The epic Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, has been open to adaptation and exists in various forms, including dance dramas and TV serials. The latest is an English musical for children directed by Jiji Subi and Vishaal Asrani, and produced by Vishaal Asrani’s Institute of Performing Arts (VAIPA). VAIPA has previously been involved in productions including The Magic of Christmas, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Little Mermaid.
Based on Valmiki’s original story, the play traces Lord Ram’s journey from the palace in Ayodhya to his exile, the abduction of Sita by Ravan, and the return to Ayodhya on Diwali. The play will recreate the magical forest with golden deer and peacocks, the bridge across the ocean and the city of Lanka burning in flames as Hanuman sets it on fire.
Asrani says, “The Ramayana is a legend; we have adapted it but not changed the story or content. We rewrote it after reading six original versions. This isn’t a spoof or a modern version. We’ve created the beauty and splendour of the original text on stage with beautiful costumes and props.”
Subi adds that the Ramayana was chosen for the play as the ancient text is still relevant: “The Ramayana has drama, suspense, tragedy and excitement, which makes it a fantastic choice for a play. Today’s kids need to know that Indian texts, too, can be fantastic and visually dramatic. Western culture and stories don’t only possess magic as shown in movies or cartoons.”
The makers elaborate that they were keen to host an English version as they felt it would be a good change from what’s aired on TV or in the Ram Leela format. The music has been crafted to create drama, tragedy and suspense and will include Bhajans, Contemporary music, Classical themes and foot-tapping songs for dances of the coronation scene and the golden deer in the forest. The cast is a mix of children and adults; the children are students from VAIPA.
The duo admit that it was a challenge adapting the play for children: “It was difficult to cut down an epic like the Ramayana to make it concise and apt for kids, and only of an hour’s duration on stage. Scheduling 22 people for rehearsals was a nightmare. Costumes were a challenge, too. This meant huge budgets and no sponsors, but we managed it,” recalls Subi.