Two clowns made their entry, one trying to push the other, and both falling over each other. They were going to make an announcement. But by the time their gymnastics were over, the bully of the two had lost his voice and the meeker one started addressing the audience. Meanwhile, a female suthradhaari, Kavitha, who had entered amidst their clowning, completed the clown's sentence for him. “Subadhra Kalyanam will take place now,” she said with a flourish.
A member of the All Girls Company of the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam in Punjarasantankal near Kancheepuram, Kavitha was part of a troupe that presented a scene from the Mahabharatha where Lord Krishna and his brother Balarama discuss the wedding of their sister Subradhra. On Saturday, a group of children performed this scene for a special guest, the Ambassador of The Netherlands, Bob Hiensch, who visited their Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam.
Kattikuttu, a theatre form which evolved mainly to narrate stories to the masses in a colourful form with music and dance, got its name from the wooden ornaments that the actors wear. Breaking the historical domination of men in Kattaikuttu, many girls such as Mahalakshmi, who played Krishna, are now learning this theatre form. They, along with many young boys at the Gurukulam are also breathing life into Kattaikuttu, which does not see much patronage in cities but has an amazing audience in rural areas.
Hanne M. de Bruin, wife of P. Rajagopal, founder of the Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, has done a thesis on Kattaikuttu. She explained that when she came to Tamil Nadu 25 years ago, Kattaikuttu was a dying theatre form and now people termed it a disappearing form. “But I do not agree with that, as there are around 20 groups in surrounding areas and each of these has at least 150 performances during the festive season which is from thai to purattasi. There are hundreds of such groups in the State and all of them get to perform,” she said.
T. Veluchami, is one of the musicians who accompanied the stage performance, and played the shrill-sounding Mugaveenai or Kurunkuzhal. He is in the midst of his class XII examinations. “I still have one more paper to finish. And thatha (as Rajagopal is referred to by his students) has said that I must not fail in the exams. I am studying hard and have done well. I can only hope that I will pass,” said Veluchami, who is among the first batch of students of the Gurukulam who joined in 2002.
The orchestra also consisted of a kaal harmonium (where the bellows are replaced by pedals), dolak, mridangam, cymbals and two vocalists. N.Karthi, another performer, is a student of class V. He played the role of the mischievous monkey and impressed Mr. Hiensch. Karthi is always ready to perform somersaults.
These are children of poor parents and we provide a balance of education and theatre in the form of Kattaikuttu,” explained Mr. Rajagopal, an actor and playwright, who quit formal education to join his father's Ponnusamy company, and take up traditional theatre. With Mr. Rajagopal's guidance, children from the age of six upwards learn Kattaikuttu at the Gurukulam.
“I always tell the children that education is a must if they want to shine in Kattaikuttu. We currently have 51 children as we can afford only that many with the limited funds we have,” he said.
Mr. Hiensch, who inaugurated a library for the children of the Gurukulam, said he was very impressed by the performances of the children and even felt sorry for the clown who was pushed around. He told the children to study well and at the same time to go on to become good Kattaikuttu performers.