Four posts and four very different yet very similar Ramayana stories later, I found myself wondering whether I was using the rear view mirror a tad too much. Had I been too focused on how the Ramayana has influenced cultures and is now a relic of collective pasts? Judging from the reactions that have poured in to the posts as comments and personal emails, I doubt that I can deny that the epic is very much alive and kicking today. If not from dusty hardbound books with complex Sanskrit script, the Ramayana still jumps out from our television screens and computer monitors and lives amongst us.
It was in 1986, that Ramanand Sagar’s famous TV series about the epic captured the nation’s imagination. While the national broadcasters Doordarshan were initially wary of a series that might possibly lead to a rise in communalism, they soon realised that they had nothing to worry about. Indians, irrespective of their religions were glued to their television screens, leading to what news media called the “Ramayana Fever” phenomenon. Until June 2003, the series enjoyed the distinction of being the world’s most viewed mythological series.
There were also international projects like the animated Ramayana, titled “Warrior Prince - The story of Lord Ram”. Directed by the Japanese filmmaker Yugo Sako, it combined three styles of animation and won considerable acclaim at film festivals and generated an army of young fans. Based on Valmiki’s Ramayan, the story transformed Lord Ram into a super-hero of sorts who was battling with demons and ten-headed monster kings to rescue his beautiful wife and damsel in distress Sita.
And while the Warrior Prince does not really dwell on Sita’s banishment, a 2009 animation film named “Sita Sings the Blues” did just that. A musical and very personal interpretation of the epic made by Nina Paley, the film drew a parallel between the filmmaker’s divorce and Ram leaving Sita. Switching between the locations of a modern San Francisco and an ancient Lanka and Ayodhya, the movie not only presented the viewers with an abridged version of the epic, but also how morals from the tale could be applied to make sense of the relationship problems that we are all plagued with at one time or another. And if not as a solution for a break-up, the film shows that you can probably find solace in the fact that even Ram and Sita had to separate and they were Gods, so what chance do we mere mortals have!!
Now that’s something that renowned filmmaker Mani Ratnam will be exploring in his soon-to-be released movie ‘Raavan’. The multi-star project is said to be a modern take on the Ramayana with the twist being that the abducted wife starts feeling sympathy for her abductor, a man of multiple facets. Or figuratively speaking, a man who has ten heads.
The Ramayana is one of those epics that will always be drawn upon as inspiration or reference. Be it as a justification for fundamentalists to appropriate certain lands, to urge a woman to leave her life behind to be with her husband, or even to settle a family dispute, it’s inevitable that the characters from this great story will be used as examples for all eternity. And while one hopes that the influence of the epic continues to live on, I also hope that it is not used as a justification to perpetuate injustices in the name of norms and conventions. After all the Ramayana that has had the power to transcend all kinds of cultural and physical boundaries deserves to be treated with a little more respect than that. Don’t you agree?
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