Ettumanoor Kannan and Margi Vijayakumar lived the roles of Damayanti and Nala, respectively, at a staging of ‘Nalacharitham-Onnam Divasam’.
Unnayi Warrier’s Kathakali play, ‘Nalacharitham’ (‘The Story of Nala’) is known for its multi-dimensional aesthetic beauty. The text provides material for not less than four nights of performance. But only some portions of it are usually staged and even among them further selection is made for inclusion in the curricula of Kathakali schools. The scenes chosen for staging have been immortalised by master artistes by their skill in emotional and imaginative acting, and not by their prowess in adhering to age old conventions (chitta) abounding in several other plays like those of Kottayathu Thampuran.
Thiruvananthapuram Drisyavedi’s programme in June was a commendable presentation of the last four scenes of the first day of ‘Nalacharitham’. These scenes are rarely performed. The scenes portray the love-struck hero and the heroine (Nala and Damayanti).
At Damayanti’s swayamvara, despite Indra, Agni, Yama and Varuna, looking exactly like Nala, Damayanti manages to identify Nala and garland him.
Ettumanoor Kannan, who presented Nala, did full justice to the character. His semiotic interpretation of the Dandaka (narrative interlude with extra long lines) and interaction with Damayanti and the gods brought out the superior qualities of the noble king Nala.
As always, Margi Vijayakumar’s delineation of Damayanti was impeccable. From the moment Nala, the most handsome and valiant hero of her dreams, appeared before her all of a sudden in the guise of a divine messenger till the crucial juncture when she could distinguish him beyond any doubt from the gods in the swayamvaramandapa, Damayanti had to undergo an array of tests. And Vijayakumar cleared all of them with his inimitable style and dexterity in every subtle aspect of acting.
The roles of the four gods and goddess Saraswati, who presents the suitors to Damayanti, are in no way minor in this play. They bring to focus the rare qualities of the hero and the heroine. Their appearance on the stage adds to the total stage effect of the performance too. The young artistes who handled them, Kalanilayam Vinod (Indra), Kalamandalam Arun (Agni), RLV Pramod (Yama) and Kalamandalam Aravind (Varuna) and Kalamandalam Suchindran (Saraswati), did their best.
Kottakkal Madhu, supported by Kalamandalam Rajesh Menon, transcreated the play's text into melodious music charged with emotion befitting the context. Madhu’s voice was mellifluous, as usual and Rajesh followed him laudably in every samgati. The rendition appeared natural on the whole, although they had to refer to the printed text, on and off. They were ably supported by Kalanilayam Krishnakumar on the chenda and Margi Rathnakaran on the maddalam.