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Critics Corner, Reviews, Uncategorized

Siya Ke Ram – Painting Ramayana with a Feminist Brush

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The TV show Siya Ke Ram on Star Plus , inching towards a sombre closure, delivered a strong statement last week. In the episode that aired on 25th October, Lord Ram, who has carried the ‘Maryada Purushottam” epithet since time immemorial, was reprimanded by his wife Sita in no uncertain terms. By re-igniting the age old debate surrounding Ram’s credentials as a husband, the show has attempted to disrupt the traditional narrative of Sita, who has served as a model for patriarchy for thousands of years.

Siya Ke Ram- the name in itself, held a scintillating promise to explore the troubled waters of Ram’s marriage to Mithila’s Sita, a match so unfortunate, that the particular “lagn” of their marriage is still considered inauspicious in contemporary times. This was a promise of treading into dangerous waters, focusing on an “imperfect” aspect of a perfect God.

When the show first aired, it brought a rare grandiose to  Indian TV screens. The huge production value helped in setting the tone of the epic immediately: Ayodhya, creatively themed as a masculine Sun City, boasted of material riches beyond imagination. Mithila, with its earthy and feminine tones, conceptualized itself as a city of the moon, rich in knowledge and spiritual pursuits. The juxtaposition of an unconventional society that nurtured daughters like Sita, who carried her knowledge like a badge, with traditional Ayodhya, that saw polygamy as a norm, made for an intriguing set up.

The story -telling was strengthened further by a talented cast. Veteran actors like Dilip Tahil, Grusha Kapoor and Vijay Anand, ensured emotional involvement from the audience, by their impeccable portrayals. Following Kaikayi’s chilling cruelty to Dashratha, Ram’s decision to accept the 14 years exile ended the first chapter of the show on a high note. The drama was palpable, the scenes were crisp, and the impact was wide and deep.

Nevertheless, since the epic is essentially about Ram’s exploits, the challenges in centering the show on Sita, started manifesting gradually as the show moved forward to the Vanvaas chapter. Predictably, away from the intrigues of the palace, amidst the sundry demon slaying, the focus shifted towards married life. This could have been a phase where SKR prepared the audience to come to terms with Ram’s imperfection as a husband, which would later culminate into his disastrous decision of abandoning her. He was an ideal son, an honorable king, but does it imply that he was an ideal life partner? It was a tad disappointing to see the show over emphasizing on a perfect love story and attempting to deify the marriage. If cracks had been shown to manifest early in the story, the 25 th October episode that underlined Ram’s accountability, might have delivered a stronger impact. Also, it would have helped in focusing the story back on Sita , by attributing the success of the marriage , to her strengths as a wife rather than an unrealistic portrayal of love from both sides. (The flash back scenes, when Sita is in Ravan’s captivity, showed Ram as imparting lessons to her in the institution of marriage- why could it not have been the other way round?) However, considering Lord Ram’s exalted status as a major God, it was probably wise to keep his character away from imperfections, to avoid hurting religious sentiments.

But Sita reclaimed her story effectively when Ram came looking for her to take her back after his abandonment. Her lack of interest in Ayodhya’s guilt trip was, at once, both empowering and tragic.

She was already over the heart break, had brought her sons up without any help, and showed little interest in the pity party that had arrived a little too late.

It was very refreshing to see a portrayal that did not bank on Sita’s victimization. SKR’s Sita had enough self-respect to decide immediately that Ayodhya did not deserve her back. She delivered her verdict strongly and when a systematic blackmail started from all corners, she handled it with compassion without compromising on her decision.

At the ashram, viewers were given a glimpse of a Sita, who attained “moksha” prior to dying, because she had already withdrawn within. She performed all her duties with a sort of non-attachment. The actions around her, stopped touching her, and she carried an aura of strength which resulted from the knowledge that she alone was the mistress of her fate. This absolute “Free Will” given to her in the show escalated her to a level above Ram, who remained tied up in the cycle of Karma and invoked pity, if not anger, while facing the consequences of his decision.

SKR also earns some browny points for attempting to raise intellectual questions in a religious realm. Sita’s bold address to Ram just before she invoked the Earth to engulf her, established Ram’s guilt instead of making room for his behavior. If He was so righteous, why did he use deception to abandon her? If he claimed to love her, why couldn’t he give her the dignity of a straight request? Would she have not accepted a second VanVaas willingly for him? She pronounced his behavior unworthy of a man and confessed that the marriage died the day he left her. She held power in that last scene because she was not looking to blame anyone for her fate, she was looking to show everyone a mirror, in order to bring changes in a society that treated women like objects.

If it was his duty to abandon her under pretense because of circumstances, Sita proclaimed that it was her duty towards women in general, to abandon him when he came back. This is where SKR wins for me, because it turns the table finally, and makes Sita a champion of women rights. A figure, that has been, over thousands of years, painted as an embodiment of a woman’s sacrifice to uphold patriarchal values, was able to find a feminist voice in Star Plus’s Siya Ke Ram. It is in this manner that the show has proved to be a true pre cursor to the channel’s ambition of “Nayi Soch.”

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About TulikaD

A full fledged dreamer. I prefer to see life pass by from a train window rather than trying to catch up with it. P.S I write if I feel like it!:)

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Siya Ke Ram – Painting Ramayana with a Feminist Brush

  1. Interesting article.If the intention of the creative was to make Sita a deity who received mokshh at her end on Earth then they failed miserably for me.In fact Sita managed to sound vengeful and bitter and if anything the audiences sympathy for Ram was aroused when the attention should have been on Sitas surrendering herself with calmness to the Earth.Apart from the end I have been very pleased at the portrayal of Sita as an independent woman who manages to stay dignified and strong despite the many tragedies she suffered due to destiny and societ.I especially enjoyed the love story between Ram & Sita which proves that despite the odds a love can survive the slings and arrows of life’s misfortune!

    Posted by shilpa patel | November 4, 2016, 9:56 am
    • Hi Shilpa, thanks for taking out the time to leave your comments. I am not looking to define creative’s intention, I have no idea what that was, I suspect if they even had an intention;) just a perspective, because as you rightly pointed out , different people like different things. There’s a certain affinity for Ram in your response so you found Sita’s vengeful and bitter- you have already absolved Ram of any responsibility- so you didn’t like Sita questioning him . A quiet dignified exit would have not disturbed your traditional understanding of Ramayana, where Ram was the perfect man, and his wife knew it as she left, blaming destiny and society rather than the king.
      Well, that’s of course a very popular way to look at the epic but the thing about mythology is that there are multiple ways to imagine , interpret and even construct narratives, and I like SKR’s ending because of the different approach to Sita’s exit.

      Posted by TulikaD | November 5, 2016, 4:32 am
  2. Well presented,Siya went with dignity after performing her duties,she exemplified being real Videh,like her father King Janak

    Posted by Usha Dubey | November 4, 2016, 10:04 am
  3. Siyaram in no way in today’s world are considered Inauspicious in marriage. In every marriage Sita Rama kalyane vaibhogame is chanted to say the least.
    Siyavar ramachandra ki jai

    Posted by sanjana14 | November 4, 2016, 10:45 am
    • Hello there! u should research on people who live in present day Mithila, I belong from darbhanga, I have grown up with Maithils.There are various rules : they don’t marry their daughters in UP. They don’t marry in the same lagn. They don’t marry if all 36 humans match perfectly, as it is said Sita & Ram had 36 matching finals in horoscope. Everything is followed till date.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Posted by TulikaD | November 5, 2016, 4:36 am
  4. The Hindu religion has always portrayed Ram as Maryada Purushottam. In reality, he’s a person who doesn’t differentiate between the right and wrong in the name of maryada. He abandons the wife who went through all the difficulties and some more with and without him and even proved her moral stature through the agni pariksha in front of him and a large number of witnesses. He abandons her because some ordinary mortal thought being kidnapped and prisoned by Ravan made her impure. His own wisdom, love and the trust couldn’t stand up against a common man who neither had the intellectual capacity nor factual awareness to make a judgment or influence someone believed to be the God. A strong person should act on facts, not on rumors and the trust should be more on the person he loves and knows. And he fails to respect Sita as an individual who should be given the option to defend herself and choose her path in life. He kills Bali by deceit. The decisions taken in the name of suryavanshi values or because of promises given by someone else are not great examples of a great king. A great king or leader makes choices and decisions that works for the greater benefits of the people, not because a promise is made by someone that has to be kept at any cost. And all the actions are justified because Ravan has to be killed at any cost to get back to his duty as the gatekeeper of Vishnu whose reincarnation is he himself. All the story is justified as the Leela of the Great Lord who values the unjustified anger and curse of a rishi who should actually be amongst the wisest, most tolerant and forgiving. Disrespect and suppression of the other sex has been the long-held practice of a vast majority of our society and Ram couldn’t rise above them. I know a lot of people may not agree with what I said, some may even get hurt as this goes against their faith. But I think being a good human being is more important than being religious and stop questioning the injustice in the name of religion and faith.

    Posted by Ashutosh | November 4, 2016, 6:50 pm
    • Hi Ashutosh, very pertinent points , thank you for bringing them up. I have never understood why we have proclaimed Tam as the perfect man despite the glaring mistakes he has made. Ofcourse there this xcinditioning that you don’t question god, he has his reasons that we can’t possibly fathom , but I think the epic is dated and wa written as a time where kingship was of utmost importance and how to maintain your kingdom was the primary lesson to impart.
      Ram has not been written as multi layered personality, he has his rights and his wrongs were limited to Ayodhya’s sovereignty,rather than people around him.
      There is also this popular belief that Uttar Kand was added over the years. So it’s a possibility that original Ramayan ended with Ravan’s defeat but Sita’s abandonment was added in later years to make a point regarding the patriarchal system that was prevalent and women needed to know their limitations.
      Whatever it is, I am glad Sita was allowed to question openly in a popular TV show that reached a wide audience.

      Posted by TulikaD | November 5, 2016, 4:51 am
  5. Well written Tulika.. To be honest I was wary of POVs and this one was one to begin with, but it kept within the constructs of the traditional Ramayana..Siya Ke Ram retelling walked the thin line between elevating Sita and glorifying Ram at the same..at no point of time did they denigrate Ram. But Sita stood her own, two scenes that make feminists burn were treated pragmatically and Sita was shown as a sensible woman like all of us think we would like to be at the same time not disrespectful . Her last monologue i think is one of the best on Indian TV by a woman of character one that can make the younger generation look up for inspiration

    Posted by Jan | November 7, 2016, 3:13 pm

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