(This article was originally published on 5 December 2015 and is being republished from The Quint's archive for Dussehra.)
“This documentary neither intends nor attempts to insult, wound or outrage the religion, religious feelings or religious beliefs of any class of citizens of India.”
That’s the disclaimer flashed right at the beginning of Ravanayana. What’s the most important part of this documentary? It has been made from the point of view of Ravana, the king of Lanka, who met his end at the hands of the ever popular prince Rama.
Aptly called Ravanayana, the documentary comes at a time when the country is seeing renewed demands to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. A powerful short film, it highlights the futility of burning effigies of the demon king year after year – all for a mistake he committed and already paid for, in the lore.
In the present context? It questions the people who call him and his ways erroneous, without realising that they are, in fact, quite similar.
“How Many Ravanas Need to Burn for People to Understand Dussehra?”
Chandni Arora, a 29-year-old filmmaker, has been taking her recently made documentary to many festivals and getting rave reviews for it.
“Initially I wanted to make a documentary on the effigy makers of Titarpur. During my research, I witnessed the tremendous hard work that goes into the entire process – the sponsored Ramleela acts, the processions, and finally, burning the masterfully crafted effigies of Ravana and his brothers Kumbhkarna and Meghnath. The thing I didn’t understand was, how many Ravanas needed to burn for people to learn the teachings of Dussehra,” Arora says.
Her 15-minute-long film was initially being made to showcase the art and craft of the effigy makers – but unintentionally moved into a space that looks at the world from the fallen king’s perspective.
Since childhood, all I heard about Ramayana was how great Lord Rama was. I always had this curiosity to know Ravana’s side of the story.Chandni Arora, maker of Ravanayana
“During the post production days, I went to a book store and saw Asura – Tale of the Vanquished by Anand Neelakantan, right in front of me. Call it fate but I picked it up and read it in just three days! The book is Ravana’s version of Ramayana and is beautifully written. It was at that moment that I realised that I wanted to make my film about the highly educated, well-versed demon king,” she explains.
The narration of the documentary has been superbly penned by a 23-year-old pharma student from Jalandhar, Abhinav Anand. Anand speaks for Ravana when he asks people why they are up against him year after year.
We did not want to portray him as a hero, but he definitely wasn’t a complete villain. I have used the term ‘chhao aur dhoop’ (shade and sunshine) for him. He was just like any of us – we all have our strengths and failings and so, its hypocritical to punish someone repeatedly without clearing our own morals.Abhinav Anand, writer of the documentary
Of Unusual Angles to an Oft-Told Tale
Margie Sastry, writer and editor, was a part of the jury at the Heritage Film Festival, Ahmedabad, where the film was screened in November. Sastry says, “It is more than just a craft documentary. It showcases the hand work of the effigy makers, while also giving a brilliant take on Ravana’s point of view. While Rama has always been a part of popular Indian cinema, it is refreshing to see the youth explore unusual angles to the lore.”
Interestingly, Arora had no team before starting out on the project. She shot and edited it herself – after which Anand came on board as the writer, Ritvik Joe did the music and sound design and Vikrant Kaul gave his voice to the film.
Take a look at these two powerful trailers below:
(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)