Arun Govil: A Ram we all know

Clear cut message: Arun Govil  

“There was a time when film glossies were ready to pay anything to photographers to bring a shot of Arun Govil holding a glass of wine in his hand,” recalls the actor who continues to be the most loved on-screen Ram across generations. It has been more than three decades since Govil first played the iconic character in Ramanand Sagar’s “Ramayan”, but his charm and that affable smile continues to draw ‘devotees’.

“There was a period of frustration when I was typecast as a paragon of virtue. I consciously played a couple of characters with grey shades on television but nothing worked. Ultimately, I had to make peace with what I had, and stopped running after what I could not become,” says Govil, who returned this week with yet another portrayal of Ram with director Atul Satya Kaushik’s “The Legend of Ram”, his first foray on stage.

“What could you do when professional actors touch your feet when you are rehearsing in shirt and trousers?” he laughs. “You explain yourself that they are not touching your feet but the image of God that they have in their mind. Ours is a religion that worships the divine form. Before me, perhaps, it was Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. The fact that Ramayan came at a time when there was only one channel, made the image even stronger.”

Govil feels he was destined to play the character. Hailing from western Uttar Pradesh, Govil says, when he was growing up, he found aggression in daily life there. “Having studied in Meerut, Saharanpur, and Mathura, I experienced this aggression in day-to day-life, but it never touched me. I was always calm, who would look for peaceful ways to sort out conflicts.”

When Ramanand Sagar auditioned him for the role, Govil says, he was rejected. “But they came back to me because they were impressed with the calm that my personality exuded.”

For him, Ram is the personification of peace and tranquillity and this is how he pursued the character. “When we were preparing for the character, none of us was happy about how the character shaped. There was something missing, that would make it extraordinary without making a show of it. One day, it occurred to me that we should imbue the character with a little smile, that would not leave him in joy or sorrow. It worked wonders and perhaps gave the character a divine equanimity. After a point, it became part of my personality. I could invoke it anytime.”

Govil doesn’t approve of Ram being used as a political tool and the element of aggression that surrounds the lord these days. “Ram has not become aggressive, it is the political climate that has. My simple question is if everybody is going to accept the court’s judgement, why did people create such a big movement around Ram which created fissures and bitterness in society.” That is one of the reasons, he says, he avoided electoral politics when many of his colleagues jumped into the fray. “I realise the importance of politics but I feel don’t fit into the political set-up.”

At 61, Govil says, he wanted some “alertness” in life and that has pushed him to the theatre. “Atul has reinterpreted the text keeping in mind contemporary issues and context. The perspective of female characters has been given space. It shows the role of Tadaka, Ahalya and of course Sita in the making of the legend of Ram.” The play puts the point of tribal rights in the Tadaka episode to justify the action of ‘demoness’. “It was an intrusion into her space,” reasons Govil. “Similarly, the play questions the punishment meted out Ahalya as if only she was in the wrong.”

Govil feels the beauty of Indian mythology is that it is not constant. “In some religions, you can’t change even a comma or full stop. Out of insecurity, some people are trying to make Hindu texts also like that. I am not for it. Hinduism has thrived for centuries because it has responded to the times.”

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:56:55 AM |

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