The TV show Siya Ke Ram on Star Plus , inching towards a sombre closure, delivered a strong statement last week. In the episode that aired on 25th October, Lord Ram, who has carried the ‘Maryada Purushottam” epithet since time immemorial, was reprimanded by his wife Sita in no uncertain terms. By re-igniting the age old debate surrounding Ram’s credentials as a husband, the show has attempted to disrupt the traditional narrative of Sita, who has served as a model for patriarchy for thousands of years.
Siya Ke Ram- the name in itself, held a scintillating promise to explore the troubled waters of Ram’s marriage to Mithila’s Sita, a match so unfortunate, that the particular “lagn” of their marriage is still considered inauspicious in contemporary times. This was a promise of treading into dangerous waters, focusing on an “imperfect” aspect of a perfect God.
When the show first aired, it brought a rare grandiose to Indian TV screens. The huge production value helped in setting the tone of the epic immediately: Ayodhya, creatively themed as a masculine Sun City, boasted of material riches beyond imagination. Mithila, with its earthy and feminine tones, conceptualized itself as a city of the moon, rich in knowledge and spiritual pursuits. The juxtaposition of an unconventional society that nurtured daughters like Sita, who carried her knowledge like a badge, with traditional Ayodhya, that saw polygamy as a norm, made for an intriguing set up.
The story -telling was strengthened further by a talented cast. Veteran actors like Dilip Tahil, Grusha Kapoor and Vijay Anand, ensured emotional involvement from the audience, by their impeccable portrayals. Following Kaikayi’s chilling cruelty to Dashratha, Ram’s decision to accept the 14 years exile ended the first chapter of the show on a high note. The drama was palpable, the scenes were crisp, and the impact was wide and deep.
Nevertheless, since the epic is essentially about Ram’s exploits, the challenges in centering the show on Sita, started manifesting gradually as the show moved forward to the Vanvaas chapter. Predictably, away from the intrigues of the palace, amidst the sundry demon slaying, the focus shifted towards married life. This could have been a phase where SKR prepared the audience to come to terms with Ram’s imperfection as a husband, which would later culminate into his disastrous decision of abandoning her. He was an ideal son, an honorable king, but does it imply that he was an ideal life partner? It was a tad disappointing to see the show over emphasizing on a perfect love story and attempting to deify the marriage. If cracks had been shown to manifest early in the story, the 25 th October episode that underlined Ram’s accountability, might have delivered a stronger impact. Also, it would have helped in focusing the story back on Sita , by attributing the success of the marriage , to her strengths as a wife rather than an unrealistic portrayal of love from both sides. (The flash back scenes, when Sita is in Ravan’s captivity, showed Ram as imparting lessons to her in the institution of marriage- why could it not have been the other way round?) However, considering Lord Ram’s exalted status as a major God, it was probably wise to keep his character away from imperfections, to avoid hurting religious sentiments.
But Sita reclaimed her story effectively when Ram came looking for her to take her back after his abandonment. Her lack of interest in Ayodhya’s guilt trip was, at once, both empowering and tragic.
She was already over the heart break, had brought her sons up without any help, and showed little interest in the pity party that had arrived a little too late.
It was very refreshing to see a portrayal that did not bank on Sita’s victimization. SKR’s Sita had enough self-respect to decide immediately that Ayodhya did not deserve her back. She delivered her verdict strongly and when a systematic blackmail started from all corners, she handled it with compassion without compromising on her decision.
At the ashram, viewers were given a glimpse of a Sita, who attained “moksha” prior to dying, because she had already withdrawn within. She performed all her duties with a sort of non-attachment. The actions around her, stopped touching her, and she carried an aura of strength which resulted from the knowledge that she alone was the mistress of her fate. This absolute “Free Will” given to her in the show escalated her to a level above Ram, who remained tied up in the cycle of Karma and invoked pity, if not anger, while facing the consequences of his decision.
SKR also earns some browny points for attempting to raise intellectual questions in a religious realm. Sita’s bold address to Ram just before she invoked the Earth to engulf her, established Ram’s guilt instead of making room for his behavior. If He was so righteous, why did he use deception to abandon her? If he claimed to love her, why couldn’t he give her the dignity of a straight request? Would she have not accepted a second VanVaas willingly for him? She pronounced his behavior unworthy of a man and confessed that the marriage died the day he left her. She held power in that last scene because she was not looking to blame anyone for her fate, she was looking to show everyone a mirror, in order to bring changes in a society that treated women like objects.
If it was his duty to abandon her under pretense because of circumstances, Sita proclaimed that it was her duty towards women in general, to abandon him when he came back. This is where SKR wins for me, because it turns the table finally, and makes Sita a champion of women rights. A figure, that has been, over thousands of years, painted as an embodiment of a woman’s sacrifice to uphold patriarchal values, was able to find a feminist voice in Star Plus’s Siya Ke Ram. It is in this manner that the show has proved to be a true pre cursor to the channel’s ambition of “Nayi Soch.”