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Muslims beat Hindus to plum roles at Agra’s oldest Ramlila 


Salman Film An Inspiration, Says Actor
At a time when incidents of communal discord have erupted across the country, a few Muslim men, in an attempt to bridge divides, have auditioned for and bagged plum roles at one of Agra’s most prestigious Ramlilas.At the Ramlila organized by the railways, the oldest in the city and one of its most popular, Muslim actors will be playing the coveted roles of Prince Bharat, Shantanu, the father of the tragic Shravan Kumar and a courtier at the King Janak’s court.

Nawazuddin, 55, who never had any acting classes but landed the parts of Shantanu and Rishi Atri (mentor of Sabari) said, “On stage I’m simply an artist who wants to live the character which talks about humanity . Initially, my relatives and fellow community members questioned my faith and decision to participate in a Hindu religious drama, but for me my first religion is humanity and as its true follower, my duty is to spread it by all means.“

On the other hand, inspired by Salman Khan’s portrayal of a staunch Hanuman devotee in the Bollywood blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Mohammad Saif, a 19-year-old diploma holder in mechanical engineering, decided to appear for the audition without knowing much about the Ramayana to begin with. “If Salman can play an avid admirer of Hanuman in a movie, then why can’t Iplay a role in a Ramlila? I want to be an actor, and an artist does not have any religion. For me, this a great opportunity as an actor to bring out true message of Ramlila -that of harmony.“ Saif out-performed five Hindu aspirants at the audition to bag Bharat’s role.

Akil Usmani, 24, has been watching Ramlila since his chi dhood. He said, “I always wanted to be part of a Hindu epic play.The actors’ performances are so mesmerizing that one cannot eel hatred against anyone in his heart. My Hindu friend Avnish Bheghal has been playing the role of Kumbhkaran for several years at this Ramlila and has been a true inspiration for me.“

This is the 44th performance of the railways’ Ramlila.While it draws an audience of nearly 8,000 every day , it draws nearly 60,000 on Dussehra.

Director Manoj Singh, who has been playing the role of Ravan since 1998 said, “It is amazing to see the zeal of these men during the audition. This is an appropriate reply to those who wish to divide society and create disturbance.“

 In Mumbai – Muslims who lost meaty roles have no regrets 
We respect the religious sentiments of our Hindu brothers who worship Ram, Lakshman, Sita and Hanuman and observe fast during the Navratra,“ said Sajid Ali, who played the roles of Hindu Gods at the Mumtaznagar Ramlila in Faizabad until two years ago.Sajid and other Muslim actors, who’d for decades played lead roles in Ramlila, began essaying lesser characters after local people felt they should be off meat while performing a religious tradition. The actors said they have no regrets for being asked to give up main roles.

Majid Ali, Khursheed, Muhammad Akhlaq, Abbas Khan, Niyaz Ahmad and Shahid Ali are still members of the Ramlila Committee at Mumtaznagar town in Faizabad, managed by Muslims. Out of around 800odd population of Mumtaznagar, Muslims number around 500. The fund for Ramlila is raised by Muslims. Talking to TOI, Akhlaq said, “Respecting the sentiments of our Hindu brothers, we withdrew from performing the roles of Gods, but we support the Ramlila.“

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