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Extolling righteousness

Vanaja Varma
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Theatre PSV Natya Sangham troupe came up with a superb presentation of ‘Harischandracharitham' at Tripunithura. Vanaja Varma

An all-night Kathakali performance titled ‘Harischandracharitham' was staged by the Kottakkal-based PSV Natya Sangham troupe, at Tripunithura. The initial double Melappadam presentation was followed by Purappad.

The performance began with the entry of sage Viswamithra in the court of Indra, who is seen sitting in the company of sages Vasishta and Narada. Indra wants to know who's the most righteous among the kings of the earth and Vasishta comes up with the name of Harischandra, King of Kosala. An argument ensues between Vasishta and Viswamithra. The sages then decide to test him in order to justify each one's claim and find out who would win. This sets the background for the story of the noble king Harischandra, a true follower of Dharma, who, during the course of his trials and tribulations, lost all his wealth, kingdom and family, only to gain them back in the end, by virtue of his strict, selfless adherence to truth and righteousness.

Thus began ‘Harischandracharitham,' the eight-hour dance drama that was enacted through 11 scenes and lasted throughout the night until daybreak. The story itself, although not popular as an ‘attakkatha,' is packed with moments of melodrama, providing ample scope for the actors to express themselves through movements and expressions of the body, eyes and face.

The story ends as the king's virtue ultimately helps remove all obstacles strewn in his path. It was all part of an ordeal to test his integrity. Finally, he is blessed with his kingdom, wealth and power once again.

The last scenes were emotionally charged and captured the rapt attention of the small but discerning crowd that had stayed back till dawn to watch the finale of the play.

Masterly performance

The portrayal of the king called for skilful and subtle interpretation of different bhavas such as courage, despair, and agony. It's to be noted that even as the king traversed a range of bhavas while confronting the hurdles that were put up to test his faith, Kesavan Kundalayar's acting skills were simultaneously put to the test, and, like his character, he portrayed them with perception and masterly abhinaya to come out on top.

Costumes, make-up and realistic settings added to the effect. The script by Pettayil Raman Pillai offered enough scope to explore a gamut of emotions – ranging from the sharp mood swings of Viswamithra to the pathos of the king and his consort in the last scenes. The scenes were kept alive by able support from percussion artistes Kottakkal Unnikrishnan and his team on the chenda, and Radhakrishnan and others on the maddalam and the edakka.

Kottakkal Chandrasekhara Varier, the man behind the entire choreography, stood out in his role as Viswamithra, excelling in body language and expressions of the eyes. Kesavan as Harischandra and Vasudevan Kundalayar as Chandramathi took centre stage. They were at their best during the closing scenes, wherein the king and the queen recognise each other, bemoan their fate and give vent to their anguish at the loss of their only son. Both the Kundalayars did a fine depiction of the padams, which were highlighted by their graceful expressions, displayed with subtle finesse. Kottakkal Madhu's perfect rendering enhanced the feel of the dance drama.

Overall, it was a unique and commendable presentation by the Arya Vaidya Sala team from Kottakkal. It certainly enthralled the crowd of Kathakali buffs who had gathered at the Kalikotta Palace. The troupe comprised 40 artistes, all of whom are permanent employees working in different departments of the institution. The programme was organised by the Tripunithura Kathakali Kendram.


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