‘Pranathi’, a documentary on ace helmsman Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, also throws light on the art of melams

Percussion fans were in for a treat at K.T. Mohammed Smaraka Theatre in Thrissur, recently, where ‘Pranathi’, a documentary on percussion maestro Peruvanam Kuttan Marar, was premièred. The 45-minute documentary is apt, as Pranathi literally means obeisance, and that too to an artiste who is presently the ‘pramanakkaran' (helmsman) for almost all major temples in Central Kerala.

Peruvanam village in Thrissur stands out for its unique cultural heritage with regard to its continuity of tradition in the art of percussion. It is widely believed that Panchaari, perhaps the sweetest of all melams, is a contribution of Peruvanam's famous temple festival, which has an unbroken history of more than 1,400 years. Small wonder then that a veritable galaxy of wizards who have adorned the percussion firmament of Kerala mostly belonged to that village. The documentary assumes much importance when one realises that Peruvanam Kuttan Marar is a scion of that tradition.

Festivals and melams

It is natural that a documentary on a percussion artiste be shot against the backdrop of temple festivals, which are the expositions of melams of all hues. The opening shot of percussion artistes peregrinating hurriedly, promise the depiction of melams in the documentary. This is followed by visuals of the formation of a melam under the helmsmanship of Kuttan Marar. Interestingly, the role of each instrument in the melam such as uruttu chenda, veekkan chenda, Kombu, kuzhal and elathalam, has been visually depicted.

Soon Kuttan Marar himself narrates the way in which children from traditional percussionist communities such as Marar and Poduval, are moulded in this art form from early childhood. Visuals of ‘pulimutti' being taught by a guru and a thayambaka by a child artiste leading to a thayambaka by Kuttan Marar speak enough for the singular training scheme. Kuttan Marar is also seen performing varied roles of a temple percussionist such as ‘kottippadi seva,' ‘paani kottal,' ‘parayeduppu.' His virtuosity is also exemplified when he plays edakka for Usha Nangiar's Nangiarkoothu and for a panchavadyam.

Myriad are the festivals and the concomitant melams that the production carries. A graphic description, both verbal and visual, of the Peruvanam temple festival goes to such an extent that one questions whether the documentary is on the festival itself. The crowds that throng the festival venue and the zeal with which they interact with Kuttan Marar, are proof enough of the popularity of this artiste, who helms around 300 melams a year.

Another captivating visual is that of the Aarattupuzha Pooram, where the camera captures a panoramic view of the crowd, the elephants and the percussionists.

Kuttan Marar also talks about rare melams, some of which are on the verge of extinction and the ingenious way in which they are being protected by temples. His explanations about rare melams such as ‘Navam' (nine beats), ‘Kalpam' (11 beats) and ‘Layam' (13 beats) are informative.

A demarcating feature of the production is the due respect it gives to veterans of yore such as Peruvanam Sankunni Marar, Peruvanam Rama Marar, Peruvanam Narayana Marar, Kumarapuram Appu Marar, Chakkamkulam Appu Marar, Peruvanam Appu Marar and so on.

Proud tradition

“I am only trying to keep alive the tradition of these stalwarts,” says Kuttan Marar, quite modestly. Other living maestros such as Trippekkulam Achutha Marar, Thrikkamburam Krishnankutty Marar, and Sreenarayanapuram Appu Marar also feature in the documentary.

Jointly produced by C. Venugopal and K. Ramachandran, the documentary has been directed by the latter, who is known for the documentary ‘Kaalam' on Pallavur Appu Marar. The script by Ashtamoorthy is eloquent, but could have been less flowery. Cinematography by Prakash Velayudhan is noteworthy.