Haripriya Nambudiri's interperetation of Poothana in ‘Poothanamoksham' was markedly different from the usual portrayal of the character.
Interpretation of emotions and mannerisms of characters have enabled many Kathakali artistes to popularise the art form. The possibilities of such innovation in Kathakali may be limited in comparison with other classical dances. However, artistes such as Haripriya Nambudiri appear to be ready to experiment within its set framework. Though it is an art form with a decidedly male-orientation, Kathakali has, in recent years, attracted many women of the likes of Chavara Parukkutty and their efforts in improvisation have been acknowledged. Citing the encouraging response she received after the recent staging of ‘Poothanamoksham' at Cherpulassery, Haripriya says that one has to ensure that the innovations are made in a convincing manner.
‘Poothanamoksham,' the attakatha composed by Aswathy Tirunal in the eighteenth century, is among the most popular stories on the Kathakali stage and Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair had once even been known as ‘Poothana Krishnan Nair' for his staging of the play across Kerala. Kudamaloor Karunakaran Nair and Kottakkal Sivaraman too had interpreted the character in their inimitable style. Apart from chaste Malayalam, it was the gripping manner in which these maestros portrayed the transformations in Poothana that had enchanted Kathakali lovers. Poothana comes to Ambadi with the intention of killing the infant Krishna, but she gets overwhelmed with motherly affection at the sight of him.
Haripriya's interpretations do not upset the set pattern of ‘Poothanamoksham' nor do they reject the contributions of the maestros. Rather, she has introduced a few changes. Haripriya has expertly interpreted the nuances of the mother-child relationship in this play. Haripriya has changed the raga of the padam ‘Sukumara Nandakumara,' which was earlier sung in raga Ananda Bhairavi. She has used the soothing tones of raga Kurinchi to create the mood and bring out the emotional aspects of the relationship.
For an artiste who has been staging women characters along with known names, including Kottakkal Sivaraman, for the last 12 years, ‘Poothanamoksham' is a big moment as it has inspired her to explore the possibilities of angikabhinaya in Kathakali. She cites the ‘Nartakarude Kalichaturyam' portion to show how she interpreted it by adding several new features to those already developed. These include women engaged in kolkali, competitions in singing and dancing and so on to bring to the stage pictures of women, children and old men in a jubilant mood after the birth of Krishna. Poothana enters the Nandanilayam and only when she is about to murder the baby does she see the child.
This is different from the traditional format in which Poothana enters the house at the end of the melam and sees the child. The portion with the padam ‘Sukumara Nandakumara varika arikil moda' is also striking for the use of the raga to show Poothana's acts intended to entertain the child. Haripriya's choreography of ‘Poothanamoksham' has effectively linked the recitation of the padams with corresponding acts. Besides Krishna in this play is not the 28-day-old as per the myth, but is treated as a toddler.
The soulful and persuasive rendering of the padams by Attppotta Ravindran and Sreeraga Varma created a mood appropriate for the story. K. M. Hariharan on the maddalam and Vellinezhi Anandan on the chenda ably supported them.