immediate communion with the audience.

This musical theatre experience is summarized into a fractionalized three hour version of the sacred text and includes 12 original recorded songs, live action and dance. The songs, lyrics and dance choreography invoke some paeans to idealism and include an item number of sorts by Surpanakha (played by Payal Goga Kapoor) and a drunken tribal-folk dance performance by Raavan's asuras. They are, but obviously populist ingredients that would attract the Bollywood aficionado.

The father-son duo of Puneet Issar and Siddhant Issar essaying the lead roles of Raavan and Ram respectively, make the most of this home production putting on impressive, balladic performances. Puneet, a past master at the stagey mythological, having essayed Raavan and Duryodhan on TV and theatre, lends commanding presence, dynamism, nifty footwork with impactful voice delivery to make Raavan's eternal dilemma come alive while Siddhant's softer, genteel evocation of idealism and valor makes the good versus evil fight one that evokes both religious fervor and spiritual connect. Yashodhan Rana of 'Om Nama Shivaay' fame, rehashes his role of Lord Shiva but this time around he is a 'Sutradhar' of sorts. Vindoo Dara Singh is the obvious Lord Hanuman and Samiksha Bhatnagar makes for an emotionally persuasive Sita.

This version of the Ramayana though largely traditional, also has some social commentary suddenly springing forth towards the culmination mainly by way of the poetic dialogue. Ram himself talks of Ram Rajya as an aspirational ideal meant to lend humans impactful humanism and not just a phrase to be bandied about or a tool to berate the non-believers with. This is the kind of contemporariness that raises this performance a notch higher than that of the commonplace.

*Johnson Thomas is an independent critic and columnist.

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