Kathakali Kottayathu Thampuran’s plays were in focus at a fete at Edappally. Veteran artistes were at their best in showcasing the classicism of the art form. V. Kaladharan

In the last two decades, there has been a revival of interest in the presentation and appreciation of the four plays of Kottayathu Thampuran. A three-day Kathakali festival at Changampuzha Park, Edappally, began with cholliyattam (performances without make-up and costumes) of select scenes from all the four plays, preceded by deliberations on the ‘thauryathrika’ of each. Cholliyattam by talented youngsters in the field followed by the staging of ‘Kirmeeravadham’ on the evening of the first day, once again, underscored the classicism of Kathakali.

Before a large gathering of attentive rasikas, Kalamandalam Gopi appeared as Dharmaputra, addressing his wife Draupadi as ‘Bale kel ni mamaka vaani’ (Beloved! Hear my words). In the slowest tempo of Chembada tala, he enacted the agony of the eldest of the Pandavas as he shares with his wife the trials and tribulations of living in the forest. The pathinja eratti was executed cautiously, lest the enduring expression of shoka (sorrow) be lost in the process of dance. In the charanam, ‘Manimaya sadane mohana sayane’, Gopi’s lament over the fate of Draupadi, devoid of all her royal comforts, was heartrending.

Similarly, his portrayal of Dharmaputra’s exasperation towards Krishna who did not offer a helping hand to the Pandavas in their days of suffering was perfect. In the padam ‘Pundarika nayana’ (to Krishna), Dharmaputra’s expressions of absolute despondency and frustration were poignant, especially in the closing line of the charanam, ‘Nagakethanan thante nikritiyaal’ (due to the evil deeds of Duryodhana). Hinging on ‘vakyardhabhinaya’, Gopi could commendably elicit the full lustre of the protagonist. Madambi Subrahmanyan Namboodiri, assisted by his disciple Kalamandalam Vinod, sang the slokas and the stanzas in a contained emotional timbre. Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan, a seasoned chenda player, proved yet again that he can synchronise the notes and phrases on the chenda with Gopi’s inimitable angika and satwika abhinayas. Kalamandalam Harinarayanan’s maddalam skilfully filled in the spaces left by the chenda.

On the evening of the second day, Sadanam Krishnankutty enthralled rasikas as Keechaka. Through his free-style acting, Krishnankutty projected this villainous character as one completely absorbed in his lust towards Malini. However, one wished the gifted actor had exercised a little more restraint in the essential import of the sringara slokas and padams of Irayimman Thampi. The scene in which Keechaka tells his sister, Sudeshna, about his uncontrollable yearning for Malini bore a touch of classicism through the expressions of hesitation, shame and passion. Margi Vijayakumar as Malini, at times, seemed slightly detached from the context and characterisation. Kalanilayam Vinod and Sadanam Vijayan enacted the roles of Sudeshna and Valalan, respectively, with ease.

In what seemed to be the absence of an intense understanding between Krishnankutty and Kalamandalam Raman Namboodiri, the latter’s performance on the chenda did not convincingly gel with the actions and bhavas of the former. Kalamandalam Prakasan on the maddalam was quite supportive of the abhinaya of both the female characters. Kottakkal Narayanan and Kalanilayam Rajeev provided the vocal music. Narayanan's obsession with ‘sangatis’ did not help much to augment the overall effect of the mellifluous lyrics of Irayimman Thampi.

The finale of the festival was an imposing spectacle of power, comic encounters, battle and the tragic death of Bali. In ‘Balivadham’, Kalamandalam Sreekumar did his best to depict the treachery and spirit of vengeance of Ravana resulting in the abduction of Sita. With Veera (heroism), hasya (contempt) and a sense of triumph, Sreekumar made the character colourful on stage. Kalamandalam Pradeep excelled as Akamban and Mareecha, while Sadanam Manikandan and Sadanam Mohanan did justice to the roles of Sri Rama and Lakshmana, respectively. As Sugriva, Kottakkal Devadas stormed across the stage. Sugriva’s agony over his fate and his ecstasy following his new found friendship with Sri Rama and Lakshmana were the highlights of Devadas’ histrionic dexterity. Sugriva’s recalling of his past was a moving account because of Devadas’ suggestive hand gestures and semi-realistic expressions. Veteran artiste Nelliyode Vasudevan Namboodiri as the intrepid Bali retained his vigour and invincibility throughout despite his advanced age. Nelliyode transformed the last scene of Bali’s death at the hands of Sri Rama into an irreversible tragedy.

Singing by Kalamandalam Gopalakrishnan and Kalamandalam Sreejith honoured the visual grammar. However, they could have charged their renditions with a little more emotion. Kuroor Vasudevan Namboodiri on the chenda and Kottakkal Radhakrishnan on the maddalam contributed to the overall success of the performance. The play continued till almost midnight. Yet the audience, mesmerised by the characters, were glued to their seats.

The fete was organised by Kathakali Aswadaka Sadas in memory of the late Goda Varma, with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.