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Eve who dons villain's garb

THE PERIODICALS are all praise for educated female characters, well made up and with a captivating smile on their lips, playing vicious vamp roles on the small screen. Much before these women came on the idiot box, Kottarakara Ganga, in her forties, has been essaying kathi roles on the Kathakali stage, standing shoulder to shoulder with stalwarts. The kathi or chuvanna thadi roles are typical of a vicious, vile, cruel, power hungry male character and these are rarely done by women. The few women on the kathakali stage do only familiar roles like that of Bheema or similar satvic characters.

Born in a middle class Brahmin family, she got married to a bank officer, and as is wont, is the mother of two bright children. One can never hide a lamp under the bushel, the innate interest in arts in Ganga came forth and she got herself trained in kathakali under able masters. During the last two decades she has performed to select audiences in more than a hundred stages throughout this tiny state, and received applause and praise from connoisseurs.

In the days when gender equality was not the norm, when established Attakalaris refused to teach grown up women, Ganga's father turned his own home into a kalari and taught the basics to his child. Seeing the interest of the girl in this mostly male art, Mayyanat Kesavan Namboodiri took her under him and initiated her into this art form. It was in 1983 in Mayyanat Jammamkulam temple that Ganga had her arangetram. Since then she has never looked back, bringing laurels to her, her guru and the art form.

The humble housewife, Ganga says: "Today's youths talk of gender equality; but their attitude is superficial. They only want to wear jeans and walk, showing their belly button. The real strength of gender equality is when women come out of the confines of the home and take part in arts and crafts which were once considered the realm of the male only. Getting a Kalathilakam title by hook or crook, or getting into a film or two on that strength, is not a great achievement. Perfecting in just one piece, the thilakams vanish off the stage once for all; is this gender equality? Donning heavy costumes and makeup, playing before live audiences, during the humid night is what brings out gender equality."

As Bali in a play some years back, she brought a sense of boisterousness to the role and how she humiliated Ravana on stage is something one can never forget. She has played the roles of Kari, Kaattalan, Kali, Duryodhana and "Thadi roles need elucidation of roudra bhava. Looks, roaring, pakarcha (transference) are essential to these roles. Success comes only if one identifies and becomes one with the role."

She praises her tutors Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboothiri and Kalamandalam Ramachandran Unnithan for her success in thadi roles. "For me, playing such roles is not an avenue for making money, nor a job, it is an upasana; it is a commitment towards this solely Keralite art form, in existence for ages. The support and encouragement given first by my father and then in marriage by my husband and later by my children are my pillars and I owe a debt of gratitude to them and also to the literate audiences in this Parasurama Kshetra."


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