Spaniard Cesar Raton uses Kathakali and Flamenco together in a play on violence against women

Dushasana drags Draupadi as she cowers in fear trying to flee the scene. The villain pulls at her red shawl and the vastrakshepam follows. The scene from the play Killing of Dushasana is derived from Duryodhanavadham Kathakali and adapted by Spaniard Cesar Lorente Raton. The play, a fusion of Kathakali and Flamenco, will be staged in Kochi later in the month. The show, sponsored by Unesco, shines the light on violence against women.

“Stories are universal. There is a Hamlet in all of us. Love, hate, anger are all universal feelings and in all of us. The Mahabharata has many such stories and I took one episode which I incidentally had seen being performed in Kalamandalam,” says Cesar who looks more like a poet and talks like he is Indian. His wife is Indian and they are based in Delhi.

His tone is not patronising in the least, “Abuse of women, horrific crimes, happen in all parts of the world. It is not an Indian thing as it is made out to be.” As a sensitive man, he feels, he needed to voice his concern about the issue. And this play is his way of expressing this concern.

His relationship with Kerala and India started almost at the same time. The Kerala connections began with liaising alongside visiting bureaucrats and politicians in Spain. As part of showing the guests around Spain he took them to a Flamenco performance. “At the time I was told that I should see Kathakali. I was so preoccupied with other stuff that I hardly paid any attention.”

He later accompanied a team of Spanish journalists on a tourism promotion trip where he took in more of Kerala and finally saw Kathakali. It is during this trip that he encountered the ‘killing of Dushasana’. Being a passionate theatre person he found himself drawn to the form.

He studied theatre at the Middlesex University, United Kingdom, and as part of a project he studied at City University, New York.

In 2008, the Volvo Ocean Race started in Spain and the Asia halt was in Kerala, at Kochi. Hence he thought it fitting that there be a Kathakali performance and he was instrumental in organising one there.

In 2009, a fellow theatre personality, in Spain, suggested giving Kathakali a contemporary twist. He toyed with the idea for almost a year before Kathakali met Flamenco on stage. The play was also shown at the Indian Embassy in Madrid. It was later staged in Delhi last year.

For someone who is not a performer, his knowledge of Kathakali is impressive. “When Kathakali actors are called dancers I correct them.”

He believes it would have been foul to even attempt a fusing of both the art forms. He has retained the purity of each form and yet managed to convey his message.

“I kept it simple. Kathakali, which was traditionally performed by men, was the man and Flamenco was the woman. The art forms were left intact without diluting either.” That both art forms were enriched by foreign influences constitutes common ground in his opinion.

He wants to take the show out of theatres, “out into the open where people, the common people, can see the plays”. A bus full of performers — the flamenco dancer, guitarist, the actors, the percussionists — travelling from place to place spreading the message is a pipe dream. The road show, as Cesar plans, will involve locals — artistes and the community.

Kochi boy Varun Sunil will play the percussion; the Kathakali actors are Kalamandalam Biju Kumar and Biju Lal, and makeup artist is Binesh V. Musician Mame Khan will play Krishna.

“In a play directed by a Christian, a Muslim will play a Hindu god….What can I say?” he concludes with a flourish.