Sharada Iyer

Lord Rama is one of the most loved and revered deities in our country. Worshipped as the Lord of Dharma or ‘The Supreme upholder of social values’, Lord Rama is regarded as ‘Maryada Purushottam’ or ‘Epitome of Righteousness’. The story of his life written in the epic Ramayana has come to be regarded as one of the most sacred texts in India. His calm demeanor, stoic composure, and his unwavering pursuit of Dharma while facing any situation in life is entrenched so deeply in the culture, emotion, and the psyche of every Indian, that just chanting his name with faith is believed to impart happiness and peace of mind to the person.

This blog-post explores Lord Rama’s tryst with Hindi cinema. From 1917 during the ‘Silent Era’, when his story first appeared on the silver screen, to as recent as the year 2023, I came across 15 films that have been made based on the stories of his life. In the beginning since our films leaned heavily on mythology for stories, we had many filmmakers attempting to capture some incidents based on The Ramayana, and these were highlighted and made into films.

The Silent Era:

We find the earliest reference to Lord Rama in our cinema in the silent film Lanka Dahan, made in 1917 and directed by the father of our Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke. As the title suggests this was a short film pertaining to the burning of Lanka- the city of the demon king Ravana, who had kidnapped Sita and held her captive in his palace garden. Hanuman has a major role in the film. This film was declared a super-hit at the time it was released and considered by many as the first box-office hit of Hindi cinema.

Interestingly, the male actor Anna Salunke who had earlier played Queen Taramati in Phalke’s 1913 film Raja Harishchandra, dons the garb of both Lord Rama as well as Devi Sita. Essentially Anna Salunke becomes the first actor to play a ‘double role’ in Hindi cinema. Here is a short clip available from the film on YouTube which shows the monkey God Hanuman bringing Lord Rama’s ring to Sita.

In 1918, another pioneer of Indian cinema S N Patankar, made Ram Vanvas or The Exile of Rama in four parts. In 1919, the father of Tamil cinema Nataraja Mudaliar made Lava Kusha based on the sons of Lord Ram, but the film did not get success. The year 1920 saw the release of two films- Ram Janma by Gajanan V Sane and Sita Swayamvar by S N Patankar.

In 1922, director Eugenio de Liguoso directed Ramayan which had the beautiful Patience Cooper play the role of Devi Sita. Dadasaheb Phalke teamed up with Gajanan V Sane in 1923 to direct Sita Shuddhi (Purification of Sita). The film also went by the title- Ram Ravan Yuddha. There were other films like Lanka Li Ladi in 1925, Janki Swayamvar and Ram Rajya Viyog in 1926, Dasarathi Ram in 1928, and Hanuman Janma (year not clear). The records of our Silent Era have not been preserved properly but the above films give an idea that Lord Ram’s life was an important topic for our films.

Feature Films:

Producer-director-screenwriter Vijay Bhatt can be regarded as the pioneer in this regard and made excellent films based on the stories of Ramayana. He established the banner Prakash Pictures with his elder brother Shankarbhai Bhatt and his trilogy of films Bharat Milap (1942), Ram Rajya (1943), and Rambaan (1948), came to be regarded as classics of that time and till date remain the best films made on the epic.

These films may have been simple in technical aspects with rudimentary special effects used during war scenes, etc., but the sincerity of the makers comes through and the emotions conveyed were spot-on with the characters living the role they were enacting. Babubhai Mistry who was regarded as master of special effects had a huge hand in the success of the films, and in later years he himself turned director for the films.

Actors who got the opportunity to play Lord Rama in Hindi cinema include- Prem Adib, Mahipal, Ashim Kumar, Trilok Kapoor, Rakesh Pandey, Biswajit, Ashish Kumar, Kumar Sen and Prabhas. Of these the most popular ones were Prem Adib and Mahipal. As the trilogy by Vijay Bhatt featuring Prem Adib as Rama and Shobhana Samarth as Sita, were the first films to be made on the epic, the films were big hits and it is said that their popularity soared so high that in the minds of the people they became imprinted as the faces of Rama and Sita.

Bharat Milap (1942)

As the title conveys, this film revolves around the emotional meeting of Lord Rama and his brother Bharata. The film starts with Prince Bharata’s birthday celebrations. After this he leaves for the kingdom of Kekeya, with brother Shatrughana, and his uncle to meet his maternal grandfather. In their absence and on the insistence of Bharata’s mother Kaikeyi, Rama’s coronation ceremony as the future king is announced and the people of Ayodhya are delirious with joy.

However, soon after the announcement, certain unexpected and unfortunate events are set in motion. Kaikeyi’s faithful maid Manthara manages to poison Kaikeyi’s mind against Rama and because of this, Kaikeyi ends up demanding the fulfillment of her two boons to King Dasharath, according to which Bharata should be coronated as the future king and Rama should be exiled to the forest for fourteen years. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana immediately leave for the forest and shortly after their exit, Dasharath passes away in grief and shock.

Upon his return from his grandfather’s place, when Bharata comes to know of all these incidents, he rushes towards the forest to plead with Rama to return with him to Ayodhya and not go to the forest. But seeing Rama’s determination to honour his father’s ruling, Bharata pledges to rule the kingdom not as the king but as a servant of Rama and requests Rama to part with his slippers which he would be placing on the throne in his absence.

Rama promises to return and meet Bharat at the same spot after 14 years and the film ends with their reunion after Rama’ victorious return from exile. The focus here is more on Bharata’s character and his emotions and his love and respect for Rama.  The film stars Prem Adib as Rama, Shahu Modak as Bharata, Umakant Desai as Lakshmana, Shobhna Samarth as Sita, Durga Khote as Kaikeyi, Vimla Vashisht as Manthara, Nibhalkar as King Dasharath and Shanthabai Kothare as Kausalya. Music was by Shankar Rao Vyas.

Ram Rajya (1943)

This film is about the events that take place post Rama’s return from his exile. After successfully rescuing Sita and vanquishing the evil Ravana, he now rules his kingdom with Sita by his side. The film starts with Rama and Sita sitting in court. But just when things seem blissful in his ‘rajya’ or ‘kingdom’, trouble comes in the form of a washer-woman who has been thrown out of her house by her husband for staying away from their house for two nights without his permission.

When the washer-man is called in court and questioned, he says everyone is not like Rama to take back the wife after she has spent many nights away from the house. As a king, Rama realizes that his subjects are not happy having a queen whose reputation can be questioned. As he has pledged his life to his subjects, he realizes that for a king his duty is foremost and is above any emotion (“Bhavna se kartavya ooncha hai”). He is forced to take a harsh decision of abandoning Sita even though in his heart he knows that she is innocent. Even her pregnant state does not stop him from ordering Lakshmana to take her deep into the forest and leave her.

Sage Valmiki stops her from taking her own life and takes her to his ashram and soon she gives birth to twin boys- named Luv and Kush. The rest of the film is about the boys and their activities-how they learn the story of Rama and Sita from Sage Valmiki without knowing that Sita is their own mother (in the ashram, she goes by the name of Vandevi), how they catch the horse sent out for Sri Ram’s Ashwamedha yagna, and how they are finally united with their father.

For a film released almost 80 years back, the film is very bold with the depiction of how Rama as king must sacrifice his queen at the behest of the people of Ayodhya. His decision is questioned by Sita and Lakshmana. The dialogues are well-written and acting is good. Characters like Hanuman, Bharata and the three queen mothers do not appear. Only Lakshmana and sage Valmiki are the other two important characters. The last scene where Mother Earth splits and Sita enters was captured very well and the image has remained in the minds of the viewers even after so many years.

Directed by Vijay Bhatt, the film stars Prem Adib as Rama, Shobhana Samarth as Sita, Umakant Desai as Lakshmana, and Amirbai Karnataki as the washer-woman. Incidentally few scenes of this film were seen by Mahatma Gandhi and they remain his only exposure to Indian cinema. Here is the YouTube link to the highly popular song sung by the two princes Luv and Kush when they come to Ayodhya and recite the story of Sita to the people.

Song: ‘Bharat ki Ek sannari ki hum katha sunate hain…’

Rambaan (1948)

Once again directed by Vijay Bhatt, the film stars Prem Adib as Rama, Shobhana Samarth as Sita, and Chandramohan as Ravana.

I could not find a print of this film to watch and comment on, but from what little information I could gather, the film deals with the exile period of Rama-Sita-Lakshmana, the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana, and the final battle to rescue Sita. How much of the narrative focuses on Hanuman etc., could not be found out.

Shri Ram Bhakta Hanuman (1948)

Produced and Directed by Homi Wadia, this film had Trilok Kapoor as Rama, S N Tripathi as Hanuman, Prabhash Joshi as Lakshmana, Sona Chatterjee as Devi Sita, and Niranjan Sharma as Ravana.

The film starts with the demon-king Ravana instructing Mareech to go and take the form of a deer and separate Rama from Sita in the forest so that he can kidnap her easily. In Lanka, queen Mandodari and sons Akshay Kumar and Meghnath are awaiting his return. When Mandodari finds out what Ravana has done, she is not happy and forbids Ravana from bringing Sita inside the palace.

Meanwhile, in the forest, Rama and Lakshmana meet Hanuman and incidents leading up to the building of the bridge to Lanka by the ‘vanar-sena’ are shown in detail. Hanuman’s meeting with Devi Sita, his meeting with Ravana followed by the burning of Lanka, and Sita’s ‘Agnipariksha’ are also part of the narrative. The film ends with Rama and Sita sitting happily as the king and queen of Ayodhya, and Hanuman reiterating his devotion for Rama by singing ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram…’, probably the first instance of this song in any film. But the link of this song is not permitted to be embedded in any blog.

Here is the YouTube link of another song from the film: ‘Ram Ram Siya Ram…’

Ram Hanuman Yuddha (1957)

This film elaborates on the events leading to the rare situation when Lord Hanuman considered to be the greatest devotee of Lord Rama, must face Lord Rama in a battle. This incident is probably taken from folklore. Once, Sage Narada while visiting Lord Vishnu’s abode, is unhappy to hear that Vishnu considers Hanuman to be his greatest devotee and not Narada. Irked by this, Narada goes to Shanidev and goads him to test Hanuman’s devotion.

Parallel to this, we are shown another track where the deep love shared between King Shakunta and his wife Charumati is highlighted. But their happiness is short-lived when Shanidev decides to enter Shakunta’s body which makes him behave in a vile and erratic manner. He desires to enter ‘Indralok’ in his human form and for this to happen his guru advises him to perform a yagna in the presence of the king Rama. Shakunta is overjoyed when Rama promises to be there for him.

However, in a drunken state while having fun with many girls, king Shakunta ends up insulting Sage Vishwamitra who now seeks revenge. He approaches his disciple Rama and asks him to behead Shakunta for insulting him. Hearing this, Shakunta’s wife Charumati approaches Rama and pleads with him to not behead her husband but Rama only requests her to draw strength from her Sati power and try to find a way to stop him. Charumati then turns to Hanuman’s mother Devi Anjana to give refuge to her husband.  She promises that her son Hanuman will keep him safe and no one would be able to touch him.

So, both Rama and Hanuman unintentionally, owing to circumstances beyond their control, end up facing each other in a battle. One seeking to kill king Shakunta for his guru and the other to protect the king to honor his mother’s word. This film directed by S N Tripathi, who also composed music for the film, stars Prem Adib as Rama and Lord Vishnu, Manhar Desai as King Shakunta, Nirupa Roy as his wife Charumati, and Durga Khote as Hanuman’s mother Devi Anjana.

This was an engaging film to watch and powerful acting by Nirupa Roy and Durga Khote who looked great in their respective roles. Interestingly, the ace costume designer Bhanu Athaiya’s name appears in the credits under ‘costume designer’, which probably explains why the costumes looked so good!

Hanuman Patal Vijay (1951)

Directed by Homi Wadia for Basant Pictures banner, the film has actor Mahipal as Rama and S N Tripathi as Hanuman. Actress Meena Kumari who started her adult roles in the film industry with mythological films can be seen in the film playing the role of Naga princess Chandrasena. 

I could not find any print of the film and cannot comment much beyond this but I did read that this film was remade in 1974 as Hanuman Vijay and that film can be watched on YouTube. I shall describe the story under that film.

Sampoorna Ramayan (1961)

Probably the most comprehensive of the films that were based on Lord Rama’s story, this was produced by Homi Wadia and directed by Babubhai Mistry. The film starts with Sita Swayamvar at the court of King Janaka where Rama breaks the bow of Lord Shiva to marry Sita, and then follows Ram’s journey from his exile, to war with Ravana, return to Ayodhya, reunion with Bharata, banishing Sita from the kingdom because of a washer-man, meeting his sons Luv and Kush and finally losing Sita when she goes back to Mother Earth. In a way it combines the story of Vijay Bhatt’s trilogy of films.

The difference is in the added songs and dramatic effect in some scenes. For instance, when Luv Kush question her about their father, Sita breaks into a song; when the twins profess their dislike for King Rama, she slaps Kush, and in the last scene, before the earth splits and Sita enters, there is a huge storm blowing and she runs for a long time with Ram chasing her, to reach a particular spot where the earth splits and she enters. In the original there is no dramatic running, the earth just splits where she stands.

The film had a great cast. Mahipal plays Rama, and Anita Guha plays Sita, and their pairing also became very popular. Other actors included Sulochana as Kaikeyi, Lalita Pawar as Manthara, Achla Sachdev as Kausalya, Anand Kumar as Bharata, Raj Kumar as Lakshmana, and Helen as Surpanaka. I could not recognize the actors who played Hanuman and Ravana.

Bharat Milap (1965)

The film Bharat Milap of 1942, was remade twice by two different directors in the year 1965.

One was titled Bharat Milap again, and this film produced by P N Shukla and directed by Babubhai Mistry had Ashish Kumar as Rama, Anand Kumar as Prince Bharata, Indrani Mukherjee as Sita, Mridula as Kausalya, Sohrab Modi as Dasharath, and Sulochana as Kaikeyi.

Shri Ram Bharat Milan (1965)

Produced by Ratan Mohan, and directed by Manibhai Vyas, the film starred Prithviraj Kapoor as Dasharath, Mahipal as Rama, Anita Guha as Sita, Raj Kumar as Bharata, Sulochana as Kausalya and Nirupa Roy as Kaikeyi. Music was by Pandit Shivram.

I could not find a print of this film on YouTube and hence cannot write about the details of this film, but here is a YouTube link of a song from the film:

Song: ‘Jagat mein ho Ram Bharat jaise bhai…’

Ram Rajya (1967)

Director Vijay Bhatt remade his own 1943 film Ram Rajya two decades later with a new cast. This time Kumar Sen plays Rama, Bina Rai is Sita, and Kanhaiyalal plays the washer-man. Music was by Vasant Desai.

Lav Kush (1967)

Produced by Homi Wadia and directed by S N Tripathi, this film was again basically a remake of Vijay Bhatt’s 1943 film Ram Rajya. The difference was that while the former started directly with Lord Rama and Sita sitting in the court as the king and queen of Ayodhya, Lav Kush had a 15-minute song sequence in the beginning which basically encapsulates the events starting from King Janaka finding Baby Sita while ploughing the field one day right up to the time when Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman return to Ayodhya after defeating demon-king Ravana in a ferocious battle.

Actor Ashim Kumar plays Rama and Jayashree Gadkar plays Sita. There is a special mention in the credits for Master Babloo the talented child actor who plays one of Sita’s sons either Luv or Kush. Names of actors who play Hanuman, Lakshmana etc., are unknown. The washer-woman here is played by Bela Bose.

Hanuman Vijay (1974)

Director Babubhai Mistry remade the 1951 film Hanuman Patal Vijay and this time, Ashish Kumar plays Rama, Hercules plays Hanuman, and Kanan Kaushal plays the Naga princess Chandrasena. The film deals with Hanuman’s confrontation with the two brothers Ahiravana and Mahiravana, who capture Rama and Lakshmana so that Ahiravana can marry Chandrasena. Hanuman also gets to meet his son Makaradwaja (said to have been born from his sweat).

As the story goes, the Naga princess loses her heart to Lord Rama the moment she sets eyes on him and thinks of him day and night. But the demon Ahiravana who wants to marry her kidnaps her and takes her to the netherworld where he and his brother along with latter’s wife make life miserable for Chandrasena.

Ahiravana changes his form to look like Vibhishana, and reaches the spot where Hanuman is protecting Rama and Lakshmana inside a tower made with his tail and is sitting atop to guard it. Ahiravana tricks Hanuman with his disguise and enters the tower and manages to capture Rama and Lakshmana.

In the end, when Chandrasena professes her love for Rama and pleads with him to marry her, he tells her that in this avatar, he has pledged to take only one wife and that was Sita. But in the distant future, in another era, when he would return to earth as Lord Krishna, she would be reborn as Satyabama and then he would marry her.

Bajrangbali 1976

Produced and directed by Chandrakant, this film as the title suggests, depicts the story of Rama from the angle of Hanuman. Starting with his tryst with Shanidev, he proceeds to meet Rama and Lakshman in the forest and helps them to find out about Sita, he burns up Lanka with the fire in his tail after meeting Sita in Ravana’s forest, and finally the war with Ravana. The film also includes Hanuman’s fight with Rama, the Luv-Kush story, and ends with Sita entering Mother Earth.  

The film had Dara Singh playing Hanuman and he became very popular in this role. We had Biswajit as Ram, Moushmi Chatterjee as Sita, and Premnath as Ravana. Lyrics were by Kavi Pradeep, and music by Kalyanji Anandji.

Mahabali Hanuman (1981)

Directed by Babubhai Mistry, this film chronicles events starting from Hanuman’s birth to Devi Anjana, right up to his help to Lord Rama in bringing back Devi Sita after vanquishing the demon-king Ravana in a fierce battle. Later the film incorporates a brief overview of Rama’s confrontation with Hanuman in a battle (already seen in detail in the film Ram Hanuman Yuddha).

The film has Rakesh Pandey as Lord Rama, Kavita Kiran as Devi Sita, Manher Desai as Ravana, Anjana Mumtaz as Devi Anjana, and the actor Hercules in the role of Hanuman.

Adipurush (2023)

This is the latest film based on the Ramayana. Produced by T-Series and directed by Om Raut, the film stars Prabhas as Rama, Kriti Sanon as Sita, Sunny Singh as Lakshmana, Saif Ali Khan as Ravana and Devdatta Nage as Hanuman.

After the credit titles, the initial story of the epic is conveyed in pictures with a background narration. The film starts with Ravana praying to Lord Brahma to grant him boon of immortality. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana are shown to be in the forest and the scene is set when Sita spots a golden deer. The film concentrates only on Sita’s abduction by Ravana, and Rama and Lakshmana rescuing her with the help of Hanuman and his army of ‘vanar-sena’, and ends with Rama and Sita returning to Ayodhya after the battle with Ravana.

I end the blog with this song from the film, ‘Ram Siya Ram Siya Ram Jai Jai Ram….’

{All images have been taken from the internet}


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