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Updated: June 26, 2014 16:27 IST

The fire-born princess

V. Kaladharan
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LIVING THE ROLE: Usha Nangiar as Draupadi
LIVING THE ROLE: Usha Nangiar as Draupadi

Usha Nangiar wowed the audiences with her angika and satwika abhinaya as she delved deep into the character of Draupadi.

The Nirvahanam of the Chedi (maid) of princess Subhadra in Kulasekhara Varman’s play ‘Subhadradhananjayam’ shaping up as Nangiarkoothu, a solo recital highlighting the theatrical competence of the Nangiar, probably around the 12th century, should have been a landmark in the history of drama. However, Nangiarkoothu ended up as a ritual in select temples of Kerala by the beginning of the last century. It was only a quarter of a century ago that it witnessed a revival spearheaded by several devout artistes in the field. One of the most outstanding among them is Usha Nangiar, daughter of the veteran mizhavu player Chathakudom Krishnan Nambiar.

Usha, a disciple of the late legend Ammannoor Madhava Chakyar, performed ‘Draupadi’ recently at the T.D.M. Hall Ernakulam. This Nirvahanam in the ‘Dyutha Sabha’ segment of the play ‘Venisamharam’ of Bhattanayaka has proved to be a gem thanks to her imaginative choreography. The theme of ‘Draupadi’ is the all too familiar story of Duryodhana, his brother Dussasana, and Karna visiting Indraprastha, the opulent palace of the Pandavas, and the subsequent events leading to the banishment of the Pandavas to the forest upon their defeat in the game of dice.

After the preliminary ritual executed in her capacity as the actress, Usha portrayed the disposition of Draupadi as one living with her husbands at Indraprastha. She then enters the body of the plot by switching to the identity and stature of Duryodhana. Through the technique of pakaranattam, Usha makes viewers feel the presence of Dussasana and Karna, as Duryodhana beckons them to accompany him to Indraprastha.

The amazing artefacts in Indraprastha such as the mighty round pillars, thrones, flights of steps, sculpture of swans and reflections of the court are striking visual imageries as Usha uses her angopangapratyangas to the best of her ability. While picturising the scene of Amritamadhanam, Usha takes a slight deviation to the sanchari by showing the churning of Palazhi, the ocean of milk. The ‘ettichurukkal’ (a movement dynamics employed to augment the effect of a certain moment) of the churning was a glorious vignette.

Duryodhana’s humiliation while realising that he mistook the sculpture of the swan for a live one, his delusions about water that cause him to slip on the floor and his blazing anger towards Draupadi who couldn’t stop laughing at the ‘funny sights’ found fabulous expressions in the angika and satwika abhinayas of the artiste.

In the second segment, Usha depicts the anguish of Duryodhana whose pride has been severely wounded by the grandeur of Indraprastha and Draudapi’s laughter. Sakuni’s arrival on the scene and the dice game that follows were a visual treat. The audience, through the theatrical dexterity of Usha, gets deep impressions of a mild-mannered Yudhishtira confronted by the devious Sakuni. The former’s anxiety as the dice rolls and Sakuni’s avarice as he follows the rolling dice reiterate in no uncertain terms the subtle semantic heights the organic framework of Nangiarkoothu can attain in the actions and expressions of an actress like Usha.

As Dussasana carries out the order of his brother to drag Draupadi to the court and disrobes her and as the Pandavas become slaves of the Kauravas, Usha takes up the challenge of portraying wide ranging emotions of fear, angst, shame, dismay, helplessness and Draupadi’s soul-stirring prayer to Lord Krishna. Dussasana, admiring the grace and length of Draupadi’s dishevelled hair, forgetting his mission for a little while, reveals once again Usha’s compelling artistry. Side by side with solid Natyadharmi (stylised acting) Usha discreetly puts into use lots of Lokadharmi (realistic acting) too. For instance, even the hand gestures for the images, sabhatalam (courtroom), Karna, Krishna and so on carry a realistic tone in their configuration and execution, while retaining the stylistic poise. The attitude and the context of the gramyam with which she moves ahead are perfectly in sync with the overall layout of the form. This is one lesson the youngsters in the field can imbibe from Usha.

The mizhavu is one percussion that is hard to gel with the sober sentiments of characters in Koodiyattam and Nangiarkoothu. Kalamandalam V.K.K. Hariharan is, perhaps, the sole genius in the field who has the technical virtuosity and theatrical insights vital for playing for each and every character. Together with Kalamandalam Rajeev, Hariharan wove magical strains on the mizhavu, tracing each and every mood of the contexts and the characters. Both the percussionists and the musically-sharp edakka player Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan were particularly sensitive while accompanying the Palazhimadhanam scene, and during Draupadi’s heart-breaking prayer to Krishna and when she curses the Kauravas.

Individual involvement, creativity and team work together with the aesthetically profound performance of instrumentalists alone can ensure a comfortable room for Nangiarkoothu in the Indian cultural scenario.

By changing the mode of presentation in the finer details, Usha has yet again proved that even a common theme can sustain the interest of the beholders and can win their unreserved admiration.

The programmme was held under the auspices of Bank Employees Arts Movement (BEAM), Ernakulam.

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