The epic as told by Hanuman

Esplanade Theatre, Singapore, in collaboration with Apsaras Arts presented ‘Anjaneyam- Hanuman’s Ramayana’ as the inaugural performance of the Kalaa Utsavam of Indian Arts (Nov 17-26), and also to highlight the Center (Esplanade) turning 15 and Apsaras Arts, 40. After their first large-scale production ‘Angkor: An Untold Story,’ Anjaneyam, conceptualised by Apsaras Arts, was another mega production, this time retelling the timeless Ramayana from the perspective of Hanuman.

Conceived, scripted and directed by scholar, choreographer, musician Aravinth Kumarasamy, it drew from various Ramayana traditions such as Javanese, Indonesian, Valmiki, Kamban, and Tulasidas. It had Javanese, Indonesian, Indian (guest artistes from Kalakshetra) and local Singaporean dancers. There were also guest appearances by two legendary dancers, V.P. Dhananyanan as Valmiki and C.K. Balagopal as old Hanuman. Music was by Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi and his team, who merged seamlessly the Javanese Gamelan music and Carnatic and Hindustani ragas.

The epic as told by Hanuman

Well-conceived scenes

The stunning visual graphics by Himanshu Gosh, lighting by Gyan Dev Singh and 3D Quadraphonic surround sound, used for the first time at Esplande by that ace sound recordist-musician Sai Sharvanam, offered quite an experience.

One sees Valimiki in his twilight years going to the Himalayas to spend the rest of his life and stumbles upon the Ramayana written on stone by Hanuman. So starts the journey with Hanuman’s magnificent Ramayana. The script writer’s magic wand transports us to the beautiful city of Ayodhya, where Dasaratha is performing with Rishyasringa, putrakameshthi yagna, and with split vision shows Ayodhya and the forest where Anjana begs Lord Shiva to give her a son who would release her from the curse; a bird flies with a portion of the pudding of the yagna, dropping it in hands of Anjana; Vayu devata helps her conceive child Hanuman, who is called Anjaneyam.

Back to Ayodhya, where child Rama is taking baby steps to Tulasidas’s ‘Thumak Chalat Ramachandra,’ using the film-like ploy, one returns to the forest where baby Hanuman is growing up. Mistaking the Sun for a fruit, he wants to eat it, Rahu covers it, but Hanuman manages to remove Rahu and swallows the Sun. Indra then strikes Hanuman with vajra and he falls unconscious, on the floor, his jaw hurt, and Vayu rescues him. The orchestra sings ‘Hanumana, Hanumana, Hanumana’ in such a way that it casts a spell on the listeners. Impeccable scenes and dancing follow the quick change of locations. Hanuman with a magnificent patrapravesha, meets Rama and Lakshmana and takes them on his back to meet Sugreeva.

Divided into four acts with intermission of 20 minutes, this work of two hours, moved in quick succession.

From Apsara Arts' ‘Anjaneyam- Hanuman’s Ramayana’ staged at Esplanade Theatres, Singaapore

From Apsara Arts' ‘Anjaneyam- Hanuman’s Ramayana’ staged at Esplanade Theatres, Singaapore  

Gamelan music

In Act three, Hanuman looks at the beauty of Lanka, its towering palaces, nymphs dancing, and then locates Sita in Ashoka vana. Sita is thinking about her wedding and then separation from Lord Rama. She makes up her mind to hang herself with her long braid from a tree. A group of six female dancers with long braids in their hands circle around Sita; a visual representation of Sita’s thoughts of ending her life, an excellent use of the Greek chorus-like technique.

Hanuman jumps down, singing ‘Sri Rama’ and gives her Lord Rama’s ring. Using a flashback technique, Sita shares with Hanuman how she was abducted and how Jatayu attempted to save her. These sequences had Gamelan music and an animation of several deer running in the forest.

All the sequences, from the golden deer, abduction, Ravana’s fight with Jatayu, , dancers performing at the court of Ravana, Indrajit capturing Hanuman and setting his tail on fire and Hanuman burning Lanka were performed with virtuosity.

The scenes of Lakshmana-Indrajit battle and Hanuman flying across the sky carrying the mountain were magical. The combination of Javanese, Indonesian and Indian costumes by Mohanpriyan, choreographer and dancer enhanced the production.

It would be invidious to single out any one artiste, but one needed to mention specially Haripadman from Kalakshetra, who completely identified with the character of Hanuman. Javanese dancer Osman Abdul Hamid (Ravana), Lavanya Ananth (Sita), Mohanpriyan (Indrajit), Roshni (Anjana), Vikas (Rama) and Geethanathan (Lakshamana), Prem Sagar (Dasaratha) and the choreography of Jayanti Subramaniam from Chennai left indelible impressions. The teamwork was impressive and the subtitles well-worded.

Valmiki in the end meets Hanuman praising his Ramayana as superior. Hanuman throws it away in the ocean saying Valimki’s is the best. Dhananjayan, 80, and Balagopal, 75, performed together after 50 years, which in itself was an emotional moment. With the curtain call of more than 100 artistes and backstage staff, the audience gave them a standing ovation. Aravinth Kumarasamy expressed his gratitude to the dance pioneers S.Sathyalingam and Neila Sathyalingam.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 7:09:26 PM |

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