As a lifestyle journalist, I’m often handed truly exciting work assignments. A recent one, which I haven’t gotten around to writing about as yet, was interviewing bestselling author Amish Tripathi for YourStory and New Indian Express – one was commissioned and the other I pitched, because it’s always nice to get good usage from popular subjects! However, the subject of my interview with Amish was not his latest work of mythological fiction, it was an entirely new venture – his first foray into being a television host with the discovery+ docu-series ‘Legends of the Ramayana with Amish’. As such, I got an exclusive media preview of the series before its release, so I could watch it before interviewing him and ask relevant questions. Now of course, all three episodes are out, having been released in the sequence of one episode a week and I feel I can put my thoughts on the show here in my regular review style.
This three-episode docu-series explores the Ramayana from the perspective of scholars, scientists, local folk tales, and writers. Picking up on geological evidence and age-old traditions, it seeks to discover the truth of whether this ancient tome was set in reality or it was fictional. Amish makes a charming and apt host due to his deep interest in as well as knowledge of the epic. The episodes entitled ‘The Sacred Journey’, ‘The Search for Sita’ and ‘The Many Faces of Ravana’, focus on the subject they are named for, and chronologically address the events of the Ramayana starting from Lord Rama’s exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, and going up till he won the war against Ravana.
I must confess I’ve never formally read the Ramayana, but having grown up in India, I know its story well. With the Ramayana permeating our pop culture and religious practices, this is probably the case for most people living in this country. Hence, following the subject matter of the show is not going to be an issue even for those who haven’t read the Ramayana.
My initial trepidation had been that the focus of the show would be very religious in keeping with the tonality of a lot of content being produced after the current political party came to power. However, one does expect a certain level of high-quality and neutral content from a production house of the calibre of Discovery channel, so I had hope and was curious to see how the show would be handled.
Fortunately, my doubts were laid to rest once I began watching it. ‘Legends of the Ramayana with Amish’ presents the story from a purely cultural viewpoint and examines the phenomenon of how a story percolated down to every Indian’s consciousness over centuries. It also explores how this story has managed to endure in its appeal for this long.
The docu-series adopts an in-depth process of examination and meticulously lays out facts, adding to the pleasure of discovering different aspects of the legend. I particularly enjoyed the inputs of experts like a paleo-seismologist, a hydrogeologist, a descendent of the Vijayanagar dynasty, a temple trustee, a speleologist who specialises in the study of caves and cave systems, an ex-bureaucrat, writers, and local guides who shaped and brought the Ramayana to life.
The frequent use of animation and excellent cinematography capturing the modern-day equivalents of places mentioned in the original text, added visual appeal. I also feel the decision of restricting the series to three episodes was a sound one, as it ensured that the viewer’s interest never wavered.
Amish makes a good host, though he has a tendency to be very ‘sing-songy’ in his manner of speaking – a habit inculcated from Indian talk show hosts of yore, which fortunately has given way to a more natural way of speaking as evident from the popularity of Netflix documentaries and hosts like David Attenborough. As this is his first on-screen project, I’m sure he will improve in times to come.
As I’m not an authority on the subject, I cannot comment on whether the experts they chose to showcase and the points highlighted by them in this series were the best ones, or if they were even entirely accurate. However, as a layperson with an interest in culture, and especially Indian culture, I enjoyed watching the show. It kept me hooked and taught me many things I was unaware of and am grateful for having learnt – such as the existence of the Ramnami community.
Do I recommend ‘Legends of the Ramayana with Amish’ on discovery+? Yes, absolutely!
Have you watched the show? Do share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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