Resurgence of Ramayana: TV shows, AI avatars, board games & more - Cultural wave of Ram in 2024 explained
As India prepares for the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya, the renewed interest in Ramayana reflects its enduring cultural significance. The diverse and modern interpretations across various forms of media indicate the timeless appeal of the epic, which continues to evolve and resonate with audiences across the world.
As the much-anticipated Ayodhya temple inauguration on January 22 approaches, a cultural revival surrounding the epic Ramayana is taking center stage in India. From TV shows to films, board games to AI-driven storyboards, and even modern renditions of age-old bhajans, there is a renewed interest in the timeless tale of Lord Rama and Sita. This resurgence reflects the enduring impact of the epic's universal emotions and simple narrative that continue to captivate audiences across generations.
Utkarsh Patel, a comparative mythology professor at the University of Mumbai and co-founder of the Mythology Project, attributes the enduring popularity and revival of the Ramayana to its universal emotions and straightforward narrative. In an interview with TOI, he emphasizes that the simplicity of the story, coupled with its portrayal of timeless human emotions such as love, separation, and greed, is the key to its longevity. Patel notes that these elements continue to resonate with people today, leading to the constant translation, retelling, and reimagining of the epic over centuries.
Television and Film Resurgence
The legendary 'Ramayan,' which first aired in 1987, became an unprecedented cultural phenomenon, with streets emptying, shops closing, and people gathering around their TV sets every Sunday morning. Fast forward to 2024, and a new TV show titled 'Shrimad Ramayana' is hoping to revive the '80s nostalgia, featuring a fresh-faced Ram and Sita.
Bollywood, not to be left behind, has announced a 'Ramayana' film starring Ranbir Kapoor. The global appeal of the epic is evident with Netflix's announcement of an animated series titled 'Heaven's Forest,' helmed by British comic book writer Warren Ellis. The superhero treatment extends to characters like Hanuman, with a VFX-heavy Telugu movie titled 'Hanuman' making waves at the box office.
Arvind Rajgopal, a New York University professor, notes the transformation of the mythological genre from being regional to appealing to a metropolitan audience, a shift catalyzed by the 1987 'Ramayan' serial. “In popular culture and in Indian films generally, the mythological was a genre assumed to belong to the past, and to signal regional and not metropolitan taste. The 1987 Ramayana serial on TV revitalized the mythological and a whole range was commissioned thereafter," he told TOI.
Theatrical productions are gaining significant traction, evidenced by the success of productions like 'Humare Ram,' featuring Ashutosh Rana, and 'Ram,' directed by Makrand Deshpande, both of which have sold out. Gaurav Bharadwaj, the director of 'Humare Ram,' reveals that the play, scheduled for its premiere on January 25, has already secured a remarkable 60% pre-booking. In response to the overwhelming enthusiasm, the production team plans to add more shows.
Despite the familiarity of the tale, Bharadwaj acknowledges the challenge of addressing questions surrounding Ram. He highlights the annual occurrence of Ram Leela, where the same stories are reiterated. However, he emphasizes that 'Humare Ram' delves deeper into the multifaceted character of Ram, exploring his roles as a divine figure, king, husband, and father, thus centering the play around these conflicting emotions.
A YouTube search unveils an impressive collection of over 2,21,000 songs uploaded by more than 52,000 channels, all tagged with "Ram Bhajan." Notably, even 'lo-fi' versions of devotional songs, highly popular among Gen Z, have amassed millions of views. Contemporary interpretations of traditional bhajans are making waves, with Swati Mishra's 'Ram Aayenge' garnering nearly 58 million views on YouTube.
Swasti Mehul, another singer with a repertoire of Ram-inspired songs, emphasizes her songwriting process, catering to the heightened devotion surrounding the celebration of the Ram Mandir. The music is thoughtfully curated to resonate with the modern generation, featuring simple yet emotional lyrics. Other noteworthy songs contributing to this surge in popularity include Pooja Golhani’s ‘Bharat Ka Baccha Baccha Jai Jai Shree Ram Bolega’ and Ram Kumar Lakha’s ‘Shri Ram Janki’.
Renowned Bollywood playback singers such as Jubin Nautyal, Sachet Tandon, and Vishal Mishra have also recently released devotional songs centered around Ram, adding to the musical revival inspired by the epic.
Diversification in Media
On a smaller scale, the Ramayana narrative is making its presence felt through Instagram reels, board games, self-help books, and AI-driven storyboards. Departing from the traditional virtuous image, Ram now assumes a more muscular, superhero-like persona. Divyansh Mundra, an Instagram fiction creator with a substantial following, aims to make the epic accessible to Gen Z and millennials through bite-sized episodes with AI-generated images depicting a formidable Ram.
Author Shantanu Gupta, inspired by his children's curiosity, initiated the 'Ramayana School' during the pandemic, offering live classes globally and designing engaging games for younger audiences. His latest book, 'Teachings from the Ramayana on Family & Life,' comprises twenty-five interactive stories focusing on real-life lessons derived from Ram's experiences.
In the realm of board games, Dr Amulya Mysore's creation, 'Ride with Rama,' is gaining popularity. This two-in-one dice-based game, akin to snakes and ladders, guides players through Ram's journey into the forest, with the culmination at one hundred symbolizing his reunion with Sita after defeating Ravan. The game features illustrations of key Ramayana events, providing an engaging way for parents to instill Ram's values in their children, with international sales attesting to its global appeal.
Aligning with the contemporary trend of portraying mythological characters with a muscular demeanor, angry Ram decals have become popular, much like the prevalent angry Hanuman stickers. E-commerce platforms witness a surge in demand for miniature 3D models of the Ayodhya temple, crafted from wood or marble and adorned with sparkling LED lights. Praveen Khandelwal, the secretary general of the Confederation of All India Traders, anticipates a trade value exceeding Rs 50,000 crore in January alone, attributing it to the temple inauguration.
However, Utkarsh Patel from the Mythology Project remains skeptical about modern adaptations of the age-old story. In an interview with TOI, he expresses concerns that contemporary storytellers, armed with technology, may take liberties, using slang or depicting Ram with six-pack abs. Patel humorously remarks, "Sab behti Ganga mein haath dhona chahte hain," suggesting that everyone wants to ride the current trend, aptly described as the "Behti Ram wave."
As India prepares for the Ayodhya temple inauguration, the renewed interest in Ramayana reflects its enduring cultural significance. The diverse and modern interpretations across various forms of media indicate the timeless appeal of the epic, which continues to evolve and resonate with audiences across the world.