‘Renuka’, staged after three decades recently, goes beyond the usual equation between the hero and the heroine.

Several major poets and lyricists of the last century have attempted to establish their presence in Kathakali by penning plays, either drawing encouragement from the Indian epics or from the socio-political history of Kerala. Except ‘Karnasapatham’, a composition of Mali Madhavan Nair, most of the plays had a difficult relation with the audience and have therefore become inconsequential. P.K. Mohanan, a language teacher by profession, wrote ‘Renuka’ three decades ago, the theme of which boldly deviates from the conventional equations of nayaka-nayika (hero-heroine). After an interlude of 30 years, ‘Renuka’ returned to the Kathakali stage. Kaliyarangu, an art forum for the presentation of performing arts, in North Paravur, provided the venue for the performance of ‘Renuka’ recently.

In seven scenes, the playwright tells the story of Renuka in Sanskrit-filled shlokams and padams. King Prasenajith of the Soorya dynasty is in search for a suitable prince for his daughter Renuka. But sage Jamadagni arrives in the palace saying he wants to marry Renuka. Prasenajith is unhappy, but is afraid of the consequences if he dishonours the sage. However, Renuka, aware of her father’s dilemma, gives her consent for the marriage.

Parasurama, their youngest son, receives specialised training in warfare and gets divine weapons from Lord Shiva. Jamadagni blesses his son saying that the weapons would help him in overpowering King Karthaveerarjuna, their arch enemy.

Renuka comes across Karthaveerarjuna playing with his wives in river Narmada. She is distracted and fails to collect water for the puja which enrages Jamadagni.

He calls his sons one after the other to behead Renuka. Only Parasurama agrees to execute the order. But when Jamadagni decides to reward him, Parasurama requests his father to bring her back to life. Renuka is reborn and Parasurama leaves home for a pilgrimage to get rid of his sin.

As King Prasenajith and his daughter, Renuka, Sadanam Krishnankutty and Chambakkara Vijayan were completely in harmony with the characters. In tight visual frames, Krishnankutty enacted Prasenajith’s predicament as one trapped between the deep sea and the devil. He neither wanted to give his daughter in marriage to the sage nor did he want to incur the wrath of Jamadagni.

While Kalamandalam Pradeep as king Karthaveerarjuna was sringara personified, FACT Padmanabhan as sage Jamadagni was a bit too disconnected till the middle of the play. FACT Biju as Parasurama deserves special mention for his expressional magnitude and intimacy to the character all throughout.

The playwright is fully conversant with the grammar of a conventional attakkatha. Yet ‘Renuka’ needs ruthless editing so that quite a number of its inelegant frills of tasteless padams can be done away with. One wishes the playwright had exercised a little more discretion in the amalgamation of Sanskrit and Malayalam words. Vocal music led by Kalamandalam Rajendran was not inspiring from the beginning till the very end. The percussion by Kalanilayam Ratheesh and Kalanilayam Prakasan was satisfactory. FACT Bhaskaran’s choreographic skill contributed substantially to the visual enrichment of ‘Renuka’.