Ace wedding choreographer Sumit Khetan, who was a part of Ramlila this year, says that his association with the celebrations goes way back to his childhood. In fact, he says that he stepped on stage for the first time for Ramlila, and his journey began from there.
“Approximately 40 years back, the Sansthapak Sadasya Shri Devkinandan ji Jindal, Late Sri Radheshyamji Gupta and Nanaji Late Shri Dayaramji Bhoot, formed a committee called Shri Ramlila Prachar Samiti Malad. The motive of this committee was to spread our culture and mythology and to set examples by portraying beautiful depictions of Shri Ramcharit Manas- Ramayan. To perform Ramlila, they contacted Mr. Rajesh Rastogi, a great industrialist from Moradabad, to get his full team and perform Ramlila for this committee in Mumbai- Malad. My parents used to take me to watch Ramlila with them, and as a child, I was really fascinated. When I was 7 years old, I became Vanar in Ramjis Vanar sena. This was the first time ever, I stepped on stage. I used to really enjoy performing on Ramlila stage. This is the place that developed me into an artist. And whatever I am today, I give my complete credit to Ramlila,” he says.
He adds, “As far as playing a role in Ramlila, it’s been a great journey. It will always be special. I started playing the role of Vanar in Vanarsena when I was 7 years old and I was very fascinated. Each year, year after year, I played different roles starting with Chota Hanuman, Angad, Shatrugan and Bharat and Lakshman and also played Lord Ram. Until last year, I was playing Lord Hanuman but this year because I am very occupied, I played the role of Lord Ganpati once. This is the first time that I am doing dialogue delivery with different characters right from the commentary box. This is a new experience. This place has made me a complete artist, this is where I got to know what’s a stage, stage presence, stage fear, backstage, costumes and a lot more. This place taught me everything.”
Being part of Ramlila is a surreal experience, says the choreographer. “This place is so spiritual that I can’t express the feeling of performing here in front of an audience. People don’t see this as an acting show, they think that they are seeing a real show, real characters. People actually perform Aarti each day and want to touch the feet of the artists (god/goddesses). The way you see Ramayan, on screen, how Ram and Sita are, that’s how they can see exactly in front of them. People feel that they are in a temple and people believe in it so much,” he says.
Ramlila will always be special for him. “The significance of Ramlila for me is my life. Whatever I am today is only because of this. Whether it’s my personal or professional growth, I give complete credit to it. Two people who have played a major role in Ramlila are Nanaji, late Mr. Jairamji, the sanstha Shree Devajinanji Jinghal and the one who was a father figure to me, Mr Rajesh Rastogi. They are the one without whom Ramlila would have never been possible, who I am today would have never been possible. And obviously lord Ram because of who I could come here and perform and have achieved so much in life,” he says.
He adds, “The last thing I want to share is that whosoever is in Mumbai should definitely come and be at this place at Jagparia road from 7:30pm to 10:30pm. I promise everyone that you would never want to go to a tirthsthan after this, because the tirthsthan would be right in front of you. It would be something very different.”