By Deepa Gahlot
Often, a story has its own journey. Devdutta Pattanaik, prolific writer and an expert on Indian mythology, wrote a slim book with a story called Hanuman’s Ramayan. Devendra Sharma translated it into Hindi, and his father Ram Dayal Sharma, an eminent folk artiste converted it into a musical play in the Swang Nautanki form. Gillo Repertory, Shaili Sathyu’s group that specialises in theatre for children, produced the play and took it all over the country.
The production recently completed 100 shows, at which, a book based on its nautanki script, illustrated by Pattanaik, was also released . The play is in keeping with Gillo’s mission to work with Indian stories and forms, so that children can be familiarised with them. Which is why, the performances are usually followed by an interactive session with the kids.
Hanuman Ki Ramayan, performed in song—for which the actors had to undergo training– has a simple story with a beautiful message. When Valmiki (Shavari Deshpande) completes his labour of love, the Ramayan, a mischievous Naarad (Ghanshyam Tiwari), singing and dancing to the tune of Suno ji Naarad Mera Naam, Media work hamara kaam—tells the writer that there is a better version of the Ramayan, written by none other than Hanuman.
A miffed Valmiki travels all the way to the Himalayas where Hanuman is said to have retired and finds words written on the leaves of banana plants. When he reads them, he is moved to tears—because this work is really superior to his. He finally meets an old primate, realizes that he is the great Ram devotee, Hanuman (Prasad Dagare), who has no ego about which version is better, he just wants the glory of his Lord to reach the world.
The staging of the play is minimalistic—just a painting of a banana plant forms the backdrop; the costumes are dhoti-kurta-angvastram. But the music is live, the sheer joie de vivre of the singing and dancing reaches the target audience. In the old days, female parts in nautankis were played by men; in this one tradition is overturned by making women play male parts. What the kids take away is a story about the joy of creation and the sincerity of true devotion.
Hanuman Ki Ramayan
Directed by: Devendra Sharma
Playwright: Pt Ramdayal Sharma (from a story by Devdutt Pattanaik)
Cast: Sharvari Deshpande, Swati Singh, Ghanshyam Tiwari, Prasad Dagare, Harshad Tambe and others
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.