The high point of ‘Bali Vijayam' was a dramatic conversation between Ravana and Narada.RUPA SRIKANTH

Bali Vijayam, a story about Ravana's past recounted in the Uttara Ramayana, was presented by Kathakali expert Sadanam Balakrishnan from Delhi. Narada wants to punish Ravana for imprisoning Indra, the king of the Devas, after defeating them in battle, and to subdue his pride. So, he goads Ravana into a fight with Indra's son, the mighty monkey king, Bali (otherwise known as Vali).

One thing about this grand theatrical tradition is its detailed and unhurried screenplay. The 70-minute show had time only for the Tirunokku (presentation of character from behind a screen) and a dialogue between Narada and Ravana before they set off for the confrontation with Bali.

An important part of this was Ravana's soliloquy on how he acquired the Chandrahasam sword from Siva.

The performance was trying and exhilarating at the same time. Yes, it was difficult to follow the gestural language of Kathakali, more so when one is not familiar with the story, but the awe-inspiring acting (Ravana- Guru Sadanand Balakrishnan, Narada - Sadanand Basi) made up for any loss of clarity.

The performance began with the ritualistic lighting of the brass lamp and an invocation, after which was a long and spectacular ‘unveiling' ceremony.

Being the anti-hero, Ravana was in a kathi vesham with reddened eyes, face painted green (with red markings) and a bulbous nose. Narada, a Brahmin sage, was in a simple minukku (pink) vesham.

It was only a conversation, but how dramatic it was! With the help of the dignified Sopana singers (Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan and Kalanilayam Rajiv) and the percussionists (Maddalam- Sadanand Devadas and Chenda- Sadanand Ramakrishnan), every tone and mood was magnified. Ravana's rage when Narada declares that Bali considers him a mere blade of grass was made into a mini-event!

The highlight of the show though was Guru Balakrishnan's female impersonation.

While recounting the tale of how he tried to move Mount Kailash out of the way, Ravana described the scene in Siva's abode, where the divine couple had had a quarrel.

How Guru Balakrishnan could impersonate Parvathi -- she sees Siva with Ganga and gets hurt, cries worried about what others will think, carries a heavy baby Ganesa, holds the hand of a bigger child Muruga and prepares to leave to her mother's home -- despite donning a heavy dress, headgear and make-up fit for an aggressive male character!

All through the dialogue there was an underlying thread of humour that was fanned by a superior-looking Narada, who hardly had a few lines, but who made such a difference with his barely veiled condescension. This was theatre at its best!