kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Kitna bada rakshas? A Review

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Date(s) - 8 Jun 2012
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM


Fourteen people gathered for three cloudy days at the premises of CMYK (Pune) to recreate bits of the epic Ramayana in a country where a whole generation of people grew up to the Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan. Millions pour out onto the streets to celebrate Ravana Dahan, riots take place if one as much as questions the epic, oral folk narrations talk of different Ramayanas away from the glare of the TV and in some portions people worship the antagonist Ravana.

How do we tell the story of the ‘Other’? How do we represent the characters we so rarely hear about?

These are the questions that the’ Itna Bada Rakshas’ poster asked and hoped to answer through the workshop.

To explore the ‘Other’, one needs to understand what the ‘Other’ comprises of. Annie Zaidi accomplished this task on the first day itself with aplomb. It involved all the participants jotting down the names of people in their lives whom they perceived as others. This task itself threw up some surprising answers which set the trend for the next two days.  The other isn’t comprised of only the villains and rakshasas in our lives, but a range of people who become the ‘others’ by the sheer virtue of their relationship with us. Simply put, those far removed from our reality, those we aspire to be like, those we abhor, those we deem close to us yet who baffle us and the part of our ‘selves’ that we refuse to acknowledge because it shames, disgusts or embarrasses us. This insight was immensely helpful in picking out the ‘other’ characters as protagonists in the epic of Ramayana.

Everyone piped in with their knowledge while charting the family tree of the Ramayana. Right from the common ancestor of Rama and Ravana to the unheard of fringe characters. During the exercise, a lot of gaping holes emerged in the narrative… why did Ratnakar (Valmiki) name Ravan’s grandfather after his own father? Was Sita the one who narrated the Ramayana to Valmiki after her banishment from Ayodhya? Was Shurpanakha the mastermind behind the epic battle? Who is Shambhuk after all or Anusuya for that matter? Some decided to make these holes in the narrative the centre of their own narrative. While Sita and Shurpanakha emerged as favourites, other minor characters also found their place in the sun with some picking Jatayu, Kush, Makara and Hanuman, and even Valmiki himself!

But how does one develop a character? How does one describe the personality, relationships, emotions and perspectives of a character that finds a mention only once in a few lines in the grand epic? ‘When you don’t have the facts, make them up!’ a wise being once expounded. Okay, that was moi, but that’s exactly what Annie made us do. No, not make up history, but try to recreate it by filling in the gaps. A valuable exercise that helped achieve exactly what involved stepping into the shoes of the ‘voiceless’ others by reflecting back in time when each of us felt the same. The most uncomfortable exercise of all, it was the first step in exploring the psychology of the ‘voiceless others’. As one participant commented, we were exploring the ‘other’ through the ‘self’. The exercise helped us in creating the inner world of the characters.

The second day acquainted everyone with the technicalities of writing a narrative. Annie introduced us to the narrative elements that make for a compelling narrative like conflict, point of view, mood emotion, power dynamics, motivation, conviction to name a few, and how to incorporate them into our writings. Using these elements as the skeleton, everyone was made to structure their narrative   and devise their plot. This was the day when imagination ruled as everyone got busy creating the make believe world of their Ramayana- What prompts 16 year old Akshayakumara to duel Hanuman? Which forested part of India did Shurpanakha retreat to after the humiliation by Lakshmana? What is the motivation behind Makara wanting Hanuman to father her child?

The third day saw the birth of our narratives. The participants did the homework demanded by Annie- writing a gripping page-long beginning of their narrative.  Some began in textbook fashion with beautiful descriptions of nature, some began with an incident in the heat of the battle, and of course how could we do away with the ‘Once upon a time…’? A probable novel by Jeetendra, a short story by Tarini, English lavani by Mukta, courtroom drama by Neha, film screenplay by Kranti and Hindi poetry by Navjyoti are only some of the forms these narratives are expected to take upon completion. On day 3 everyone took on a mammoth task- that of rewriting the physical descriptions of the characters. Challenging the stereotypical appearances we grew up believing, courtesy Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan, was indeed tough. Do the Ikshvaku princes always have to be hunky and handsome, Ravana and his ilk ugly and ogre-like, Sita frail and petite while Shurpanakha big and strong? Can’t it be the opposite? Folks at Itna Bada Rakshas challenged these notions and some more. Tarini’s Jatayu is a handsome bird, Erica’s Shurpanakha a beautiful and spiritual lady deeply in love with Vishnu and Jeetendra’s Sita beautifully draped. The feedback sessions were extremely valuable as it not only gave a professional feedback from Annie, but also from fellow participants, which helped understand what a layman would perceive upon reading the narratives. Challenges faced and overcome that day only made everyone more determined and ambitious. Day three was full of satisfied smiles and optimism!

The three-day writing workshop with Annie Zaidi was one full of new perspectives, catharsis, emancipated ‘others’, discoveries, debates, discussions and cake! Annie was as good a guide of Devas, Asuras and Rakshasas as of ‘Good Indian Girls’. Reminiscent of a school teacher, Annie was hard taskmaster, yet one who gave one the benefit of doubt when stuck at a point in the narrative. As she talked about her journey in the world of writing, she gave some starry eyed students the real picture of writing as a profession and also lots of hope.  A gathering of an eclectic mix of people from filmmakers, photographers, writers, students etc. ensured discussions beyond the Ramayana during the refreshments break…that is when people’s mouths weren’t stuffed with cake! Friendships were made and e-mail ids exchanged. An informal yet intellectual workshop, the conclusion of ‘Itna Bada Rakshas’ only threw up more questions as it compelled one to ask…aakhir Ramayana Kiski Kahani?! 

What the press said:

Curious to know how the narratives shape up? Stay updated on the website as all the narratives will be published right here!

Watch a video here!

Trusha Navalkar is a student of Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication (Under Graduate), Pune. Trusha is completely baffled with the number of Ramayanas she has discovered as an intern with the Kiski Kahani Project.

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