Swarajya interviews Ramanand Sagar’s son, Prem Sagar, who was part of the team that put Ramayan on screen and recently penned a biographical tribute to his father titled ‘An Epic Life: Ramanand Sagar’.
Though a whole host of serials followed suit, the first one to be re-telecast this lockdown season by public broadcaster Doordarshan was Ramayan. And like it did when it was first broadcast to the Indian audience, it captured the imagination of crores of Indians, and had the world media take note.
Countless reviews and discussions have followed on why the televised epic worked then and did so once again over three decades later.
But what do the makers, who have been through the journey of the epic, feel about it? What is it that makes it special? Why have no new renditions of the same tale been able to capture the imagination of a nation like the ‘original’ one?
Prem Sagar, one of Ramanand Sagar’s four sons who was also part of the team that put Ramayan on screen and who also recently penned a biographical tribute to his father titled ‘An Epic Life: Ramanand Sagar’, believes this ‘success’ was because the serial itself was a divine phenomenon.
His father, he believes, was a ‘rishi’ sent to rewrite the Ramayan for the electronic medium, else such unbelievable ratings could never be achieved.
In this interview, he discusses the myth, the making and the media glare around the magnum opus that is Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan.
Here are edited excerpts:
1. Ramayan on DD National became the most viewed show globally as ratings set new records. What does it feel like? That almost three-and-a-half decades after its making, it still has an entire nation glued?
Prem Sagar: There is a divine hand in this. It is a divine phenomenon. Imagine, Game of Thrones got 17.5 million views, Big Bang Theory 18 million and Ramayan re-run 77 million. Where is the comparison?
It is mindboggling and all due to the blessings of Shri Ram. First, the response that the book received as it reached best seller shelves, its launch on the Kapil Sharma show, clocking a TRP of 2.9 as against an average of 2.4-2.5, Ramayana on television after 33 years and then the world record.
2. The Washington Post called it a success owing to a ‘captive audience thanks to Corona’. It feels like the Western attitude hasn’t changed. Even in 1998, they had used words that weren’t really flattering the making of the serial. What is your take on how the international media is projecting this success of Ramayan.
Sagar: All other channels too had a captive audience due to the lockdown. Then why single out Ramayan? DD was the last on the chart of TRPs. And now not just is it number one but also, there is no competition for miles.
The foreign media is biased. This is my personal experience and opinion. WaPo had sent two journalists to interview me way back in the 90s. They were dripping honey during our interactions. But when they went back, they wrote trash, and none of what was projected to me.
Same was the case with the BBC. They had decided to buy telecast rights to the Ramayan for the Asian population. Ramanand Sagar, Arun Govil, Arvind Trivedi (who played Ravan) and I went to their Liverpool studios for an interview before signing the contract.
But they wanted Arun Govil dressed and paraded as Shri Ram in full costume and crown through the BBC studios so they could film it.
Papaji and I realised it was a calculated attempt to break the image of Shri Ram as divine, worshipped in every grain of soil in India. We refused their bait. There was a major battle of telephones being exchanged between London and Birmingham and finally they didn’t sign the contract.
They instead opted for Mahabharat, which portrayed a lot of negativity, and everyone trying to grab the crown; this in place of Maryada Purushotham Ram and Sanatan values of Ramayan, where every character is an epitome of sacrifice.
Nobody wants the crown. Bharat’s character who worships the padukas of Shri Ram and places them on the throne, I think, was unacceptable to the foreign media.
3. You start the chapter with the words ‘a Ram bhakt could be said to have been born to rewrite the epic Ramayana for the electronic medium’.
But for the world media, it was and still is more of a marketing gimmick.
“In India, what really moves the dishwashing liquid are serials based on ancient myths of Hindu gods. The man who divined this marketing truth is Ramanand Sagar, an 80-year-old video auteur. ..” is what one media outlet wrote.
What are your views on this?
Sagar: If it indeed was a marketing gimmick, how could this history-making legendary hit happen? Shri Ram is a Vishnu Avatar but he never said I am God. He always said, “I am Dasharathputra Ram’. And being a Ram Bhakt, paying your obeisances to Maha Vishnu, who gives directions to the world is natural. Ramanand Sagar was a true Ram Bhakt.
Even his name at naam samskaran was Ram Anand. At that time, nobody knew this child would bring the ‘anand’ of ‘Ram’ to the world. This was no coincidence, it was divinely ordained. I am convinced.
4. If, after four decades, despite rapid changes in lifestyle, technology and almost everything, the world is hooked on to Ramayan the way it was even back then, it simply implies nothing much has changed, has it?
What is it about the story, the epic or the telling that has ensured the kind of audience it has still got to this day?
Sagar: Ramayan is timeless. The ideals of Shri Ram are beyond race, religion, caste or even ‘kal’ that is time. No soul is evil. All souls identify with the tenements laid down by the ideal human being, Maryada Purushotham Ram. Sanatan is beyond time and not made my man or god. It is about Vishwa Kutumbam, it is for all.
Ramayan has stayed from the time Lord Shiva first narrated it to Ma Parvati, Kak Bhushundi, the saint crow reliving it with Pakshiraj Garuda, to 24,000 shlokas composed by Valmiki, to Ram Charit Manas in lipi (writing) by Sant Tulasidas, to Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan on television — Ramayan hence is timeless.
The truths it propounds are universal. Speaking lies is wrong for anybody — be it a Christian, a Muslim, a Parsi or a Buddhist — and this is what Ramayan teaches, the fundamental truths.
5. What is your take on the telling of myths today on Indian television — given the glitz and glamour and the production standards and technological interventions?
Sagar: There is no soul in the content today. The content is diluted. Today, channels and makers make it more with their mind and not with their heart and soul. The purity of the image is glamourised — hence, there is lack of identification.
Today, no one lights agarbathis before TV sets and breaks coconuts. People don’t take a bath before they watch it like they did when the original was first telecast. Because they do not see god in the characters, they see glamourised computer graphics and exciting images. But where is god? Jai Shri Ram.