City Life – Ramlila Actors, Ramlila Ground
Once in a year.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The crown gracing his head, the smooth folds of his dress–every inch the King Dashrath. But the Raja Dashrath sitting on this plain Jane plastic chair is also a mobile phone company’s area sales manager.
As is the custom every year around Dusshera, hundreds of Ramlilas are being staged in Delhi. Each of these theatrical representations of Bhagwan Ram’s saga revolves around characters who are as familiar to us as water and fire. But these men and women of a long-ago era happen to be people like us—the actors who portray these characters, their lives sinewed with the usual jobs and routines.
Sitting backstage during the third of the ten nights of Ramlila in Delhi’s historic Ramlila Maidan, waiting for their cue to enter the stage, some of these actors agree to reveal their everyday identity. Part of a Moradabad-based theater group, they all are from that UP city unless mentioned. (Oh look, the lady playing Sita ji is snacking on crispy spicy kurkure!).
King Dashrath—Ram’s father
Portrayed by Nilay Kaushik—area sales manager in a mobile company
Sita—Ramlila’s female protagonist
Jyoti Thakur—“free style” dance instructor
King Janak—Sita’s father
Umesh Mishra—“Thekedar” in Bareilly
Tataka—mother to Maricha and Subahu
Lal Singh—Maintenance manager in a nursing home
Ahalya—a cursed woman
Neha Kashyap—model from Model Town, Delhi
Phoolwali—unnamed flower woman
Shivani Bhatnagar—makeup artist
Subhau—brother of Maricha and Ravan’s mama
Karan Sharma—area sales manager in a textile firm
Maricha—helps Ravan abduct Sita
Surya Mishmai—“operator” in Kanpur Metro
Narad Muni—sage-musician and storyteller
Ashish Kumar—hip hop choreographer, currently interning in a car parts company in Gajraula
Manthara—Queen Kaikeyi’s attendant
Lakshmi Kashyap—12th grade student, preparing for medical entrance competitive exams
Kaushalya—Ayodhya’s queen, Ram’s mother
Anushka Rawat —12th grade student
Sumitra—Dashrath’s third queen-consort
Suman—Second year BA “science side” student