With Covid-19 raging through the nation, and Navratra all set to be a muted affair, the star attraction of the season — the Ram Lilas — might not see the light of day in most quarters.
As such, ‘Sita’ has stopped coming for the rehearsals, and instead is busy working at her sister’s salon. ‘Angad’ is trying to get his gym back to business after a prolonged closure, while ‘Ravan’ is managing his garment business.
This is most unusual for these characters at this time of the year when almost all their waking hours have always been spent in rehearsals for the epic drama that enthralls crowds across the Hindi heartland as well as in the southern expanse.
“Since there will be no Ram Lila this year due to the pandemic, we have no work to do. It does seem odd because for years, we have spent these months preparing for the shows,” says Sangeeta, who plays the role of Sita in a Ram Lila in Daliganj area in Lucknow.
Sangeeta is now working at her sister’s salon to make extra money and keep herself busy. “I work in Ram Lila and for the remaining time, I hold theatre workshops for children. But, now with the Covid scare, children are not coming so I have started working in the salon to keep things rolling and bring food to the table,” she said.
Rakesh Kumar, who essays the role of Angad in the same Ram Lila, is busy managing his modest gym. “We have reopened after almost six and a half months and I am working overtime to get the customers back. We have new packages, lower rates and timing relaxations to suit the convenience of customers. I do feel bad that I am not getting to play my role in the Ram Lila this year — it was a small role but there was a great sense of involvement,” he explains.
Mohd Ashraf, who has been playing the role of Ravan for almost 12 years now, is equally disheartened.
“It is almost like a part of my life has been put into a suspension, something missing. I have looked forward to bringing Ravan alive on stage, interacting with co-actors and learning up the lines. Suddenly, there is this vacuum because there is no Ram Lila,” his baritone voice that got him the role of Ravan trembles as he looks at an uncertain future.
More than missing out on the Ram Lila this year, what is worrying the actors is the focus on virtual Ram Lila by the state government. “If this trend catches on, then we will be out of job in the coming years too. A virtual enactment of Ram Lila cannot replace the joy of performing in front of a live audience,” says Ashraf who is now managing his garment business along with his sons.
While the Ram Lila actors have returned to their other occupations, it is the smaller artistes and workers who are left with no job.
“The make-up artists, the costume houses and the light men have no work this year and they have not found another profession as yet. We are trying to get some work for them but these are difficult times,” says Rakesh who has employed two of his Ram Lila co-actors in his gym.