From the banks of Yamuna, socially distanced Ramlila premieres on YouTube

In the wake of Covid-19 and with restrictions on big gatherings, the longstanding tradition of Ramlila has found a new way of reaching eager audiences.

On the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi Saturday evening, Ram, Laxman and Hanuman geared up to battle Ravan and win Sita back. Three cameras pointed at them as they readied for the final take of the evening. Starting today, the Ramlila — shot in eight parts over two days — premieres on a YouTube channel, instead of the usual opening night — a three-hour stage show in front of a live audience.

In the wake of Covid-19 and with restrictions on big gatherings, the longstanding tradition of Ramlila has found a new way of reaching eager audiences. One such example is Sanskriti Kala Sangam, which has decided to go digital and has been shooting scenes for two days indoors and on the Yamuna bank. In between takes, actors sprayed sanitiser on their hands, and masks covered the heavy make-up on their faces during breaks.

The director of this Ramlila, Yash Chauhan, who plays the titular role of Ram, told The Indian Express, “We have been doing stage shows for years but this is the first time we are shooting it on camera. The show has been directed in such a way that physical contact is minimal, and dances have been choreographed keeping distance in mind.”

The nine actors of Sanskriti Kala Sangam came together to perform for the first time since the lockdown. Apart from being uploaded on a few YouTube channels, the show will be screened over nine days on a projector at the Diwali Razzmatazz Festival in Canada, said make-up artist Archana Rajput (24).

Changes are plenty this year. There is no green room or make-up room, and a WagonR parked in the vicinity doubles up as the vanity van. The jugalbandi of musicians too will be missing, as there is no live singing this time. As a make-up artist applied chandan dots over the eyebrow of 20-year-old Harshita, who plays Sita, she said, “It is not easy to get ready in a car. As trained classical dancers, we have never performed without a stage and an audience… Back in the day, my grandfather used to play the role of Sita, my father too was a dancer in the Ramlila, and now I am. We are what we are because of the audience… we will miss them.” A trained Kathak dancer, she has been performing in the Ramlila for three years.

Meanwhile, Archana ensures that lipsticks, foundation, eye shadow and rouge for cheeks are not shared between actors and dancers anymore: “Before the lockdown, we had already booked slots in Chennai and Kerala, which had to be cancelled, sadly… Everything is different now.”

Rehearsals too happened online this year. Dancers posted practice videos online, while actors uploaded scenes for feedback. They are ensuring that scenes such as the ones with Ram and Sita together, or Ram meeting his brother Bharat after long are also done with safety measures intact.

Rahul Mishra (23), who plays a monkey, said, “A few of us tried to shoot a play on a terrace and uploaded it on social media but feedback wasn’t great, so I went back home to Varanasi… I came back when I bagged the role of a monkey for this Ramlila. I hope at least this gets more audience.”

As the sun set, the actors packed up, wore their masks, and headed back. Post-production will begin – and soon, it will be available 24×7 on your handset.

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