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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Raavan ki Ramayan: Puneet Issar dominates like a colossus

Raavan ki Ramayan: Puneet Issar dominates like a colossus

Coconut Theatre and The Films and Theatre Society, staged the play Raavan Ki Ramayan, in two-acts, in Mumbai, on the 5th of May. The venue, Bal Gandharv Rang Mandir, Bandra West, used to be a popular location for rehearsals, and even stagings, back in the 70s and 80s. A couple of years ago, it threw its doors open again to events and plays. The play was revived after one and a half-year with back to back shows, schedules at 5 and 8 pm. I caught the 8 pm show, which was delayed by a whole hour.

With local Radio Jockey Anmol exhorting the audience to cheer on, the refurbished play presented an enhanced set, new costumes and additional dialogue. Writer-director Atul Satya Koushik has had a successful runs of his plays Chakravyuh, Draupadi, Wo Lahore and others. His plays Arjun ka Beta and Bade Shehar ke Log are some promising contributions to original play writing in India. He has also been able to come up with some remarkable adaptations of classic Indian and foreign literature, in the form of Koobar aur Kaaki, Kaali Shalwar and Animal Farm. Founder, President of the Delhi-based Films and Theatre Society, from October 2009 to the present, he is a writer, director, curator and theatre trainer.

Casting has always been the USP of Atul’s plays, as he brings celebrities from films and TV to theatre, besides theatre veterans themselves. He has already made Nitish Bharadwaj, Kiran Kumar, Kashmira Shah, Rakesh Bedi, Avtar Gill and Himani Shivpuri act in his plays. Similarly in this play, actor Puneet Issar, who played the iconic character of Duryodhana in B. R. Chopra’s TV epic of the 80s, Mahabharata, is essaying the role of Raavan.

Raavan Ki Ramayan relaunch is a re-look at the historical chapters from the Hindu holy book, Ramayan, from the point of view of those who lost the war, and never got a chance to narrate their side of story. A virtuous king, of a prosperous kingdom, is outraged at the ravaged modesty of his sister at the hands of Ram and Lakshman, and sets out for a dignified revenge against them. But he falls for the defiance and audacity of an abducted woman, his captive and Tam’s wife Seeta, and ultimately throws his kingdom into a great war, against the will of many of his ministers, including his eldest son and his wise wife, Mandodari. The war within him transposes him against the questions of his wife, sons, Gods and ancestors, and the war outside ultimately becomes the eternal war of Sur (exalted, like Ram, a Thakur) and Asur (lowly, like Raavan, although he was a half-Brahmin), with high stakes from history on both sides.

Written in verse, with a judicious mix of Sanskritised Hindi and simple Urdu/Hindustani, the script did let you guess the next rhyme of some couplets occasionally, but cleverly used reverse techniques of antonym first and synonym later on many other occasions. Some of the fade outs could have been better executed. Multi-platform setting allowed a panoramic view, but putting Surpanakha right in front while all the actors she spoke to behind her could have been better blocked. Spaces were better utilised when Shiv roamed around the jungle locale, being the ‘vagabond’ he was. Seeta is shown wearing the same dress throughout her captivity, though she is held as a VIP. Also, the outrage of Raavan’s clan when Surpanakha returned with her breasts, ears and nose chopped off by the Ram-Lakshman duo, should have been far greater. The Ram-Raavan clash lacks sparks.

Lighting was commendable, with various colours faithfully recreated, especially in the use of the diffused and split ray lights. Set Design and Light Design were the handiwork of director Atul Satya Koushik himself, while the crisp delivery of all the artistes, especially Puneet Issar, was by Adnan Muzammil. Costumes and make-up were imaginative. There was very little humour and it only worked in bits.

In the cast were

Ram - Gaurav Jakhu

Seeta - Latika Jain

Shiva - Bhanu Pratap Singh

Mandodari - Nishtha Paliwal

Meghnad - Tarun Dang

Atikaay - Bharat Sharma

Sumali - Sachin Joshi

Kuber - Reyaz Ashraf

All did a creditable job.

But it was Puneet Issar, who has worked in films since the 70s, who strode the stage like a man possessed. The gravel in his natural voice was exploited to perfection, his physique towered above everybody else, and his costume did him full justice. Raza Murad is a popular choice when it comes to voice-overs, on account of his natural grains. Here, however, he excelled himself, because high-flown Hindi does not come naturally to him.

Atul Satya Koushik is a director to watch for. I, for one, am keen on seeing how he handles contemporary subjects.

Rating: ****

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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