Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman battle Ravana, but with social distancing. Delhi’s long-standing Ramlila traditions have found new moulds this year, in the wake of government restrictions on large gatherings. With few guests and even fewer actors, many Ramlila committees in the city are braving the pandemic to perform live in front of the audience for a few days, this year.

6 feet ki doori, Ravana ko bhi zaruri

Yash Chauhan, director of Delhi’s Sanskriti Kala Sangam, says they’re going to perform in Karkardooma on Dussehra, reducing their Ramlila program, that usually spanned across days, to a mere three-hour-long dance drama. “Safety of members and guests is paramount,” insists Chauhan, adding, “We also decided to go digital this year, and recorded our Ramlila scenes both indoors and on the banks of Yamuna, which we are telecasting on our social media. We did this because we want least public interaction. We’ve choreographed everything keeping distance in mind, we’ll be performing live on Dussehra.”

Actors performing on stage are mindful of the social distancing norms.

Shri Ramlila Committee at Indraprastha is also going live for three days with a digital telecast. “We’ve booked the Ipex Bhavan in Patparganj and humne 200 logo ki gathering ke liye prepare kara hai. There is a gap of six feet between chairs, aur hum poori Ramlila sirf teen ghante mein dikhayenge. People were keen on not breaking the tradition, so we have reduced the number of artistes as well,” says Suman Prakash Gupta, the committee’s director.

Rama ho ya Ravana, everyone needs a sanitiser

Backstage as well, actors are adhering to safety measures. “Before we started preparing, we all underwent a Covid-19 test, and then only we started rehearsing,” says Abhishek Sharma, who is performing with Shri Azad Ramlila Kala Kendra in Maujpur, since the first day of Navratri. “We are checking the temperature of all artistes and guests who are coming to see the show. Backstage bhi hum masks pehente hain aur scenes ke beech mein sanitiser use kar rahe hain. Ram ho ya Ravan, is waqt sanitiser ki zarurat toh sabko hai,” he chuckles.

Masks are a must for actors performing in Ramlilas this year, and it’s another challenge for them to deliver dialogues while wearing a face mask.

Masks are a must for actors performing in Ramlilas this year, and it’s another challenge for them to deliver dialogues while wearing a face mask.

“All the actors and staff were tested before we premiered the show on October 17, and all have tested negative. Hence the show goes on,” – Shobha Deepak Singh, director, SBKK

Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s (SBKK) annual dance drama, Shri Ram is also adhering to all the guidelines issued by the concerned authorities for Covid-19 prevention. “At the entrance we are doing thermal screening of each and every visitor, and also giving them hand sanitisers. Everyone has to wear a mask for the entire duration of the performance! Also, people are being seated with a gap of one seat between them and the first row has been kept at a distance of 10 feet from the stage. All the actors and staff were tested before we premiered the show on October 17, and all have tested negative. Hence the show goes on,” says Shobha Deepak Singh, director, SBKK.

Ravana at SBKK’s dance drama ensures the safety of everyone around, and doesn’t forget to get a spurt of sanitiser every day.

Ravana at SBKK’s dance drama ensures the safety of everyone around, and doesn’t forget to get a spurt of sanitiser every day.
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Photo courtesy: SBKK
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In Delhi’s Vinod Nagar as well, Kamdhenu Ramlila Committee has been performing in front of an audience of 200 people. Kids under 10 and guests over the age of 60 are not allowed! And all entrants are being provided sanitisers and masks, right at the gate. “We maintain a distance of one foot while performing. Plus we are acting in a way that the audience thinks there is contact but there is no physical contact between actors. We are also sanitising all props before and after use,” says Himanshu Visht, who is playing the titular role of Rama.

When Rama said, ‘Corona se bachne ke liye samay samay pe haath dhoye’

Separate make-up rooms, thermal scanning, free masks, social-distancing, Gurugram’s one of the oldest Ramlila is taking place after months of uncertainty, and with all the safety norms in place. Raj Saini, from Durga Ramlila, says, “Kalakaar ka utsah thoda kam hain iss baar, kyunki kalakar ka utsah tabhi badta hai jab samne baithne wale darshak dher saari taliyon se samman karte hai. Earlier there used to be 1,200-1,500 people in audience, which has now reduced to 400 people. The distance between audience and artistes is 15 feet. We tried a performance with face shields on, but in vain because of the fog it creates while talking. Since we are performing in the Covid era, this time the character of Rama will say: ‘Jis tarah se yeh rakshas is prithvi pe hai, jinka main sarvanash karne aaya hoon, issi tarah se aaj ke yug mein corona hai, usse bachne ke liye apne ghar par rahe aur samah samah pe haath dhote rahe.”

‘Ravan bhi corona ka nash karna chahta hain’

“Jisko pakda woh kaal ke panje mein phas gaya, jisko dabaya woh rasatal zameen mein dhas gaya,” says Aditya Meena aka Ravana from Durga Ramlila in Gurugram, which has been running since 19 years. Before he enters the stage, he tells us: “I was motivated to play Ravana this year… I used sanitiser on the stage kyunki Ravana bhi corona ka nash karna chahta hai! Isliye usne stage pe sanitiser use karke logon ko jagrook kiya. People started clapping and cheering. Every year we used to hug everyone, but now one has to maintain social distancing even from family members, especially with the elderly. Even during rehearsals, we maintained social distancing. And for one month we wore masks to practise… Saans lene mein bahut dikat hoti thi (It was too difficult to breathe with the face mask on while we were rehearsing for the show).”

Author tweets @bhagat_mallika

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