The season of festivities is here. Starting with Ganesh Chathurti, the celebrations will move on to Durga Pujo in the East, Navratri in the West, followed by Dussehra and Diwali all over. Festivals give us a reason to celebrate in many ways. The coming of Dusshera would mean that theatre groups in the North are prepping to stage the Ramleela all over again. Highly popular in the north, it is unfortunate that Mumbai does not have many shows of the famous epic. However, Mumbaikars got an early dose of the Ramleela, in the form of Yatri’s Theatre’s long-running comedy, Raavanleela. Performed at the NCPA yesterday, Raavanleela reopened to a packed audience. The play had faced problems earlier from certain political groups due to its content, but it’s now fresh and ready to take over again.
Directed by Om Katare, Raavanleela is a play within a play. It is about the staging of Ramleela in a small village in India. Actors of the play include the cast and crew of the play to be staged and the audience members who have come to watch the play. In the midst of everything is an organizer, who is trying to maintain peace between the cast and the audience who do not seem to get their money’s worth from the performance. Meanwhile, the cast is more focused on their personal issues regarding the running of the play, then the actual performance itself. They alternate between acting in the play within the play, and their own selves. There are also a number of dance performances and item numbers that only add to the hilarious hullaballoo on stage.
The best thing about watching a live performance is that every character you see serves a purpose. Too many cooks in a play do not spoil the broth, but only bring in their own unique flavors on stage. The characters of Raavanleela are especially engaging to watch and it is hard to focus on one character when so many of them seem to grab your attention at all times. Since this is a play within a play, there is a need to establish a difference between the two plays, which generally calls for overacting. Yes, there’s a lot of melodrama on stage, but it only adds to the hilarity of the performance. Ram-Laxman is the duo to watch out for, and the Sita of Raavanleela needs no savior. We are not surprised why this play drew flak from a certain kind of crowd. But if you like a good depiction of mythology’s portrayal of damsels in distress, Raavanleela gives you just that. However, the star of the play is undoubtedly the character of Raavan. With a thick Punjabi accent, this King of Lanka will have you falling off your seat with laughter.
While Ramleela is essentially a play on the triumph of good over evil, Raavanleela gives us a more realistic view of the society. It is about the commercialization of theatre in present times, and where better to stage a play like this other than the NCPA? The play is meant to entertain but also serves relevance. The characters are too involved amongst themselves to pay attention to the performance, while the audience resorts to violence when things don’t seem to go its way. This mirroring of the society was brilliantly portrayed in Katare’s play, giving the play its apt title. We expect more shows of this comedy of errors to stage in Mumbai before the group makes its way to the rest of the country. Keep an eye out on BookMyShow for the staging of Raavanleela – it’s a play you don’t want to miss.