The predicament of Karna and Kunthi during the epic battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas was brilliantly portrayed by Kalamandalam Gopi and Margi Vijayakumar.
The annals of Kathakali history is characterised by numerous Kathakali plays taken from the epics and also some recent plays based on western classics. But whatever might be the content of the new plays, only classics have stood the test of time. However, ‘Karnasapatham’, written by Maali in the late sixties, is an exception. Not only has the play been widely accepted but it also played a major role in bridging the gap between Kathakali and the layman, as music is the forte of this play.
The play begins with a grief-stricken Bhanumathi sharing her fears and doubts about the outcome of the war with her husband, Duryodhana. Confident of winning, he allays her fear by saying that the Kauravas were well protected because of the support of loyal kings, relatives, dependants and the mighty Karna himself.
On the other hand, Karna is deep in thought about his mysterious parentage. Kunthi reaches the scene and requests him to desert the Kauravas and join hands with the Pandavas. Finally, Kunthi reveals the truth about his origins. Karna assures Kunthi that he would spare all the Pandavas but Arjuna. Dussasana happens to see this scene between Karna and Kunthi and reports it to Duryodhana. However, Karna reassures Duryodhana and promises him that he would be loyal to the Kauravas till his death.
Kalamandalam Gopi enacted Karna, bringing forth the wide gamut of emotions of the valiant warrior. It was an emotional spectrum, as he portrayed loyalty, friendship, dilemma, truthfulness and so on. A seasoned artiste, he portrayed Karna’s dilemma when he is forced to choose between friend and siblings in spite of the pleas of his mother, whom he had always wanted to know. Happiness, anguish and confusion over his fate flashed on his face while portraying the character.
“Sympathy towards that unsung hero (Karna) always inspires me,” wrote Gopi in his autobiography. Kalanilayam Gopi gave a memorable portrayal of the evil and arrogant Duryodhana while Kalamandalam Vijayakumar appeared as Bhanumathi.
Margi Vijayakumar’s Kunthi lived up to the expectations of rasikas. His brilliant scenes with Gopi enhanced the dramatic content of the play. Evocative music by Pathiyoor Sankarankutty and Kalanilayam Rajeevan was soothing. Their rendering of padams in ragas Reethigowla, Hindolam, Sivaranjini was enriched with emotional content. Percussion was handled by Kurur Vasudevan Namboodiri (chenda) and Kalanilayam Manoj (maddalam). The play was organised at Avittathur Siva temple in connection with the annual festival.