How would a new retelling of Ramayan look like?
Was thinking about how the epic Ramayan could be narrated for a modern, younger audience. Ramayan as told by Valmiki already has all the ingredients of a modern blockbuster. At its simplest, it is the story of a young prince who is banished by the devious scheming of a step-mom, who fights demons in the forest and then vanquishes their king to rescue his wife with the help of a lot of friends in jungle he finds along the way. The hero is brave, courageous, a trained ace archer and righteous. He has a brave companion in his brother. He has a worthy opponent in Ravan who has vanquished the gods.
Ram’s journey has enough magic, drama and heroism. Hanuman who discovers he is the son of Vayu at the right time, who fights demons who can catch a shadow or expand in size to eat prey. Vibhishan, who betrays his brother and plays a crucial role in Ram’s victory. It makes it a richer telling in which an underdog Ram wins over a mightier opponent. Coming back from death from the blow by Indrajeet and then going to victory makes Ram a hero the reader is rooting for. Casting Ram as an incarnation of Vishnu takes away a key strength of the original telling.
So the story is best adhered to as in the original. Taking away Ram’s divine status doesn’t mean expunging the story of gods, magic and demons. But modernity demands that the story be placed in primitive times. No one seems to have any maps for one. For the size of empire Ravan has and as Ram is presented to be of a powerful kingdom, there are no diplomatic relationships between them. Lanka is this mysterious den of one of the most powerful villains. Ram has already killed thousands of Rakshas in the forest without ever hearing the name Ravan. I also don’t recall anyone sending any messages in writing. Presenting the era as a primitive past that had different mores (child marriage, polygamy, patriarchy) helps place context. In addition, a primitive past filled with magic and wonder will appeal to every youngester.
The other matter is the portrayal of Ram as an ideal man. In the language of today, he needs to be repositioned as an ideal conservative. He upholds the existing Dharma of the time and doesn’t intend to reform or challenge it. It would probably enrich the narrative to cast Lakshman as a rebel who questions the existing order, and perhaps give Ram enough self-doubt on whether he is doing the right thing. The tension should always resolve in favour of the Dharma of that age, so as to not disturb the narrative but this gives enough to a modern youngster as not to alienate her from narrative. Lakshman might become a proto-rebel-teen having a bigger fan following than Ram in this scheme of things.
Lakshman: Are you seriously going to question Seeta’s character after all this? Now I wonder whether this whole war was to rescue her or to restore your honour from the stigma of having lost your wife in a forest.
Ram (devastated by the accusation): Lakshman, you know I love her with all my heart. Maybe there will come a time in the future where such things won’t matter but our age is not that age. Seeta did not ask me if I have remained faithful to her, and that is the Dharma of our age. As the prince of the dynasty, I carry the burden of its honour. My wife can’t carry a slightest bit of suspicion for it will shake the order that comes from having a king in the land. I wish I did not carry this burden, but I do.