If the art elitist of Kolkata nurses an unlikely love for Kathakali, it is due to the untiring efforts of the late Kalamandalam Govindan Kutty who made this city his home training many disciples. It is stranger still that one of his students, Probal Gupta, who also trained under Guru Fact Padmanabhan, should have decided on making Stree Vesham, represented by a woefully scanty performing tribe today, as his area of specialisation.
Performing at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, this young founder and Artistic Director of Centre for Kathakali Art proved his mettle in an evocative stree vesham rendition, which was a great improvement on Probal’s earlier performance a year ago. Tastefully costumed, his mobile face mapping a string of expressional nuances, his recital marked its highest point in the padam from “Krimira Vadham” wherein demon Semika disguised as the beauteous Lalita plots to abduct Panchali to avenge husband Sardula’s death at the hands of Arjuna.
Catching Panchali alone during the Pandava exile, Lalita with lavish praise about Panchali’s lotus face and eyes and feet, slowly draws her into the depths of the forest. The “kandal ati modam” sylvan beauty of the forest with the black swarming bees humming round the tresses of Panchali, turns into the “Kandal ati ghoram” with Lalita assuming her true identity with a terrified Panchali helpless. The contrasting emotional shades were very dramatically underlined in the abhinaya.
Above all, the clarity of a well recorded sound tape with the vocalist’s ragamalika rendition supported by the right percussive accompaniment helped a rounded performance. After such a strong item, the Yadukulakambodhi Daksha Yagyam padam set by Fact Padmanabhan, with Sati entreating husband Shiva that she be allowed to attend her father Daksha’s yagna, which could help lessen the parental animosity caused by her marriage, proved too soft in tone, to register. The concluding “Vaishnava Janato” — an experiment set to ragamalika Sopanam music by Kalamandalam Mohan Krishnan Poduval to suit a Kathakali interpretation — despite the strange musical palette of what is a familiar tune, conveyed the required message of patriotic fervour.