Kulasekhara Theatre Festival 2014 comes up with suggestions to evolve a new art form

Women’s role in traditional theatre, namely Koodiyattam and Kathakali, are a study in contrast. While Koodiyattam has provided women a stage to reach out to deepest recesses of the text to which it is bound, characters of women in Kathakali have remained more ephemeral.

The recently concluded Kulasekhara Theatre Festival 2014 was abound with suggestions on finding new realms for the female character in Kathakali.

K.G. Paulose, former Vice Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam Deemed University for Art and Culture, has suggested that a new art form for female characters may be evolved out of Kathakali. While Nangiarkoothu has stood out and stood well for women to excel and take traditional theatre to greater heights, Mr. Paulose wondered if Kathakali could also do the same.

Kathakali artiste Haripriya Namboothiri, who prefers to don women characters and has taken up doctoral research on the topic, said no effort had so far gone into exploring the depths of the female in Kathakali. Characterisation of the female has been Kathalkali’s loss.

Going into the depth of a character raises the bar of an artiste, which is why certain male characters portrayed by famous Kathakali maestros have given them a name alongside the character they play. Any student of Kathakali can portray a character, but to become a true artiste, one has to take that step over the basic techniques that are learnt.

Ms. Namboothiri said more depth and emotional content were required to give female characters a certain level of depth seen only in male characters at present. She said while Kottakkal Sivaraman’s contribution to the female character had been great and had provided the stage for artistes to take female characters further, he had also succinctly said it was difficult to know a woman.

Ms. Namboothiri wants to take further her quest for bringing more subtleties to the female character, while staying within the bounds of Kathakali.

She said Chavara Parukutty was an artiste who had tried to give a new dimension to Sathy’s character in Dakshayagam. Men donning women characters have left incomplete their crusade in delving into the character. Many give up playing female roles after 40 years as they feel it is less appealing visually. There had also been exaggerations of emotions by men who don female characters, she said.

Koodiyattam has given women a completely solo stage in Nangiarkoothu and the progress women brought into the characters has been commendable. Though the art form had existed for centuries, it was fully realised to its current status in the last 30 years.

‘Lalitha’ characters

Kathakali artiste Renjini Suresh said though certain women characters in Kathakali had equal importance as the hero, the need to bring out a whole lot of emotions remained. It is the ‘Lalitha’ characters (of women hiding the devil form) in Kathakali that are more heard of. There is a lot of potential to develop the characters of Shoorpanaka, Nakrathundi and Hidimbi and the Lalitha character in Krimeeravadham.

The characters of Sairandri, Rambha, Damayanthi, Devayani (Kacha) and Mohini of Rukmangadacharitma could also be evolved. Except for Damayanthi’s role in Nala-Damayanthi and to some extent Kunthi in Karnasapatham, no other female characters got their due on stage, Ms. Suresh said.

Mr. Paulose said if the thoughts of Kathakali attakatha creators had revolved around the concept of woman as the protagonist of a story, the female characters would have been better developed.

But, society viewed women through the Keechaka drishti (or male gaze), he said. All Kathakali texts are male oriented and cannot be changed immediately.

Mr. Paulose’s suggestion for a new art form for female characters in Kathakali is perhaps on the threshold of birthing.

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