Kathakali A performance of ‘Shakunthalam’ at Edappally could not rise up to meet the expectations of the audience. V. Kaladharan
Kalidasa’s ‘Shakunthalam’, perhaps India’s best known Sanskrit play, has had umpteen adaptations in the traditional performing arts over centuries. It was the legend, the late Mani Madhava Chakyar who first choreographed excerpts from ‘Shakunthalam’ in the Koodiyattam form back in the 1980s.
Attracted by the romantic images and dramatic developments in the play, Kalamandalam Kesavan, a celebrated chenda player and playwright, composed ‘Shakunthalam’ as a full-fledged Kathakali play long ago. It was recently staged at Changampuzha Park, Edappally, as a tribute to the maestro who passed away four years ago.
The play opens with king Dushyantha setting out for a hunt along with his charioteer. He chases a deer leaving his entourage behind. As he begins to aim his arrow at the deer, a young sage Vykhanasan requests him not to kill the deer, which belongs to sage Kanwa.
In the second scene, the King is at the ashram, where he meets Shakunthala, and her companions Priyamvada and Anasooya. The king and Shakunthala fall for each other and the former slips into a deep soliloquy after the trio leaves.
In the next scene, Shakunthala confesses her love for Dushyantha to her friends. Eventually, Shakunthala marries the King. Before he returns to his palace, Dushyantha gives his golden ring to the inconsolable Shakunthala.
In the fourth scene, Shakunthala, who is lost in thoughts of Dushyantha, overlooks the arrival of sage Durvasav. He curses her that her beloved would forget her completely. When Priyamvada pleads with him to revoke his curse, the sage says that if Shakunthala could produce something to identify her, the King would remember her.
In the final scene, Kanwa comes to know about his daughter’s marriage to Dushyantha. He consoles a repentant Shakunthala and happily sends her off to Dushyantha’s palace. Shakunthala bids farewell to each and every being in the hermitage.
In spite of his technical brilliance and emotional articulations, the role of Dushyanthan remained more or less detached from Kalamandalam Balasubramanian for the scenes of sringara are congenitally scrawny in the Kathakali choreography of the play.
Of the rest of the roles, Chambakkara Vijayan spared little effort to give life to the character of Shakunthala. With all too familiar ragas and protracted scenes, Kottakkal Madhu and Kalanilayam Rajeevan did not seem inspired enough while singing the slokams and padams. Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan on the chenda had nothing particular to do except to wield the role of a banal accompanist. Kalamandalam Nambeesankutty and Kalanilayam Prakasan supported on the chenda as and when necessary. By and large, ‘the play of epic dimension, appears to have been a huge challenge to the visual semantics and semiotics of Kathakali.