In 1990’s Sunday mornings used to be quite a dull affair. Except we would end up watching the seminal classic of Ramnand Sagar – The Ramayan. There are stories of people actually decorating their television sets with garlands. Towards the late 90’s my affection for the lord was replaced by much colorful and distinctly non-Indian fictional characters. It ranged from X-Men, to Avengers, and of course, Batman. Reflecting back on that, I now feel that it wasn’t that big a leap of faith as one would like to believe. Ramayan after all is the most amazing superhero story ever told, and shares many elements with modern day superheros. Don’t believe me? I can give you 4 reasons why you should.
1. Bad Parenting or Parenting Mishaps
It’s an intrinsically human feeling to expect the best from our Parents. They cannot be too good, they cannot be too bad, they have to do right by us when we don’t even know what is the right thing to do. Oh, and they can’t die when we need them. Not much, right? Because of these high expectations that human beings generally have from parents, any error in a parental figure’s part results in tremendous sympathy for the protagonists. Look at the number of fictional characters who have lost parents or have had bad ones. Harry Potter, Batman, Cinderella, Iron Man, Hulk, and of course Lord Ram who was sent to exile by his own father for no mistake of his own. It immediately makes him a protagonist that we care about.
2. Riches to Rags to Riches Story
There is something that is as important as parenting, being well off or rich. For most people extreme riches or power is highly aspirational. We would never have that, and thus we are obsessed about it. So someone who has it all has all the qualities that we can dream of, right? Wrong! What’s even better than simply being rich is to lose it all, and then gain it again. Case in point – Tarzan, born to a wealthy couple, lost in the Jungle to lose it, only to gain it back. By the way another orphan. Or, if you want another mythological example, story of King Nala and Damayanti is insanely similar. Ram losing out his kingdom even if for a short time creates a sense of injustice, and make us rally behind him even more.
3. With Great Power Comes Great Sacrifice
Oh Jesus! Where do I even begin with this one? Perhaps with Jesus himself. The most epic figure who sacrificed himself for sake of humanity. Not unlike other selfless superheros like Batman who doesn’t sleep, Harry Potter who will face mortal peril to save his school, Spiderman who gives up on love for duty, Captain America who drives a plane to his own perceived death, list is endless. We love our heroes to be tormented, and tortured. We are sadistic by nature, and their agony makes it okay for them to have a great power. We allow them this power because they are also losing out on a lot. It’s a bitter fact that we must accept. Travails of Ram, his personal sacrifice when he gives up on Sita for sake of what he thinks is right would have made him an instant favorite with masses, and still contributes to his popularity.
4. Real Heros Always Win
Okay, let’s think for a minute. Which extremely popular character has ended up losing out battles of ideology in their life? Think harder, can you think of one? Probably can’t as most heroes follow a very common fiction trope – Heroes always win. They might have a hiccup or minor set back, but eventually they are the ones who are on the winning side. In Rocky series, the protagonist loses often, yet he is seen winning ‘hearts’ or winning eventually, firmly establishing him as the ‘hero’. So, no matter how much we like Joker, he will never win, neither would Raavan, even though he was considered to be the greatest warrior, a scholar, and righteous person.
Not just Ramayana, most of mythology and Grimm’s fairy tales are full of some of these common fiction tropes. It’s remarkable to notice these similarities between ancient literature and modern literature. Character development, and the way society perceives them remains astonishingly similar. So next time when your parents talk about how comic books have ruined you, perhaps talking about how Ramayana could have been a graphic novel if Valmiki lived in today’s age might be an interesting rebuttal. Or maybe not, because unlike the superheros’, real life parents kick real ass.