The Melattur Bhagavata Mela’s ‘Sati Savithri’ was testimony to the troupe’s amazing talent.
Normally what seems so natural as a devotional endeavour in the precincts of the temple, with a crowd of ardent devotees participating, when transported as performance on a formal stage, becomes a misfit. But the evening performance of ‘Sati Savithri,’ presented by Melattur Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanti Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam created a different, and in its own way, regaling experience from the usual. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this total theatre with dance, drama and dialogue, (its vocabulary mainly comprising 12 dance drama compositions including the famous Prahlad Charitram by Melattur Venkatarama Sastri) charmed its way into the hearts of the audience.
The entire play rests on the libretto set to a host of rakti ragas such as Thodi, Nattakurinji, Neelambari, Mukhari, Bilahari and Madhyamawati sung with complete involvement by four vocalists – in this case led by Tiruvaiyaru Narasimhan. Structured around Daruvu compositions, the Poorva Ranga with the rendering of the Pundareekam, Dhyana Slokam, Thodaya Mangalam, Nandhee and Dwipatha, is followed by the stage presentation of a formal prayer offered to Vigneswara represented by the male actor sporting a large elephant mask.
The audience was not looking for sophisticated stage craft. But the sheer involvement and conviction of the actors won them over. Particularly winsome were the female characters impersonated by the male actors, enacting the well known myth of Savithri born, after arduous penance, to the long childless royal couple King Aswapathi and his consort, Queen Maanavi. Rejecting all the suitors during her swayamvara, Savithri retires to the forest where she chooses Satyavanthan, born to modest King of Salvadesam, as her soul mate.
The story centres round her chastity as a wife, who succeeds in outwitting the God of Death and rescuing her husband. N. Srikanth, well known for his stree vesham, was most convincing as Maanavee, the Queen. Despite his daunting height and large frame, the role of Savithri came through very successfully. A most attractive presence, notwithstanding the towering height was the actor as Sathyavanthan’s mother. A comely Sathyavanthan, a fairly trained Bharatanatyam dancer by the looks of it, completed the picture.
Giving the enactment its main thrust was S. Kumar, well known for his anti-hero roles, as Yama. Draped in black with face painted the same hue, twirling his noose, he made a dramatic entry, his brief appearance lifting the performance to a new level of theatrics. He has, over the years, brought into his original style a type of stylisation which makes for arresting drama.
The play ran smoothly with no interruptions and one must congratulate Melattur S. Natarajan’s troupe for so effectively editing the scenes so as to fit the entire performance into the time slot of an hour and a half. It was a new and uplifting experience for the audience.