In the age of stand-up comedians and YouTube gags, there is no dearth of social criticism laced with humour. Chakyarkoothu, one of the earliest arts of that ilk, survives to this day thanks to sustained audience interest at the art festival venues.
The Chakyar’s commentary on contemporary issues which is mixed into traditional shlokas is a main draw. At this year’s competition, one of the victims of the Chakyar’s biting sarcasm was the government employees who recently called a strike that almost jeopardised the festival.
Other issues touched up on included the Kochi Metro and E. Sreedharan, capital punishment and the instability in the State cabinet. There were a few who forgot to update their current affairs with comments on the Mullaperiyar issue and other events from past years. A tinge of meta-criticism happened with one of the Chakyars pointing to some of the sleeping members of the audience.
“We sometimes change the script of the ‘vachya’ at the last minute and try to include a commentary on one of the latest happenings. But we always make sure that this goes along with the core story. The slokam is not changed at all. We have the freedom to improvise in the ‘vachya’, the spoken part,” says Painkulam Narayana Chakyar, who has been a constant presence at the festival venues with many of his disciples winning the competition over the years. He is one of the first members of the Chakyar community to venture into training students.
The repetition of stories like ‘Bhagavath dooth’ and ‘Hanuman dooth’ by the competitors was a bit of a dampener. In such cases, it was easier to differentiate between the performers as the ones with a finer ‘sloka’ delivery and nuanced ‘abhinaya’ stood out.