CELEBRATING DELHI: AN INTERVIEW with Jatthedaar Avatar Singh, Chief organiser, Navyuvak Ramlila Committee, Kashmere Gate.
Jatthedaar Avataar Singh (49) is a trader in auto parts. Back in 1972, when he had just stepped into teenage, Singh with some of his friends in the neighborhood, started the celebration of Ramlila. Today, the lila has moved out of the street. The effort has grown too. It is the only Ramlila Committee in Delhi honoured with the ‘Dilli Gaurav Puraskaar’ And the prize of pride is visible in the eyes of the mahamantri of the Navyuvak Ramlila Committee (Kashmere Gate). Meet Avataar Singh, the founder member who has also portrayed the character of classical villain Ravana, since he was 13 years old, for 30 years consecutively.
Q. Where did the idea of starting a Ramlila come from??
A. Well, we used to have a performance fo Ramlila at Kashmere Gate before we started in 1972. This was a celebration by Garhwalis. The thought of starting with the committee came out of the desire to have a Ramlila of our own area. Once we did it, the Garhwalis shifted to another locality.
Q. Could you tell us about how he whole thing evolved to its present state??
A. The beginnings belong to this street (where he still resides) with a budget of Rs. 95 only.
Slowly, as we moved out from here to the payment along the road outside, we had some sponsors coming. By then, our fund had reached around Rs.15,000. In 1993, we shifted our base to the present location. Today, our budget is Rs. 2 lakhs.
Q. Isn’t it minuscule when compared to the productions that run into millions??
A. The size of the main gate of the lila venue of some of the grand productions is greater than the size of the ground we perform at. The cost of their welcome dwaar the total budget of our production. Neither we keep dance shows for the 10-day festival, nor do we offer any delicious chaat to the audience.
But, people who want the unadulterated taste of the traditional Ramlila that teaches the importance of family values and human relations through the depiction of maryada purushottama Rama, visit our place to devote themselves to him.
Q. Are there any specific attractions, especially when the venue is too small??
A. Lower capacity provides for higher clarity. Huge grounds make it impossible for the viewers to even identify the characters on stage. Here, you will not find any celebrity overshadowing the artist.
Presence of any high-profile guest is not marketed as an attraction. His/her attendance is confined to any other devotee of Lord Rama. There are no giant wheels that can be a possible distraction with the packed crowd roaring on them .
We strive to fulfill the wish and purpose of the visits of our admirers. And that is pure enjoyment of the Ramlila. Just that.
Q. How is the Navyuvak Ramlila Committee different from other committees??
A. Ours is a totally non-commercial Ramlila committee. All the funds are the sum of contributions of the members themselves.
Besides, the core 365-day functioning team, few loyal sponsors, most of them our regular business contacts, such as the Auto Parts Merchants’ Association (A.P.M.A.) continue to donate the committee. Formal membership can be attained by contributing a minimum of Rs. 101.
We do not allow any eateries to be sold within the venue’s premises. Even some of the smaller rides kept in the ground are not charged but paid. Younger kids from the families of our own neighbourhood have fun on these swings. We do not want business out of it. After all, Ramlila is all about the spirit of celebration .
Q. What is it that distinguishes your production technically??
A. Be it the content (text), the sets or the technology used, things have been kept as simple as the can be. Simplicity is our specialty. For instance, the traditional technique of using painted cloth (purda) is used for changing the backdrop of the stage with the switching of scenes.
Q. Do you hire any professionals for the purpose??
A. From acting to back staging, preparing the effigies to handling the costume department, and direction to event management, it is the same young team of 70 people who put up the production. Even the make-up artists are from within the group.
The only people hired for the event are the tent wallahs who also serve as the complementary lights-men. They are from a company in Meerut. Years of association has not only made them well-versed with the demands of our production, but also transformed them from being any external help into the members of Navyuvak family.
Q. What kind of support, if any, does the government provide you with??
A. As a reward to our efforts, organizations under the state government such as the Hindi Academy, Urdu Academy and Punjabi Academy perform during the festival. Evets as Kavi sammelan, Qawwali are enjoyed by the audience. Also, Sahitya Kala Parishad and Song and Drama Division of the Government of India perform puppetry and folk music programs for our committee.
Q. How do you rate the performance of your artists ? What is the factor that differentiates them??
A. As far as the play part of it is concerned, it is the dedication of our navyuvaks, the student-members that brings our quality in our work.
They start rehearsing two months before the Navratri festival. Allocation of roles, arranging the script material, and co-ordination between the cast is carried out systematically by themselves.
Q. What do the youngsters gain out of this experience??
A. The young members do this work for free. Instead they contribute from their own pockets. Participation in the event develops the personality of the children. Performing before a 1500 plus crowd means a lot. It boosts their confidence and power to express .In this competitive world, they will have an edge in a Group Discussion or a Personal Interview.
Thank You so much for your time . Our foundation is proud of the job you have done and wishes you all the best for future .
About the Author:
Ankit Chadha is a student of History at Hindu College. Also, the President of Dramatics society of his college (Ibtida), he has been doing theatre since last 5 years.
He has written and directed 4 street plays, all of which have been acclaimed and rewarded. Besides, he has been a part of 5 stage productions as well, with performances at GC University, Lahore; IIT-Powai, IIT-Kanpur, BITS Pilani, National School of Drama, Dilli Haat, Arts Faculty (DU) and dozens of other colleges.