Hi, Ram

Nine ordinary mortals attempt to be an extraordinary god. Or the lila of being god on Earth. By mounting the ancient story, are modern Indians looking for epic roles?

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Pranjal Jain | 14

Bal Mandir Bhavya Ramlila Manchan
Vikas Marg, Delhi

Manish More | 20

Shri Dharmik Ramlila Samity
Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

Akash Sachdeva | 22

Drametic Club Ramlila
Janakpuri, Delhi

Punit Meena | 26

Shri Adarsh Kala Kendra Ramlila
Azadpur, Delhi

Mausam Chaudhary | 27

Sanatan Dharm Ramlila
Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Tusharr Jain | 28

Shri Ram Dharmik Leela Committee
Keshavpuram, Delhi

Satyendra Singh | 30

Shri Ramlila Committee
Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Sunil Singh | 32

Dwarka Shri Ramlila Society
Dwarka, Delhi

Rajkumar Sharma | 35

Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra
Copernicus Marg, Delhi

Pranjal Jain | 14

Bal Mandir Bhavya Ramlila Manchan
Vikas Marg, Delhi

Manish More | 20

Shri Dharmik Ramlila Samity
Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh

Akash Sachdeva | 22

Drametic Club Ramlila
Janakpuri, Delhi

Punit Meena | 26

Shri Adarsh Kala Kendra Ramlila
Azadpur, Delhi

Mausam Chaudhary | 27

Sanatan Dharm Ramlila
Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Tusharr Jain | 28

Shri Ram Dharmik Leela Committee
Keshavpuram, Delhi

Satyendra Singh | 30

Shri Ramlila Committee
Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh

Sunil Singh | 32

Dwarka Shri Ramlila Society
Dwarka, Delhi

Rajkumar Sharma | 35

Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra
Copernicus Marg, Delhi

I

N THE PAST, there have been many Ramayanas. In the present, there are many Rams. Each Ram has a rich repertoire; each Ram has a resilient story. Together, these mostly poignant and occasionally prosaic stories with all their intense drama and immense everydayness build a modern narrative of the ancient epic.

Religion unites, but more than religion these elaborate modern renditions of the Ramayana make the hero rediscover his own sizeable self. The new gods on earth live many remarkable lives. All of them perform on stage, but India remains their real playground. Here are nine Rams from Delhi-NCR and their scintillating stories in pictures.

Ram is soft-spoken. Ram is reserved. Ram is calm.

He’s 1 among 75, 1 among 3,000, 1 among 10,000, depending on the lens. He can be found anywhere, be it a motley crew from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, or a school in Delhi’s Vikas Marg, or the entire C-Block of Janakpuri further west.

Aura, did you say? Not quite. There he sits among the quietest, the mellowest, and the most composed troupe members.

He talks Ram, he walks Ram. Feel the weight of his words as he walks nimbly but with an assuredness. Patience, deference, reverence, geniality, obedience and respect for elders are all welcome traits in today’s climate. And by god, does he fit the bill.

Some of them renounce and go spiritual early. They say a regimented ‘no onion, no garlic’ and ‘only roti’ menu will only help them better grasp the character. The wilful hardship even extends to sleeping on the floor instead of the bed.

Jab se Shri Ram ka kirdaar nibhaya hai, tab se mera mann kaafi shant ho gaya hai.(Since I donned the role of Ram, I’m calmer than before)

Manish More

Pranjal Jain
Satyendra Singh
Sunil Singh
Tusharr Jain
Akash Sachdeva
Mausam Chaudhary
Rajkumar Sharma
Punit Meena
Pranjal Jain
Manish More
Sunil Singh

Ram was Jatayu. Ram was Angad. Ram was a demon.

The journey to the lead role in a Ramlila is a long, methodical and steady process of learning and unlearning. And the leap to the pinnacle could happen from any step of the Ramlila ladder—passing through the roles of Ram’s brother Bharat; Vibhishan, Meghnad, Khara or Dushan from Ravan’s kin; the boatman Kewat; and even (beyond their years) as Sage Vishwamitra; among others.

While a few will debut as Ram in 2017, others are already into their third, fifth or eighth year. For some seasoned Rams like Rajkumar, it is 15th incarnation.

“I have always wanted to play Hanuman. Unka power itna zyada tha.” (He had so many powers)

Pranjal Jain

Rajkumar Sharma
Tusharr Jain
Punit Meena
Tusharr Jain
Akash Sachdeva

Ram stays in a 1 BHK. Ram stays in a 2 BHK. Ram stays in a dormitory.

He dwells among us. His kingdom is a Delhi-NCR mohalla stereotype. The similarities between their residences at Ambedkar Nagar in Dakshinpuri, the narrow by lanes of Guru Ram Das Nagar in Laxmi Nagar, or deep inside Uttam Nagar West are jarring. Some even fork out rent for the cramped confines. More peace, average prosperity in Ayodhya, it seems.

For most Rams, the Delhi-NCR region is an exile into wilderness—a migration from their original birthplaces in, say, nondescript Thappal (Himachal Pradesh) or Jaunpur (Uttar Pradesh). No machinations here, each of them ambitiously driven by the big city life.

Jaise Vitamin C mein sab hai, hamara Janakpuri Block C mein sab hai.(Just as Vitamin C has everything, our Janakpuri has everything)

Ashok Sachdeva Drametic Club Ramlila

Sunil Singh
Tusharr Jain
Pranjal Jain
Satyendra Singh
Akash Sachdeva
Akash Sachdeva
Tusharr Jain

Ram is a school student. Ram is a ballet master. Ram is an engineer.

He manages the entire IT operations of a hospital. He handles data entry operations for national broadcaster Doordarshan. He tinkers with AC ducts in the train coaches for the Railways. No work is too menial, no job is too tough.

If Ramlila is about the glamour and fame, Sunil and Tusharr are following the script. While Sunil is trying to establish himself in modelling, fashion photographer Tusharr makes a living behind the camera.

Teenager Pranjal has loftier ambitions. We’re talking NASA and astronauts here.

“Don’t bother me, Bhagwan ke avatar mein hu abhi!” (I am currently in Ram’s avatar)

Punit Meena

Punit Meena
Punit Meena
Manish More
Satyendra Singh
Sunil Singh
Sunil Singh
Tusharr Jain
Tusharr Jain
Pranjal Jain
Pranjal Jain

Ram rides an i10. Ram rides a Yamaha FZS. Ram rides a Bombardier.

Walking? In khadaauns (wooden slippers)? You gotta be kidding. Standard hatchbacks or flashy bikes are the new yaans (transportation) of the lords.

For Punit, his daily commutes exemplify vehicular variety. Zipping on his Blue Honda Livo from his house near Kirti Nagar to the Metro station; boarding the Delhi Metro (yes, Bombardier) to Noida City Centre station; a short six-seater auto ride from there to Prayag Hospital in Noida’s Sector 41. If he’s lucky returning home in the evening, he rides pillion on his colleague’s bike.

“This is Uttam Nagar, dude. Why bother with a car? We’ve got the metro and Uber.”

Sunil Singh

Punit Meena
Satyendra Singh
Manish More
Pranjal Jain
Sunil Singh
Punit Meena
Akash Sachdeva

Sita’s a training manager? No, Sita’s a model.

Ram is a loving husband. For Rajkumar, fact and fiction seem inseparable. It’s a Baltic vanvaas of sorts for his wife and two sons, who are away in Ukraine. But a happy homecoming (just like Valmiki authored) is scheduled for…just wait...Diwali!

“Time nahi hai armaano ke liye.” (There’s no time for desires)

Mausam Chaudhary

Pooja (Sunil Singh)
Tanya (Rajkumar Sharma)

The swayamvar of most Rams in real life will have to wait. Most of them, highly eligible bachelors, dismiss love as a distraction or pure banality. Life’s bigger bows need to be lifted first. For now, the on-stage Sitas will do.

Sunil Singh
Mausam Chaudhary
Pranjal Jain
Akash Sachdeva
Satyendra Singh
Manish More
Rajkumar Sharma

Ram’s dad is Dasharath. But Ram’s mom is Ravan’s mom.

In Janakpuri, Ashok Sachdeva, who plays King Dasharath, is the real father of Akash. Sadly, this year Sachdeva Sr’s daughter will miss out playing Sita. She played the role for the last five years; she recently became a mother.

Elsewhere in Keshavpuram, Tusharr’s real-life mother plays Kaikesi, Ravan’s mother, while his sister-in-law performs the Ganesh Vandana. From the wings, Satyendra keeps a watch on the Gauri puja, in which his sister is plays Gauri mata.

“The character [Kaikesi] never gets written, but we've managed a full-fledged role for her [my mom].”

Tusharr Jain

Satyendra Singh
Tusharr Jain

If some Ramlila companies are family, most Ramlila companies are like family. Camped under one roof during the final lap of prepping, there is heartwarming camaraderie and bonhomie. At times it is infectious.

Mausam Chaudhary
Manish More
Satyendra Singh
Rajkumar Sharma

And, of course, there’s always good ol’ family minus any Ramlila connection. Even though the roles of a good son, good brother or good father remains stet.

Pranjal Jain
Pranjal Jain
Rajkumar Sharma
Sunil Singh

Ram is a poet. Ram is a singer. Ram loves Doraemon.

The hero’s hobbies are varied. We’re talking cricket, theatre, poetry, dance, soft music.

Some Rams croon live at their Ramlilas. If Pranjal’s earphones resonate with YouTube sensation Vidya Vox and Bollywood super singer Arijit Singh (music helps him focus better while studying), Punit is trained in the classical bent, but with a strong liking for Shreya Ghoshal.

There’s also fascination and intrigue for crime, mystery and horror. Mausam, though, prefers the spiritual over spirits, given his deep fondness for books on dharma (religion).

“I love travelling. If there’s adventure, even better. And if it’s a scary place, best.”

Akash Sachdeva

Tusharr Jain
Tusharr Jain
Sunil Singh
Rajkumar Sharma
Manish More
Pranjal Jain
Pranjal Jain

Ram’s changing. Ram’s evolving. Ram’s ready.

The countdown has begun on the big day. The chatter of troupe members is deafening. The volume drops a touch. Ram has entered the building.

A quick mow to remove any stubble kicks off the deity routine. And we’re on to the foundation cream. The makeup man studiously works on perfecting each detail of his canvas—from the masterful pencilling of the eyebrows to a regal rajtilak worthy of the gods. The piece de resistance: a strategic beauty spot near the lips.

Costumes, please. The director has turned couturier. Kavach. Check. Kundala. Check. Jewellery. Check. Crown. Check. Wig. Check. He stands back and admires his protégé. ‘Ab lag rahe ho maryada puroshottam’. (Just look at you: the male epitome of morality!)

Parashurama hollers from the wings. Cue the entry of Ram. The audience waits with bated breath.

It’s going to be EPIC!

“It’s weird when aged people come and touch your feet. Par woh mein nahi hu. Ramji ke pura swarup mere mein he.” (I do not exist, Ram has manifested himself in me)

Mausam Chaudhary