"India's Gift to Broadway"
The Ramayana, an epic play in four acts in English, contracted by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s World Theatre Season in 1968 is Gopal Sharma's best known work. Hailed when it played on New York’s Broadway as “India’s Gift to Broadway” by the New York Times, “A rare Indian gem” by the Ottawa Journal when it was performed at the National Theatre of Canada, “Possessed of Genius” by Oregon Journal, “Heroic… its obvious achievement… the clarity of narrative” by The Times, London are among the hundreds of rave reviews the play has garnered internationally and at home in India.
41 years ago Gopal Sharman and Jalabala Vaidya embarked on a journey that was to change their lives forever. The Royal Shakespeare Company of Great Britain, inspired by the very successful London seasons of their first theatrical production, Full Circle, invited them to bring a stage production to their super-prestigious World Theatre Season. Gopal decided to create a production based on the Ramayana and he and Jalabala rushed back to India, to write the play and put together a cast good enough to present in the capital of world theatre.
Without any help from the Government or any other institution, they used their earnings from Full Circle as well as the proceeds from Gopal’s Homi Bhabha Fellowship Award to finance the undertaking.
In November 1970, The Ramayana, brilliantly and innovatively directed by Gopal, using the form and artefacts of the traditional Indian ‘katha’ and performed by Jalabala, found its way to its first audience. It is 41 years later now. In the last four decades The Ramayana has played all over the world and created history in the process. It has played on Broadway, on the West End, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, in National Theatres in Europe and Canada, in some of the great universities of the United States and in 35 cities and towns in India.
In these four decades, Gopal and Jalabala have also created the exquisite Akshara Theatre complex and Gopal has written and directed many more plays and made dozens of films. To his accomplishments as writer, director and musician he has added carpenter, electrician, stone sculptor, graphics designer, structural engineer and builder, as he painstakingly built the Akshara, literally with his own hands.
Now, 41 years later, they are taking another major step in their journey with The Ramayana.
Over the last few years, Jalabala has painstakingly gathered and trained a group of extremely talented young people to perform The Ramayana with her. They have worked very hard for more than a year to craft a production where they attempt to bring alive the glory of Gopal’s Ramayana in a multi-cast production. Jalabala is joined onstage by Vikalp Mudgal as Rama, her grand daughter Nisa Shetty as Sita, Vidur Mohan as Ravana, Abhinav Chand as Lakshmana, Shaily Priya Pandey as Mandodari, Angad Thakur as Bharata and Vibhishana, Mahant Shah and Dhruv Shetty (Jalabala’s grandson) as Hanuman, Zahed Aman Khan as Prahasta, along with several other talented actors.
Jalabala still plays the Contemporary Person, the Storyteller and Dasharatha at the start of play, and plays Rama and Sita after their return to Ayodhya and at Valmiki’s ashram at the end of the play.