Anisha’s eyes lit up as she walked into the Ramleela Ground with her mother. Her new dress, shoes and red clips all bore proof of the fact that she was very happy and she looked quite pretty. She poked her mother in the ribs and shouted out her pleasure. She laughed and she danced her way through the crowd of over 5,000 people as her voice got lost amid the effortless cacophony of those who had come to watch the Ramleela. The glitz and the grandeur were beyond the little one’s comprehension. The business of the entire affair was unbelievable, the magnitude exceptional and the humdrum of everyday life was lost in exasperation, drowned in the frenzy of the narration of the Ramayana on stage, delving deep into the mythological twists and turns of the epic.
Every year, during the nine days of <g data-gr-id="70">Navratra</g>, several grounds across the national Capital are decked-up to host the most-awaited Ramleela jamboree. The celebration, the tenth day of which marks the end of Ravana, Lord Ram’s arch rival, with the burning of his effigy, is a massive crowd-puller, especially at the Ramleela parade ground in <g data-gr-id="80">walled</g> city.
According to beliefs, the hosting of Ramleela dates back to the ages of Bahadur Shah Zafar when there used to be just one organiser of the festival. However, with passing days the organising team fragmented into smaller groups and now every group has its own Ramleela. Another factor that has come to play is the distance from one’s place to the Ramleela ground which has resulted in almost every society in the city holding their individual Ramleela. There <g data-gr-id="84">are</g> about a score of big-time Ramleela organisers in the city keeping apart the individual society organisers. With competition creeping in almost every sphere of life, the festival <g data-gr-id="83">too,</g> does not lag behind when it comes to competing with others.
The organisers, every year, try to improve their level from the previous year which results pushing more funds. For instance, a few years back no Ramleela stage had a fire arrangement to show the scene of Laxman drawing the <g data-gr-id="90">rekha</g> for Sita’s safety. However, for the past few years, a special arrangement to enact that scene has been made by a few organisers. <g data-gr-id="91">State-of-the art</g> mechanisms like hydraulic cranes to show mid-air fight scenes, <g data-gr-id="86">spark</g> of fire whenever swords clash against each other and hi-fi surround sound systems too have been incorporated to push the show to a higher level.
A very famous and high-budget organiser, Luv Kush Ramleela Committee, this year has gone a step further by inviting cine artists from Mumbai to act in the plays like Asrani, Shakti Kapoor, Gajendra Chauhan, Rati Agnihotri, Puneet Issar, Surender Pal among 30 other <g data-gr-id="88">cinestars</g>. Now, it is very obvious that organising something of this level calls for a lot of money and some amount of money game definitely has space in the “very clean” scenario portrayed by the organisers.
The Luv Kush Ramleela Committee has been, for all these years, organising the festival at a very high budget of nearly a crore rupees. However, the committee claims that the amount is collected through donations from members and <g data-gr-id="82">well wishers</g>. Talking to Millennium Post Arjun Kumar, Secretary, Luv Kush Ramleela Committee says: “Several corporate houses give us donations and members too, give whatever they can afford. Every year we ask some corporate house to sponsor the passes, some to get the lightings fixed while some to arrange the ground. In return, we get their logos printed on the passes.”
However, according to a source, who had been associated with a committee for many years, this is a publicity stunt undertaken by the corporate houses. While some of the <g data-gr-id="73">amount</g> is given as <g data-gr-id="75">donation</g>, a major chunk is given to the committees from under the table. “The companies also benefit from this as their logos get printed on the passes, which gets the company advertised,” added the source.
As mentioned earlier, the Luv Kush Ramleela Committee, this year has invited several filmstars, it becomes hard to believe that the stars do this completely out of no money interest, says the source. “The filmstars definitely take money apart from the facilities of transit fares and accommodation costs being borne by the organisers. Nobody does a charity these days,” added the source.
The Ramleela parade ground hosts three Ramleelas organised by different teams. And in India whenever there is any festival, the presence of vibrant food stalls is a common sight. Similarly, the parade ground, in these ten days, besides catering the citizens with the epic Ramayana, also turns into a ground full of food. Does that ring a bell? Yes, you are right, the food business during the Ramleela days is a massive attraction for the ones who put up their stalls. While the organisers shy away from mentioning that the food stall owners do not dole out a single penny and say that the food stall owners are given space out of no interest, the real story behind the philanthropic attitude is slightly different.
Talking to a food stall owner at the Ramleela ground, it came to light that a huge amount of money as <g data-gr-id="79">donation</g> is required to be given in order to seal a stall. This revelation is not hard to believe for a person who can notice that a simple thali in these stalls cost up to nearly Rs 300.
<g data-gr-id="69">Thus</g> it is <g data-gr-id="68">business</g> for all. Be it the organisers or be it the food stall owners. However, the stench of the green paper has been carefully <g data-gr-id="67">hid</g> behind the garb of spiritualism and sheer artistic enthusiasm.
A member of the Nav Shri Dharmik Lila Committee painted a beautiful, clean, and no-corrupt-practice picture when asked about the way they go ahead in organising the whole festival. However, on asking what their budget was for this year, the member smiled and said: “Nearly Rs 70 lakh.”
Arranging this amount of money is not an easy call. And the organisers’ claim of sufficing from donations from members, which are as meagre as Rs 2,000 per member or whoever can donate as much as he/she can, is beyond comprehension.
Crowd spur cacophony
There are not many groups in the city who go for low-budget Ramleelas anymore. For the organisers of the dramatic presentation in Brij Vihar, across Vivek Vihar in East Delhi, the push comes from the residents to organise “as big a show” as the neighbour. “When we go around collecting <g data-gr-id="113">chanda</g> (donation) from residents and make efforts to give the best out of the collected donations, we also have to bear in our mind that ‘we have to make it large to keep ourselves in the reckoning’. Towards this end we allow interludes with the performance by local comedians and dancers,” said an organiser.
Nepathaya-the dramatics society of SGND College of Delhi University has no takers for its <g data-gr-id="115">low cost</g> dramatisation of the epic. It’s their experience that the crowd would rush to just to have a look at the ‘famous faces’ and ignore a well-rehearsed performance. “No Ramleela committee has ever approached us because they only believe that investment in glamour gets them quick returns. They have no interest in hosting an engaging play,” said Harshdeep, a member of theatrical group – Nikita Rana