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Updated: January 29, 2010 09:26 IST

Consummate classicism

MADHAVI RAMKUMAR
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The living Legend of Kathakali, Kalamandalam Gopi, from Kerala presenting 'Karna Shapatham', in Bangalore on January 16, 2010. Photo: K Murali Kumar.
The Hindu
The living Legend of Kathakali, Kalamandalam Gopi, from Kerala presenting 'Karna Shapatham', in Bangalore on January 16, 2010. Photo: K Murali Kumar.

A recent presentation of Karnasapatham featured superb performances by all.

The Bangalore Club for Kathakali and the Arts, in association with the East Cultural Association, staged V. Madhavan Nair Mali's Kathakali play “Karnasapatham” recently, with a stellar cast headed by maestro Kalamandalam Gopi as Karna, Margi Vijayakumar as Kunthi, Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair (Duryodhana), Kalamandalam Shanmughan (Bhanumathi), Hari R. Nair (Dussasana), and Pathiyur Sankarankutty and Kottakkal Madhu (vocal), Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan (chenda) and Kalamandalam Rajanarayanan (maddalam).

“Karnasapatham”, the most successful Kathakali play written in the 20th century, is now deemed a classic by virtue of its theme and the innovative ingredients woven together, within the framework of classicism, by a master story teller and dramatist.

Depicting the anguish of Karna, forced to choose between his friend and benefactor Duryodhana, and his siblings the Pandavas, the tightly knit story culminates in the triumph of his devotion to the former and in his mighty oath renouncing all else. The current presentation featured superb performances by all the players, with restrained emoting in the opening segment with Duryodhana, Bhanumathi, and Karna, and an ebullient Dussasana ushering in a complete change of mood.

Kalamandalam Gopi's ilakiyattam, recounting past incidents including his tutelage under Parasurama, and the subsequent curse from him, conveyed the character's deep sense of unease, further accentuated in the interpretation of the heart rending padam “Endiha manmanase” in Hindolam. The crux of the play, the interface between Karna and Kunthi, saw deeply evocative abhinaya from the lead actor, though the protagonist's unspeakable torment has been more palpable and more powerful in many of his innumerable earlier performances in the same role.

Margi Vijayakumar's interaction, in his role as Kunthi, was a reiteration of his status as a top ranking ‘sthree vesham' artiste. The poignancy and depth of the text could not, however, be exploited fully due to constraints of time, and logical progression to the denouement was affected, as a major portion afterwards, leading up to the oath, was edited out. The exquisite lyrics, and the usage and juxtaposition of ragas, set by the author himself, have contributed much to the success of “Karnasapatham”, and the bhava-laden rendering of the vocalists was one of the highlights of the day's performance.

But the introduction of Sumanesaranjani in place of the designated Anandabhiravi, and of Shubhapanthuvarali instead of Shahana, diluted the underlying emotional intensity and integrity of Kunthi's dialogues, as did Sindhubhairavi in place of Punnagavarali in Karna's padam. Nevertheless the total dedication and synchronisation of the vocalists and the percussionists augmented a memorable performance that concluded with a vibrant kalasam by the pacha, kathi and chuvanna thadi characters together.


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