New Delhi, Aug 15 - Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday reached the Red Fort…
It is five in the evening but for 40-odd artistes in a makeshift enclosure next to a big stage near the Red Fort, the day has just begun.
Decked in heavy makeup and richly embroidered clothes with exquisite gold jewellery, some rehearse dialogues under their breath for the Ramleela performance three hours away. Others huddle around a rickety wooden table with brushes, kohl pencils, lip colours and small glass containers full of bright colours.
Amid the chaos, Vijay Kumar Kataria (34) is busy applying shades of blush on the cheeks of a skinny young actor. He is one of the five makeup artists engaged by the Luv Kush Ramlila Committee (LKRC) this year.
But Kataria isn’t a regular make-up artist – until a year ago, he was the star of the Ramlila and played Ram, but has found himself pushed out by top television and film actors, such as Film and Television Institute of India chairman Gajendra Chauhan.
“I have been playing ‘Ram’ since 2008. But the organisers have roped in Bollywood and TV actors this time, rendering artistes like me jobless. As I am trained makeup artist, I was offered this task,” says Kataria, who lost his role to TV actor Gagan Malik.
“A few of us are helping in production and others are involved in different jobs.”
Malik played Ram in Ramayan: Sabke Jeevan Ka Aadhar on Zee TV produced by Moti Sagar. He has also worked in Sankut Mochan Mahabali Hanuman, Shakuntala, and Kumkum.
Bollywood in Ramlila
Malik is only one of 70-odd artists from Mumbai who will be performing in Ramlilas across the walled city of Delhi this year. Chauhan — best known for his portrayal of Yudhishtir in BR Chopra’s teleserial Mahabharat — will be seen as ‘Ravan’.
Vijay Kataria applies makeup to an artist at Love Kush Ramlila at Red Fort. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)
A Gurgaon-based artiste Vikas Siraswal, who claims he works in the Haryana chief minister’s office, is playing Indra.
He says local artistes work hard to improve their skills throughout the year but with professional actors coming in, they have nowhere to go.
A majority of artistes performing in Ramlilas across the city are not trained actors. They are professionals working in various fields who take a break to join the Ramlila.
“If these opportunities are open to them (Bollywood and TV actors), how will people like us grow?” he asks.
Supporting local actors
However, Chauhan says film and TV actors are not a threat to small-time actors. “We are here not to replace anyone. It is a way to express our gratitude to God. I started my acting career with playing different characters in Ramlilas in West Patel Nagar. I always love to come back to Delhi during Dussehra,” he adds.
Local residents say film stars have been a part of Ramlilas for two decades but would earlier only make an appearance for a few minutes. Last year, they were employed as full-time actors for the first time.
Several technicians, action directors, and directors from Bollywood are also working with Ramlila committees in old Delhi this year.
Madan Kabir, who has worked in popular TV series such as Balika Vadhu has donned the director’s hat at the Shri Dharmic Leela Committee (SDLC).
Three members of a family (L to R) father, Shalendar Kumar mother Shapna, Dother Chadni getting ready for the show at Nav Shri Dharmik Ramlila at Red Fort in New Delhi. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)
Gagan Malik justifies the grudges expressed by small-time actors but adds that any such phenomenon was an opportunity. “Performing with big actors is a great opportunity to learn. It helps to boost confidence level. I will try to offer part of my role to the person who had been playing it previously,” he says.