Puppets and Ramayan – the legacy of Ranga Sri Little Ballet Troupe continues
Today I am going to tell you about a dance drama that is being staged in India and abroad for over 70 years and the legacy of this is still going on. I recently experienced the puppetry style dance ballet Ramayan and was totally blown away. I had heard of this legendary production which has been declared as the Ballet of the Century by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. I spoke with the dynamic Nirupa Joshi who is the General Secretory of Ranga Sri Little Ballet Troupe which is also a trust and the troupe leader of the ballet company. Excerpts from an interview:
Please could you elaborate a bit about the legacy of this extraordinary production?
I wish the original makers were alive to speak about their passion but unfortunately none of them are with us anymore. I am neither a dancer nor a choreographer, I feel humbled and truly honoured that I am blessed, chosen and given the responsibility to take the legacy of Ranga Sri Little Ballet Troupe ahead.
The Ramayan ballet was choreographed by Late Shanti Bardhan in 1952 and its first show was held on January 6, 1953, at Jai Hind College, in Mumbai. The entire ballet was Shanti Bardhan ji’s vision, he had seen a village fare where usually puppet shows were performed. So in the ballet also there is a village fare in which the puppet master is trying to attract audience for his show in which he is to narrate the story of Ramayan. While hearing the story the villagers transform into puppets and thus starts the Ramayana from the arrival of Ram & Sita at Ayodhya after their marriage.
What dance style is used in this unique style of Ramayan ballet?
One has to witness the ballet to experience the dances and the dance style used. Late Shanti Bardhan basically used puppetry style of dance and movements, where the body is totally stiff, and the movements are like puppets. The dances are not folk and classical they are unique and revolutionary in their own way. In the ballet we do not show the faces of the artistes, masks are used to depict various characters. And since masks are used the communication is through stiff body movements looks very interesting and totally fascinating.
Why use human puppets why not actual puppets?
Well, back then making a production as large as this was very expensive and if actual puppets were to be made and operated, I am sure the budgets would have skyrocketed, casting actors and dancers who can dance and act like puppets was much easier and we have maintained and kept the originality of the dance ballet live and have not changed anything at all and that is what makes our Ramayana so unique and one of its kind dance drama ballet.
The show has gained worldwide recognition and has been immensely appreciated, how do you feel?
My entire team and me feel totally ecstatic and blessed when the show is appreciated and applauded. Ranga Sri Little Ballet Troupe has staged the Ramayan Ballet more than 1000 shows in the period of 70 years in every corner of India and nearly 36 countries abroad. This ballet has been witnessed by the first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad ji, first Prime Minister of our country Jawaharlal Nehru ji and also by Indira Gandhi ji. The ballet has also been declared Ballet of the century by Ministry of Culture Government of India way back in 1960. It has also been awarded many national as well as international awards.
Please tell me more and all about it?
Most recently Government of Madhya Pradesh has awarded Raja Mansingh Samman to Ranga Sri Little Ballet Troupe. Ramayan ballet is also declared as a heritage production. Everyone will be happy to know that no alterations have been made to production at all. The masks, sets, costumes and music are all 70 years old and are original. Yes, I will admit that some costumes have been replaced as they were worn out and had lost sheen but let me assure you that the new costumes were made keeping the originality intact and the purity has been maintained of each costume. This is why this vision of Late Shanti Bardhan ji is one of its kind Ballet in the world.
What is next in the line?
The ballet has always kept us so busy that we don’t plan anything new at all. Honestly this ballet is all we have grown up with. But yes, I foresee that we soon will celebrate the century of Little Ballet Troupe’s existence, which we plan to make a grand affair and remember all the founders and artists who helped us reach so far.
The Government has been very kind towards your organisation, isn’t it?
Oh yes, we have been very fortunate indeed, right at the beginning we were a Bombay based company, Shanti Bardhan ji first moved the troupe’s base to Gwalior after Bombay where in the 60s. Then 1984 almost 40 years back they moved from Gwalior to Bhopal. Later in 1995 the Madhya Pradesh Government was kind enough to donated a beautiful piece of land to us so that our work continues smoothly.
Ramayan by Ranga Sri Little Ballet Troupe is indeed a legendary ballet which has won hearts world over, it is a show that is famous for showcasing authenticity to the core. If you have missed seeing this show, then all I can say is that you are totally unfortunate because if you have not seen this you have seen nothing.
Sandip Soparrkar holds a doctorate in world mythology folklore from Pacifica University USA, an honorary doctorate in performing arts from the National American University, He is a World Book Record holder,
a well-known Ballroom dancer and a Bollywood choreographer who has been honored with three National Excellence awards, one National Achievement Award and Dada Saheb Phalke award by the Government
of India. He can be contacted on [email protected]