M.R. Rajan’s ‘Minukku,’ a short film on Kathakali veteran Kottakkal Sivaraman, won the national film award for the best documentary.

I am sure my works will be an asset for posterity to be introduced to many stalwarts.

A passion for biographical documentaries has helped M.R. Rajan carve a niche for himself among filmmakers in the country. Ever since his first work ‘Pakarnnattam’ won him national recognition in 1995, Rajan never had to look back. ‘Minukku’ is the latest and the fifth to win him national recognition after ‘Ithihasathinte Sparsam’ and ‘Unarvinte kaalam.’ Other noteworthy films of Rajan have been ‘Nataka Patha’ on T.P. Gopalan and ‘Nottam’ on Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair.

Interestingly, all his creations have been anchored on outstanding Kathakali actors, the only exception being ‘Unarvinte kaalam,’ which was made on social reformer and playwright M.R. Bhattathiripad. While ‘Pakarnnattam’ featured the legendary Koodiyattom artiste Ammannur Madhava Chakyar, ‘Ithihaasathinte Sparsam’ was on Premji and ‘Minukku’ is on Kathakali maestro Kottakkal Sivaraman.

Why this fascination for such thespian ‘heavy weights’?

“I feel that they are a rare genre of performers who become legends during their life time. Further, they have been icons in their respective areas and I am sure my works will be an asset for posterity to be introduced to these stalwarts,” Rajan avers.

Shot in Karalmanna, the native place of Sivaraman, ‘Minukku’ is a rare mix of Kathakali and cinema. The one-hour documentary narrates the virtuosity of an actor that transcends gender barriers; an actor who has immortalised female characters in Kathakali over the past five decades.

Different versions of Damayanthi

Says Rajan: “This has no parallels in the world. It speaks volumes about his dexterity when we discover that he has staged 3,000 Damayanthis (‘Nalacharitam’), of which each has been different from the other.”

Select scenes from numerous plays have been excerpted in the film to highlight Sivaraman’s histrionic prowess. What makes them memorable is the appearance of veterans such as Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair and Kalamandalam Gopi with whom Sivaraman shares the stage. The plays include ‘Nalacharitam’ (second and fourth days), ‘Keechakavadham,’ ‘Rugmangadacharitam,’ ‘Puthanamoksham,’ ‘Lavanasuravadham,’ ‘Duryodhanavadham’ and ‘Narakasuravadham.’ Rajan’s selection of librettos for the scenes are appropriate.

A host of dramatis personae such as Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair and Kalamandalam Gopi enrich the film with anecdotes about Sivaraman. M.P.S. Namboodiri enacts the role of an aasaan in the kalari. Cartoonist Unni’s appearance and his sketches of Sivaraman, who poses for him effortlessly, add to the grandeur of the film.

Nedumudi Venu, an ardent fan of Sivaraman, dons the garb of a narrator, and his informal interaction with him brings to the limelight several facets of the maestro’s personality.

As Sivaraman demonstrates Nakrathundi in ‘Narakasuravadham,’ Venu sits transfixed over the inimitable mukhabhinaya (facial expressions) of the actor. Even as Sivaraman’s own narration sheds much light on himself, Venu’s narration stands out for its tone and diction. Small wonder that Venu also was honoured for his graphic narrative style.

According to Rajan, ‘Minukku’ is the first documentary to be produced on 35-mm cinemascope format. He is sore that opportunities for exhibiting such works are very rare. He has plans for producing a DVD edition of the same so that more people will be able to enjoy it. ‘Minukku’ has been produced by Devadas Kizheppattu, a system engineer in Bangalore, under the banner of ‘Cinemtograhic Kerala.’