The success of a recital depends on the transmission of reciprocating energy between the Chakyar on the stage and the audience.
Talking to septuagenarian Paimkulam Damodara Chakyar, the veteran Chakyarkoothu exponent of our times, is almost like attending his performance. While he effortlessly puns and jokes, he, however, maintains his composure even as his listeners burst into laughter. The thespian feels that an actor should always be composed even when he makes his audience move from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. The recipient of several honours, including the Kalamandalam award, the Sangeeta Nataka Akademi award and so on, he believes that it was his four-decade-long association with his guru and uncle, the late Paimkulam Rama Chakyar, that groomed the artiste in him. Excerpts from an interview with the maestro
Early days and initiation
My childhood was spent at our ancestral home in Paimkulam, Thrissur. Ours was a joint family that lived mainly on the meagre income that my uncle Paimkulam Rama Chakyar earned through his performances. My father, Ezhikode Raman Namboodiri, was a reputed chef. My uncle initiated me into Chakyarkoothu in 1942-43, when I was hardly 10. It was at a time when my elder brother Raman had left our house as he was unable to cope with the stringent training. After teaching me the basics in acting and also Sanskrit, my uncle sent me to Sanskrit scholars in the vicinity to further my education.
Association with Paimkulam Rama Chakyar
As he was both my mentor and uncle in the gurukula tradition, there were no scheduled timings or classroom training. I also got the opportunity to learn from him as his assistant, by watching him on stage and by performing with him. Whenever he had a few days of continuous Koothu performance at one venue, he used to assign one or two days to me and then observe me unobtrusively. He always insisted on my watching the performances of other artistes and on reading books and newspapers. He was the first teacher at the Kerala Kalamandalam when Koodiyattam training was institutionalised in 1965. Since the early 1970s, when his disciples from the Kalamandalam such as Sivan Namboodiri and Rama Chakyar (also my nephew), began performing, gradually, I started concentrating on my independent programmes. Nevertheless, he used to insist that I should perform with him and deputed me as his substitute for Chakyarkoothu. When Koodiyattam was performed abroad for the first time in 1980 under his leadership and the banner of the Kerala Kalamandalam, he was very particular that Chathakkudam Krishnan Nambiar (mizhavu) and I accompany him. My association with him lasted till his demise in 1980, a turning point in my life.
Choosy about performances
I am 76 now. Health problems have forced me to curtail my performances. I only perform at places where I feel wanted. However, there are organisers who still want me to perform for three to seven days. I limit my recitals to one or two days and I warn the organisers that if my heath fails, someone else would continue the recital in my place. Chakyarkoothu today
These days, it is difficult to get a discerning audience. Just four knowledgeable rasikas in the audience are enough for me. It is not quantity but quality that matters. My inner happiness during and after a performance is important to me. The success of a recital depends on the transmission of reciprocating energy between the Chakyar on the stage and the audience. Vulgarity is not humour. Intricacies and inner meaning of the verses are often overlooked. I am also saddened by the lack of clarity in pronunciation.