‘Charudatham,' staged in Palakkad, recently, was a fine adaptation of ‘Julius Caesar.'
Adopting Western classical plays into Kathakali format is nothing new. Kathakali plays such as ‘King Lear,' ‘Othello' and ‘Oedipus' are some of the more famous among them, with stalwarts like Kalamandalam Gopi, Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharodi and Kalamandalam K. G. Vasudevan having donned the lead roles. William Shakespeare's ‘Julius Caesar' renamed as ‘Charudatham' is one of the latest entries into the list. ‘Charudatham' was staged in Palakkad, recently.
The three-hour play, penned and choreographed by Sadanam Harikumar, was performed by Gandhi Seva Sadanam Kathakali troupe. Harikumar, a writer, an artist, a musician and above all a Kathakali artiste, beautifully re-created the play without losing the depth of the Elizabethan drama.
He gave Indian names and temperaments to Shakespeare's characters. Thus we have Charudathan (Julius Caesar), Malathi (Calpurnia), Jayasenan (Brutus), Dandi (Cassius), Keerthibhadran (Mark Antony) and so on.
The play begins with a jubilant Charudathan returning to his palace after a successful military campaign against the son of the King of Pompeii. His friends Jayasenan and Keerthibhadran greet him warmly and decide to nominate him for the throne of Rome.
But Dandi dislikes this decision and conspires to kill him and brainwashes Jayasenan onto his side. In the second act, Malathi, Charudathan's wife, dreams that something ill will befall her husband and requests him not to go for the crowning ceremony. However, Charudathan does not heed her warning. In the third act Charudathan is stabbed to death by Dandi, Jayasenan, Pindarakan and Rudrakan. In the last and final act Keerthibhadran, loyal friend of Charudathan, gets his revenge on the murderers.
Harikumar's version of the play was a notable one in many respects, most importantly, because he adapted it without losing the flavour of Kathakali. The first scene, which looks similar to that of the wedding scene in ‘Subhadraharanam,' was perfectly poised. The most interesting aspect of this ‘attakkatha' is its choreography. Except for Vellathadi and Kari, almost all the important veshams in Kathakali appear in this play. Some of the kalasams (nritha) that were structured for Dandi is an example of Harikumar's skill as a choreographer. It is a style that is reminiscent of his guru Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair.
Although Charudathan is the hero of the play, he is appears only in two acts. Jayasenan, Dandi and Keerthibhadran are the lead roles. Sadanam Harikumar played the role of Charudathan with ease and élan. Sadanam Sreenath stood out for his acting in the role of Malathi. Sadanam Manikandan's Jayasenan was remarkable. Manikandan, an up-and coming artiste, gracefully enacted the emotion-filled scenes. Though his body movements were somewhat lacking, his powerful ‘nritha' and ‘bhava' were excellent. Narippatta Narayanan Nambudiri excelled in the role of the vengeful Dandi. Dandi's costume design (by Harikumar) and make-up deserve special mention. Sadanam Balan enacted the role of Keerthibhadran in style. Keerthibhadran's make-up, which featured ‘pazhukka' (a yellowish paste), was apt for the character.
The other roles of the play were donned by Sadanam Mohanan (Chaithanian), Sadanam Vignesh (Rudrakan), Sadanam Vishnuprasad (Pindarakan) and Sadanam Suresh (Charulatha), respectively. Sadanam Sivadas and Sadanam Jyothishbabu were the singers, while Sadanam Rajan and Sadanam Ramakrishnan were the percussionists. The play was staged under the aegis of the Palakkad Kathakali Trust.