Taking up Kathakali as a full time profession would make it mechanical, feels artiste Vinu Vasudevan

Vinu Vasudevan still feels the same passion for Kathakali as he did when he was first initiated into it at the age of 10.

He went on to perform till his late teens, his favourite role being that of Krishna in Purappadu and Kuchelar.

A visual media journalist of 16 years, 36-year-old Vinu is back to his passion now, directing Kathakali as a freelancer. He made his directorial debut with Ravanaputri in 2003. Maa Nishadam, the third Kathakali performance he has directed, based on an opera by Rabindranath Tagore, was produced by Bangalore Club for Kathakali and the Arts and performed at Chowdiah Memorial Hall in the city recently.

The response of the Bangalore crowd, Vinu feels, is better than in Kerala. “As the gap between performances is much greater here, people eagerly look forward to the next show. In Kerala, these performances are quite commonplace, going up to six to seven a day,” he says.

Wearing a new skin

Unlike Bharatanatya or Odissi, Kathakali cannot be performed solo, Vinu explains. Each of the participants has challenging roles to fulfil. “While the director coordinates the performance, it is written by someone else and choreographed by another. Make-up itself takes about five hours. Music is another integral part.”

For the actors, the transformation from their real selves into the character they have to play is demanding. “They need to get into the skin of the character as soon as they are in costume. They think, feel and behave as the character would so as to give an effective performance,” he says.

One of the oldest of classical dance forms, Kathakali combines dance, drama as well as percussion, making it an entire entertainment package.

“There is no surprise element in any performance as the range of characters is limited — the hero, the anti-hero, the heroine, the aide. People are intrigued by the various ways in which these limited characters can be portrayed and enacted,” he adds.

Unglamorous art

Despite this, Vinu says Kathakali does not enjoy the patronage and exposure it deserves. “Few institutions, even in Kerala, sponsor Kathakali artistes. This is one of the reasons why you don't see too many names who have made it to the top.”

“This is not a glamorous field. Being a Kathakali performer isn't the same as being a computer engineer; one cannot guarantee financial stability,” he says.

According to Vinu, this can be rectified through awareness programmes. “Introductory workshops to educate the audience about Kathakali might lead to greater amount of patronage, bringing exposure and encouragement to the field.”

Concluding the conversation, he talks of his own experience of Kathakali. “Taking it up as a full time profession would make it mechanical and compulsive. This is my love. I think it is much more exciting to remain as lovers rather than get married, is it not?”.

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