Amish Tripathi’s new show discovers the legend of the Ramayana through his eyes
“No Indian hears the Ramayana for the first time, we are born with the knowledge of it,” says bestselling author, diplomat and TV anchor Amish Tripathi. In a manner of speaking, he is correct – the story of the exile of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman is indeed omnipresent in every aspect of our culture, religious affiliations notwithstanding.
One cannot forget the hysteria attached to the 1980s televised version of the epic on Doordarshan, nor the glory of its post-pandemic revival in 2020, despite releasing in a world where social media reigns supreme.
Aware of the story’s universal appeal, discovery+ joined hands with Wide Angle Films and Amish for a three-part docuseries called ‘The Legend of Ramayana with Amish’, which explores this age-old tale from an entirely new perspective.
“Wide Angle Films and discovery+ developed this show together for over a year, and by the time they approached me, it was pretty well-baked. I’m told I was their first choice which is a brave move because I’d never done anything like this ever. It’s right up my alley, I love doing things like this,” shares Amish in a conversation with YSWeekender.
The show’s blurb describes it quite accurately: “Lifted out of the pages of history, this three-episode series titled ‘Legends of The Ramayana with Amish’ revisits the thrilling ‘ayana’ (journey) of Lord Ram unearthing lesser-known stories and myths around its classical characters and discovering key locations that remain buried in the epic.”
Leveraging opinions from historians, mythological researchers, and even environmentalists, Amish Tripathi traces back the journey of Lord Ram across 5,000 kms, piecing together lesser-known details around the story we all think we know.
From talking about Lord Ram’s elder sister to the origins of Ikshvaku dynasty to defining the importance of 11 and the Ramnami community, the series is peppered with fascinating stories around the text, unexplored and unheard of before.
Amish’s name has become inextricably linked to Indian mythology with the success of his books. The show, however, was an undertaking of a different nature for which he travelled the length and breadth of India and Sri Lanka over a month-long shooting schedule to answer the age-old question – was the Ramayana a myth or did it have its base in reality?
The first episode of the show titled ‘The Sacred Journey’ released on discovery+ on April 7 and the other two – ‘The Search for Sita’ and ‘The Many Faces of Ravana’ – will release on subsequent Thursdays.
Amish Tripathi and Megha Tata
The star of the show
Apart from being a bestselling author, Amish is a diplomat and a columnist. He took over as the Director of The Nehru Centre in London in October 2019. Amish was listed among the 50 most powerful Indians by India Today magazine in 2019, and Forbes India regularly ranks him among the top 100 most influential celebrities in India. He was also selected as an Eisenhower Fellow, a prestigious American programme for outstanding leaders from around the world in 2014.
Amish published his first book in 2010 and this new TV show marks his foray onto the screen. He shares with candour, “I like putting myself in uncomfortable situations because that is how you grow. I was a banker for fourteen years, and had no idea about publishing. Then I was a full-time writer for 10 years before I moved on to government service which is a different ballgame altogether. Initially, I was uncomfortable but then I grew in that sphere too. Now, the screen is another world for me to grow in.”
For this show, Amish spoke to a variety of scientific experts including 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, and an ex-bureaucrat, to provide modern-day context to places that corresponded with those mentioned in Valmiki’s original text. He also interviewed writers and local guides to understand the local legends and beliefs of people that have shaped the story which survives today.
These varied opinions shine the light on different aspects of well-known characters – like the softer, more maternal side of Kaikeyi, the sexual boldness, and feminine confidence of Shurpanakha, and the unsurpassed scientific achievements of Ravana.
Amish made an apt presenter for this interesting re-discovery of an ancient story. His interest in the field is well-documented, but his belief in the reality of the Ramayana further fuelled his passion to get to the core of the matter.
“Even before the show, I believe that the Ramayana actually took place, and that Lord Rama and Goddess Sita existed. Their blood flows in our veins as Indians, irrespective of caste, religion etc, and I feel we have to be worthy of that blood. But I don’t try and force this opinion on anyone else. Of course, there were likely embellishments to the story but that happens with most historical accounts,” he explains.
Amish credits the teams of discovery+ and Wide Angle Films for the in-depth research and vision with which they put this show together. It is not an easy task to present a story everyone knows with an element of surprise. Yet, the show does so by highlighting lesser-known facets of the Ramayana and the beliefs it has spawned over the centuries.
It is, therefore, the cultural and historical aspect of the legend that comes out most strongly. Amish explains, “We were a multi-religious crew, consisting of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. After a few days of shooting, it hit us that we were walking in the steps of Lord Rama. It made you feel so special. By the end of it, we were all greeting each other with ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or as in the case of some of the younger crew members, ‘JSR’ – an acronym for this greeting!”
With the successful wrap of this project, Amish has moved on to other things. He is almost done with his next book ‘War of Lanka’, the publication of which was unfortunately delayed due to the sudden closing of his publisher – Westland. However, his team is in the process of negotiating with other publishers. His last book ‘Suheldev’ is being converted into a movie, which he is producing himself through his company Immortal Studios.
His most popular work to date – The Shiva Trilogy – has been optioned by American producer Roy Price. Its screenplay will be written by Suparn Verma of The Family Man fame, and its first few episodes will be directed by Shekhar Kapur.
However, having thoroughly enjoyed the experience of hosting a docuseries, Amish is also keen to explore this arena further.
He signs off with a message for the audience: “I request everyone to check out this wonderful documentary. You may know the story of Ramayana but you will discover so many more facets and secrets of the story through it. It is truly a world-class work.”