This is an expansive, and perhaps the first English treatise on Kathakali, created by an outstanding performing artist, who is also a revered Guru. While there are a couple of books in English already available on the subject, this volume is a model of confluence of scholarship and experience. There is a machine-like precision in his writing, which only a dedicated performer, a teacher, a director, a choreographer can achieve.The author has attempted, with a huge amount of success, to smash the myth that Kathakali is a difficult and esoteric art form accessible only to elite connoisseurs. Kathakali is a harmonious blend of Kerala's distinct art forms its literature, vocal and percussion music, dance, drama, the visual arts of drawing, painting, sculpture and costume design. It is total theatre.
History and originThe book is divided into seven parts. Starting with the background history and origin of this classical Indian dance-drama, the author focusses on the indigenous art forms of Kerala, like Theyyam, Kootiattam, and Kalarippayattu, all of which have a profound influence on Kathakali. The second part deals with the development of Kathakali from a folk theatre form to a highly classical dance-drama. The next section elaborates the training regime, performance sequences, structures of choreography and the staging conventions of this art. The fourth part explains Indian classical aesthetics. There is a detailed dissertation on abhinaya (acting). Kathakali has all the four categories of Abhinaya, codified by Bharata Muni. Here, the author also explains in detail how make-up plays a very significant role in the performance of Kathakali. He says that Kathakali is the only dance-drama that has no rehearsals. Each movement is systematised.
FutureIn the fifth part, the repertoire of Kathakali is discussed with examples. The sixth and perhaps, the most important section focusses on the Kalluvazhi style of Kathakali which the author learnt from his Guru Keezhupadam Kumaran Nair Asan and which he teaches to his students. In this section, he reflects on his own contributions to Kathakali in terms of new compositions and choreographies. The concluding section attempts to project Kathakali's future prospects and challenges. As Akavoor Narayanan mentions in his foreword, this book ably brings out the glamour and grammar of Kathakali. Due credit has been given to the Raja of Kottayam who raised Ramanaattam to the present level of a classical dance-drama. The wonderful and breathtaking photographs, and illustrations add great value to this beautifully produced book. This is an exceptional, exhaustive, intelligent and graphic piece of authorship that merits attention.