Koodiyattam actor and teacher Sooraj Nambiar won the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar recently.

A crop of Generation Next talents who pursue their vocation with single-minded devotion is perhaps the everlasting contribution of the late guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar to the art form of Koodiyattam. Sooraj Nambiar who was selected for the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar last week belongs to this group of young products of the Ammannur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam, Irinjalakuda. The national award instituted by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, in 2006 has so far gone to only two Koodiyattam artistes. Both are products of the Gurukulam, the other one being Kapila Venu.

Sooraj Nambiar is the find of G. Venu, secretary of the Gurukulam, himself a Koodiyattam artiste and choreographer. Venu stumbled on this young talent while scouting for students for a fresh batch of students in the Gurukulam. Sooraj's grandmother Savithry Brahmaniamma, an acclaimed authority on the near-extinct traditional music system – Brahmani Paattu – was instrumental in getting him admitted to the Gurukulam.

Distinguished teachers

Sooraj was privileged to have many distinguished teachers that included, in addition to Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, Ammannur Parameswara Chakyar, Parameswara Chakyar, Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar, Venu and Usha Nangiar. His debut was in 1991 for which he donned the vesham (role) of Sutradhara in ‘Balacharitam.'

“I never knew what I was doing and simply obeyed the gurus,” recalled Sooraj. “Madhamman (Madhava Chakyar) was a strict disciplinarian and he took meticulous care in grooming us,” he added. Very often Chakyar would peep through the window to see whether his students were standing in the correct pose in which the slokas had to be repeated and learnt.

It was mainly characters such as Vibhishana and Lakshmana that were taught in the beginning. Then feats such as Purappadu, Nirvahana and so on were introduced, anchoring on ‘Balivadham.'

The annual Koodiyattam festival organised by the Gurukulam enriched Sooraj's experience as he got opportunities to rub shoulders with senior actors. He could share the stage with Madhava Chakyar many a time. He had the privilege of portraying the hero of ‘Subhadradhananjayam' while Guru Chakyar had enacted the Vidushaka. “Sharing the stage with the guru was really exciting.”

The versatility of this young performer is evident from the numerous characters he has portrayed not only in the conventional plays but also in the new productions of Natanakairali. Incidentally, Sooraj has been the hero of all the plays of Kalidasa's that were choreographed by Venu (‘Sakuntalam,' ‘Vikramorvaseeyam' and ‘Oorubhangam'). His portrayal of Dushyanta in ‘Sakuntalam,' which was staged for nine hours at a stretch at the Sallepleyel Theatre in Paris last month, earned him rave reviews in the French media.

Exposure and interaction

Sooraj has also considerably benefited from the opportunities he has had from exposure and interaction with artistes and art forms across the world. In this connection, a three-month workshop on theatre, organised by the World Theatre Project in Sweden, was most rewarding. ‘Nethra and Hasta,' another endeavour of the Japan Foundation, was equally memorable, says Sooraj.

The young actor, who has turned an accomplished teacher of late, had the privilege of teaching an international group of actors in Singapore under the TTRP (Theatre Training Research Programme). The students of the National School of Drama, Delhi, (NSD) also benefited from his classes on esoteric theatrical techniques of Koodiyattam last year. Another stint at the NSD is slated for this month again.