Nelliyode Vasudevan Nambudiri as Kuchela and Kalamandalam Balasubramanyan as Krishna stole the show in a staging of ‘Kuchelavritham’ in Thiruvananthapuram.

When the thirasila (curtain cloth) was moved aside, an aged Brahmin appeared on the back right of the stage, holding an equally old palm-leaf umbrella and an improvised walking stick. His wrinkled face brimmed with anxiety and expectation. The front of his belly seemed to touch his backbone. In this staging of ‘Kuchelavritham’ in Thiruvananthapuram, veteran actor-dancer Nelliyode Vasudevan Nambudiri as Kuchela, traversed little or no space on the stage, but his mastery in stylised acting (naatyadharmi) created the illusion that he was making steadfast paces forward in all enthusiasm so as to see Lord Krishna at the earliest.

He is Sudama, popularly known as Kuchela, on account of the rags he wears (‘ku’- bad, ‘chela’ -robe). In Sage Sandipani’s hermitage, Krishna and Kuchela were fellow pupils and best friends. Kuchela has set out from his poverty-stricken hut to Dwaraka just to see Lord Krishna, hoping to be eligible for salvation. His pious wife, however, prayed for the Lord’s blessings to overcome their poverty. Kuchela’s soliloquy on his way to Dwaraka, sung in Punnaagavaraali, surcharged with devotion, while being handled with minimal acting by Nelliyode, brought out the tone of the play – namely eschewing all desires for worldly pleasures, and self-effacing submission to the Lord.

The second scene opened with Krishna seated on goddess Lekshmi’s bed and chatting with her. Most actors who play the role of Krishna usually engage themselves in a fervent game of dice with Lekshmi. But Kalamandalam Balasubramanyan chose to interpret the playwright’s stage direction that ‘Krishna was speaking to his consort in pleasant and flattering words’ as follows: “Your charming face looks like a flower and within it, your eyes seem to be two smaller, but more beautiful flowers!” (kusume kusumolpaththih).

Krishna espies Kuchela at the gate, tears of love and nostalgia fill his eyes. The two friends meet and they reminisce about their days in their Guru’s hermitage. paadatiirthhamKrishna pretends to be terribly hungry and jokingly takes from Kuchela a small packet that was hidden in Kuchela’s arm pit. The package contained rice pounded flat. He enjoys a handful. Lekshmi objects to him partaking more of Kuchela’s tasty present and he consoles her and makes it clear that he forgets himself when filled with compassion for his devotees. All these were portrayed by Balasubramanyan, employing his commendable control of all aspects of stylised and realistic presentation that ensures an astonishingly lofty level of excellence in performance.

Kalamandalam Shanmughan enacting the role of Lekshmi responded at every point effectively to all the nuances and improvisations introduced by Balasubramanyan and proved, once again, his competence to act flawlessly with any senior actor.

Kuchela’s taking leave of Krishna turned out to be unforgettable. It showcased the expertise of both Nelliyode and Balasubramanyan, bringing about a harmonious blend of elements of realistic as well as stylised acting.

The music, orchestra and make-up were handled by an impressive array of artistes, including Pathiyur Sankaran Kutty and Kalanilayam Rajeev (vocals), Kalamandalam Raman Nambudiri and Kalamandalam Krishnadas, Kalanilayam Babu and Margi Ratnakaran (percussionists) and Margi Ravikumar and Margi Srikumar (make-up artists). The rendition of famous padams such as ‘Pushkaravilochana’ in Surutti was superb. aprameya

The performance was organised in honour of RLV Somadas, a the doyen among make-up and costume-making artistes, in connection with the celebrations for his 60th birthday.