‘Nachiketas’ Kathakali, an adaptation from the Katopanishad, which was staged in Thrissur, was a brave experiment by playwright Radha Madhavan.
The organic framework of Kathakali calls for concrete images, lucid metaphors and explicit ideas to create the desired effect on stage. Well aware of this aesthetic secret, playwrights of yore exercised prudence in selecting episodes from the epics for the composition of Kathakalil plays. Still a few playwrights in the latter half of the last century have shown a affinity for themes that have abstract connotations and philosophical underpinnings. Radha Madhavan is one such playwright whose latest creation is ‘Nachiketas’, an adaptation from the Katopanishad.
The unanticipated yet intense encounter between Nachiketas and Yamadharma (Lord of Death) has caught the attention of enlightened souls. The play opens with sage Gautama determined to give away his material wealth to the ‘rithwiks’ for attaining supreme bliss. Since he finds nothing left there, Gautama instructs his son, Nachiketas, to bring the scattered cows. Nachiketas goes out in search of the cows. Each cow he comes across has some kind of physical defect.
Unable to get even a single cow in good form, a despondent Nachiketas returns to the hermitage where Gautama is engaged in Yajna (vedic ritual). Having come to know that his son has not brought any cow with him, Gautama gets angry. When Nachiketas asks his father to whom does he want to gift him to, the sage replies. “To Yamadharma”. Instantly, Nachiketas falls down dead. A shocked Gautama sits beside his son in absolute distress.
The spirit of Nachiketas meets Yamadharma. He had to wait for three days sans food and drink to accomplish his mission. Yamadharma learns of the boy’s arrival with curiosity. He comes to meet him and grants him three boons. As the third boon, Nachiketas asks to learn the secret of life after death. Yamadharma is baffled by the demand and tries to dissuade the boy from it.
Finally, Yamadharma shares the ‘ultimate truth’ with Nachiketas. In the final scene the father and the son are reunited.
To begin a play in a sombre mood with two edatharam (middle level) characters is a little insipid. With their padams almost devoid of sanchari bhavas (shifting moods) in mid tempos, the situation is again grim. With the entry of Yamadharma in the third scene, the vocal music and the melam get a brief boost. While Rasya Ravindran as sage Gautama did not appear to be quite comfortable in form and expressions, Haripriya Namboodiri tried her best to identify with the complex psyche of Nachiketas. Kumari Induja as the spirit of Nachiketas was sprightly throughout.
Parvathi Menon as Yamadharma in a slightly distinctive Kathi make-up and costumes spontaneously portrayed the feelings and actions of the character. Kalamandalam Sajan, the choreographer, has shown a spark in conceiving the ‘aharya’ (costume and make-up) and actions of the ‘spirit’ of Nachiketas. The white linings and the knobs of a Kathi character in a pazhuppu (golden yellow)-laden face bear an unusual charm, thanks to the imagination of the choreographer.
Radha Madhavan’s painstaking efforts to adapt the play from the Katopanishad deserve appreciation. Although the interlocking of words in the lyrics appears concocted at times, her passion for Kathakali surpasses such shortcomings to a considerable extent. Bold she is to experiment with a theme short of brittle sentiments and simmering vengeance.
Palanad Deepa’s singing of slokams and padams was animated and energising especially in the second half of the play. Her music composition was, however, hackneyed. She could have thought of applying a bunch of attractive ragas such as Durga, Sivaranjini, Abhogi and Pahadi to provide a diverse aura to the conventional discourse. Deepa’s co-singer Manjula T.P. was not inspirational. The all too familiar ragas of the slokams and the padams more often compelled the connoisseurs to compare those with immortal ones from established plays.
Kalamandalam Balasundaran and Kalamandalam Aneesh did not have much to do on the instruments except for Yamadharma’s thiranokku (curtain look) and the subsequent thantetaattam (self-estimation). Saradamadhom, Puranattukara, Thrissur, offered a perfect ambience to the maiden performance of ‘Nachiketas’.