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Arjuna to the fore

Vinu Vasudevan
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Kathakali Kalamandalam Soman gave an outstanding performance as Arjuna in ‘Kalakeyavadham.' Vinu Vasudevan

K ottarakkara Thampuran's ‘Kalakeyavadham' Kathakali is considered to be one of the most technically perfect and beautifully choreographed attakathas; the most spectacular aspect of the play being the tempo and rhythm of the choreography. ‘Kalakeyavadham' used to be enacted through the night but because of constraints of time, only the first part of the play is usually performed nowadays.

Kottarakkara Thampuran wrote four attakathas based on the Mahabharata and all four of them have to do with the ‘Vana parva' (Book three) of the epic. While Dharmaputhra and Bheemasena are the central characters in the other three plays, Arjuna is the hero of ‘Kalakeyavadham.'

Systematic movements

Four scenes of the play were staged in a three-hour-long performance at Thrissur, recently. In the first scene, Lord Indra sends his driver-cum-messenger Mathali to request Arjuna to visit his father, Lord Indra.

The Pandava prince had just received the weapon ‘Pasupatha' from Lord Shiva and Indra was keen on meeting his son. In the next scene, Mathali meets Arjuna and takes him to heaven. The third scene depicts the meeting between Indra and Arjuna, and in the fourth scene, Arjuna meets his step-mother Indrani. Each and every movement in this play is highly systematic, structurally poised and provides ample scope for abhinaya. Veeram (valour) is the underlying mood of this attakkatha and therefore it is a real challenge for the actors to keep up the tempo.

The role of Arjuna, in particular, is considered to be a test of the actor's physical fitness and skill as a Kathakali artiste. The play also has a lot of emotional scenes, which require spot on acting skills.

Kalamandalam Soman led the performance as Arjuna. Right from Arjuna's first padam, the famous ‘Salajjoham thava chadu vachanathal…' itself, Soman proved his prowess as an actor. He maintained the sthayi of the character without missing a step. He was at his best in the padam ‘Janaka thava darsanal...' when Indra and Arjuna meet. Some of his graceful kalasams and erattis were fine examples of the training he received from his gurus; his depiction of ‘Swargavarnana' was especially reminiscent of his guru Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair. The poetic attam describing a previous encounter with River Ganga was outstanding. His presentation of ‘Ashtakalasam' (a dance specially choreographed for this vesham) in the padam ‘Sukrithikalil munpanay...' was equally good.

The role of Mathali was donned by Kalamandalam Harinarayanan. The kalasam that he presented in the middle of the padam ‘Bhavatheeya niyogam...,' was a competent piece of work. Mathali's preparations for his trip to the earth was essayed well. Harinarayanan performed this attam – called ‘Theru koottikettal' – with striking leg and hand movements.

Indra and Indrani were enacted by Kalamandalam Neeraj and Kalamandalam Kasinathan, respectively. Neeraj, a post-graduate student at Kerala Kalamandalam, gave a noteworthy performance in the padam ‘Mathale nisamaya...' Neeraj's precise mudras and expressive face contributed to the success of the role. Kasinathan's short but relevant role too enriched the performance.

Kalamandalam Jayaprakash and Sreenath were the musicians. Jayaprakash, known for his penchant for melodious padams, excelled by perfectly following the systematic Kathakali chitta. Kalamandalam Balaraman and Kalamandalam Haridas played the chenda and the maddalam, respectively.

The play was staged under the aegis of the Trichur Kathakali Club.


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