There was a buzz just before it began. Chores were done in a hurry. Breakfast consumed rapidly. No interruptions were allowed. None occurred any way. Streets were deserted. The silence was uniform. And elbows and knees grazed against each other in a room where 40 pairs of eyes stared at the television screen waiting for it to begin.
This was the era of Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayan’. I was hooked to the show. Just like a 100 million others.
I was already a mythology junkie having been brought up on a healthy diet of Amar Chitra Katha, bedtime stories narrated lovingly by my grandmother, and compulsory viewing of Indian mythological cinema in the bug infested Devi Talkies in my hometown of Srirangam. With legends like NTR and Sivaji Ganesan playing Lord Rama, Krishna, Shiva, the experience was truly divine.
So, when Ramayan hit our little Solidaire TV sets, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to watch an epic unfold slowly (sometimes too slowly!) and dramatically.
Mesmerised I watched Rama with his beatific smile, Sita with her nasal twang, Lakshman with an expression of constant road-rage, Hanuman with his Punjabi accent and Ravana with his demonic laughter and multiplying heads.
The arrows that took several episodes to collide, the songs that burst on to the scene and slapped you awake in case you’d nodded off and the really bad post-production which one forgave magnanimously.
Outside of the show, these characters had become huge stars and were mobbed, worshipped and revered. People touched their feet, offered them prayers and sought their blessings. These people had become Gods.
But if there was one character, which stayed with me, it was Jamabavan. The king of bears, who helped Lord Rama vanquish Ravana and bring Sita back. Maybe it was something to do with his attire, or the fact that I didn’t know what the guy inside that bear suit looked like. The actor who played Jambavan intrigued me.
More than his character in the show, what really amazed me was this combination of fame and anonymity. I still don’t know who he is and believe me I’ve looked.
Here was an actor, who wore a bear suit under the hot, harsh lights and played such a small yet pivotal role, only never to be recognized in public.
While every other major actor on the show went to enjoy the trappings of fame, this man wouldn’t be recognized if he sat next to you on a bus. Even though a 100 million people saw him week after week, he continued to remain invisible to the world. As a naïve child the only thought that crossed my mind was, ‘How could he be so selfless, so true, so invisible?’
After a few years in the business, I realized that I encountered Jambavans every day. People who wore the metaphorical bear suit and came to work. In and around my office, the locations where I shot my films, the studios I recorded my music in, and just about everywhere. There were these amazing people who brought as much dedication to their craft as one who would be in the spotlight. People who took pride in knowing that good work was happening and that’s all that mattered. It didn’t matter that in a process that involved dozens of people, one or two walked away with the recognition.
The strategy guys who show us the path, the account guys who are truly unsung and often forgotten, the sound engineer, the lighting guys, the list is endless. Their work becomes famous yet they remain anonymous. These are the Jambavans of my world.
Look around you and you’ll spot some Jambavans too soldiering on tirelessly, pursuing a collective dream.
Stop for a bit and notice them. You’ll see why they’re so vital to it all and why we can’t do without them. They complete our story.
So if there were one thing I’d like to say to them it would be, “Thank you for suiting up. Without you there would be no epics.”
Sainath Saraban is NCD at Leo Burnett. He loves Samurai Manga, beer and Indian cinema among a million other things. He is very glad that he is right-brained and left-handed, and not the other way around.