The rarely-performed Act Three of Sri Harsha's ‘Naganandam’ stands out for the inimitable role of the Vidushaka.
Composed in the seventh century, Sri Harsha's play ‘Naganandam' is a marked departure from conventional Sanskrit plays, both in its content and message. While the Buddhist influence on Sanskrit theatre manifested itself through this play, it is believed that the drama paved the way for the acceptance of ‘Shantha' (the tranquil) rasa in addition to the eight described by Bharata. Interestingly, it was as a fallout of the play that ‘Shantha' got entry into the later versions of Natyasastra.
The credit for producing the Second and Third Acts of this play goes to veteran Paimkulam Rama Chakyar whose virtuosity for editing Sanskrit plays was unparalleled. Produced in Kalamandalam during his tenure there, ‘Bhagavadajjukam' and ‘Naganandam' are defining examples.
The rarely staged Act Three of the play, specially noted for the inimitable role of the Vidushaka, was recently staged in Thrissur. The play opened with the hero, Jimuthavahanan, the heroine, Malayavati, and the Chedi (maid-companion) Chathurika appearing on the stage, after customary rituals. Jimuthavahanan and Malayavati have just been married. They enact the ‘panchangam' that demonstrates their love for each other. The hero, thereafter, recites the sloka ‘Drushtaa drushtimadho…..' and describes the bashful antics of his bride as he approaches her.
Sangeeth Chakyar exhibited amazing maturity in his portrayal of Jimuthavahanan. Subtle was his abinaya, especially that of the eyes and the face. His enactment of the Sakhis decorating the marital bed was also remarkable.
Histrionics of the actor soared as, after the three reach the ‘Kusumakarodyanam' (garden), he vividly describes the bewitching beauty of the garden.
The highlight of the act is the next scene that is exclusively set apart for Athreya, the Vidushaka. And Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar was splendid in the role. In fact, he stole the show with his graphic narration of events that led to the marriage of Jimuthavahanan and Malayavati. He began with his experience of the wedding celebrations where he got caught amid a group of drunken revellers. His indignant recounting of the ill-treatment meted out to him at the hands of the revellers left the audience in splits.
The denouement of the play was eventful for the interaction between the Chedi and Vidushaka – an anecdote that is alien to other plays. Chathurika tells Athreya that he is quite handsome and that she shall describe (‘varnikkuka') the beauty of his face just as the heroine was doing for the hero. This pleases him beyond description. She tells him further that he appears more attractive while his eyes are closed.
Inspired by this observation, Athreya closes his eyes. She plucks leaves from a nearby plant and extracts their juice. In an unexpected move, she smears the juice on his face. As Athreya opens his eyes, it comes home to him (from the glances of the hero and heroine) that something funny had transpired. On realising what had actually happened, Chathurika explains that she had actually ‘coloured' his face, a pun on the word ‘varnikkuka.'
Paimkulam Rama Chakyar himself had composed the ‘bhasha' (vernacular) slokas for the Vidushaka. Interestingly, they are simple but convey the mood of the character quite effectively. ‘Enthu cheythu sate moote/ Mukhamenthinu thottu nee' that follows the above incident is a quintessential example.
A notable feature of the presentation was that all the actors except Kalamandalam Rama Chakyar were relatively young. Nevertheless their performance was commendable, including that of Prasanthi (Malayavati) and Krishnenthu (Chathurika). Dhanarajan and Vinodkumar played the mizhavu while Subheesh played the edakka and Vijitha kept the tala. The play was presented under the aegis of the Kathakali Club, Thrissur.