BWW Interview: SHOBHA DEEPAK SINGH On The Grandest Ramlila In India
Shobha Deepak Singh, director and vice chair person Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra has been zealously working towards enriching the performing arts segment in India. Known for her inestimable contribution towards reviving - Mayurbhanj Chau, a lesser known dance form from Odisha, Mrs Singh has many firsts to her credit.
She has been spending a hectic schedule past few months overseeing the preparations for the Ramlila -- a cultural extravaganza that lights up India during this time of the year.
BWW spoke with Mrs Shobha Deepak Singh on her international Ramlila and much more
Talk to us about directing the oldest Ramlila. Is it the oldest in the country? How did it come about and since how many years you have been involved with it.
It has been an extremely possessing and enthralling journey for me to be able to process an epic like Ramayana and present it in a format relevant to contemporary times. I have been associated with the Ramlila for wonderful 49 years, I started off as a costume designer, I went on to design ornaments, then I served as a photographer, and now I am the director of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra for past 30 years. Kendra's first Ramlila was spearheaded by my mother and her very first production dates back in 1957. That version of Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra's was scripted by renowned writer Ramdhari Singh .
The idea to come up with depiction of our revered mythology was to remind audiences at all times about the rich heritage we have and to benefit from its values in our daily lives. The belief is still the same, we still want people to make the most out of our production in order to lead better lives, become better humans and live a life full of contentment. Which is why with every year we improvise and tailor make the show as per current circumstances and time.
You also call it international Ramlila. What is the international connection?
Kendra's Ramlila is a ticketed event as opposed to the myriad of other Ramlilas that play in the city during this time of the year. Our treatment of the Ramayan is not ordinary. It is highly sophisticated and involves a lot of experimentation to cater to an ever discerning palette of classes of society. Our creative team is constituted of professionals from their respective realms of art who are striving hard to relay values and teachings of Lord Rama's life in the form of an enlightening experience that is rich in music, tastefully choreographed and woven with the masterful light and technology, put together into a spectacle this magnificent.This Ramlila doesn't only cater to the Indian audience but also travels internationally and conducts shows in theatres worldwide. Our dancers are playing the main roles and Kendra's students are doing the chorus as the spirit of Ramayan lies in its evergreen music. An attempt has been made to deviate from 'Calendar' type of sets - frequently visible in the electronic media - to stylized iconography.
Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra's "Ramlila" has enjoyed the gracious presence of eminent personna including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Shri Zail Singh, Smt. Indira Gandhi, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, Shri Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Shri Sanjiva Reddy Shri Pranab Mukerjee and several others. This in itself raises the benchmark for us to churn out a Ramlila of international stature.
You have been both designing the costumes and directing production at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra. What have been your most memorable moments.
For me it has been a journey full of learning and evolving with the Ramayana. Each moment of my association with the show is an avid memory. With every passing year as I process the various elements of the Ramlila, a new learning unleashes and awakens me. However, I would like to say that right through the many years of doing this Ramayan, there was only one guiding fact in my mind and it was to uphold the spirit of Maryada Purushottam Ram. I have tried to make this Ramlila a memorable experience not just for myself but even for the spectator who enters the theatre. It is not a regular story telling saga where scenes unfold and entertain audience. With my interpretation of mythology as it would be relevant in today's times, I am treating the epic in a certain way that urges a spectator to think and take home with them some learning to ponder over.
While I was doing the costumes, I realized that we as Indians are so aware about fabrics! We deploy our garments as per their functionality, how cottons fit in best as work wear and silks as the evergreen festive wear. I have only been in awe of Indian culture and this has become part of my DNA. It gives me a sense of pride to be associated with something this stunning and glorious.
You are a Padmashri awardee, talk to us on what you think have been the achievements of performing arts in India today
Performing arts is an integral part of the Indian culture and fabric. It is vast and diversified and reaches out as a collective to its connoisseurs across the globe. As a whole, Indian theatre, music and folk have come a long way and you could see it penetrate into lives of Indian people very seamlessly because most of the performing arts is derived out of our faith in the Almighty, our customs and traditions. It seems very pertinent.
The theatrical scene is also evolving. The use of latest technology and brilliant use of light has made projecting larger than life sequences possible. Stage art is refined and very stylish, music is elegantly orchestrated and the dances are very ethereal; all this together is helping create a surreal experience that immediately tends to transport the spectator into a different world. It is more about creating an everlasting memory and experience in order to transmit the essence of the performing arts that is being conducted. All this has substantially led to the popularity of performing arts in India and that is quite an achievement. As Indians we ought to know how deep rooted our culture is, so vast and so rich.
Tell us more about Mayurbhanj Chhau and its revival
Mayurbhaj Chhau is a semi classical form of dance that portrays Indian culture, tradition, mythology and religion in a suave dreamlike manner. It is a very vibrant yet crisp form of story-telling and celebrating culture and traditions. Identified to have great potential at conveying moral values and message of the great scriptures to common folk, this dance form which was popular only amongst the tribal communities of the eastern parts of India, was brought into mainstream theatre. Guru Krishan Chandra Naik has played an extremely important role in reviving of Mayurbhanj Chhau and helping it assume the status it enjoys today. It was him who laid the foundation for Chhau not only in SBKK but to other practitionor of this vibrant dance form. Without diluting the style he expanded its parameters. The work he started has found its way into all areas of the performing arts - dance, theatre, ballet and mime. After having been appointed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi to teach in the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra in 1976. Naik staged the first Mayurbhanj Chhau ballet, Jagdev in 1977.. The press, the audience and the producers alike immediately saw in Chhau a form with universal appeal. This appeal lay in the fact that the spoken word along with stylized gesture and music understood by an elite few was not required to communicate the message of the dance.
From that point on, the Kendra has been presenting a series of ballets in Chhau, thus proving it as a style that is here to stay. Whether the theme is mythological or contemporary, Chhau has the basics to move the story forward. Some of the famous ballets of the Kendra are Jagdev, Konark, Kalingvijay, Khajuraho, Yayati, Karna, Kamayani, Masks, Buddha, Chaitraparv, Mahadev and Tripurantak. Solo dance pieces performed and/or created by the Kendra include Natraj, Dandi, Vishnugarud, Parshuram, Durga Mahishasur, Sikari, Kaal Chakra, Mahadev, Rituraj, Shantimantra, Varahavatar, Rativilap and Kalia Daman. Well known Chhau dancers having trained at the Kendra include Bharat Sharma, Bhushan Lakhandri, Harish Rawat, Kumkum Mathur, Madhuri Bhatia, Sharon Lowen, Daksha Seth, Shashidharan Nair, Kishore Sharma, Kamaljeet Wahengbam, Padam Gurung, Sunita Pandey and Narendra Kumar.
During his years at the Kendra, Krishna Chandra Naik sought to see that Mayurbhanj Chhau was recognized as a classical dance style. Towards that end he presented papers and lecture-demonstrations at various universities across India. In 1987 guru Krishna Chandra Naik was awarded a fellowship to write a book on Mayurbhanj Chhau. His ideas are still being transcribed by Shobha Deepak Singh. In the same year he fell seriously ill after completing the choreography of Chaitraparv. He was sent to Orissa for recuperation. However, his health took a turn for the worse. He was awarded the status of professor emeritus by the Government of India, an honour he was to avail of for only two months before he passed away.