Koodiyattom, one of Kerala's ancient theatre art form, was recently recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as "a masterpiece of intangible cultural heritage.''
In Nottam (The Gaze), the director Sasi Paravoor has successfully used the medium of feature film to throw light on Koodiyattom, through the story of a group of committed artistes belonging to a Koodiyattom samithi, called Nadanagramam.
In the background, there is a picturesque village where there is romance in the air, setting the tone for a highly popular and melodious number, Pachapanamthathe, written by Ponkkunam Damodaran, tuned by M. Jayachandran and sung by K.J. Jesudas. The other songs, Mayangi poyi and Melle, penned by Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri and sung by K.S. Chitra and M. Jayachandran are equally pleasing. The film is marked by stellar performances of the veteran actors Nedumudi Venu and Jagathy Sreekumar. Venu plays Vasudeva Chakyar, who is the main chakyar or performer of the samithi. Jagathy is Unni Chakyar, whose part is that of a vidhushakan, jester-cum-story narrator. As Vasudeva Chakyar says in the film, Koodiyattom is based on the Natyasastra of Bharata muni. "It is our contention that there is no other art that demands such an exacting performance in action,'' Vasudeva Chakyar claims. And in the climax of the film, he proves his point. The story and dialogues are by Salin Mankuzhy. The screenplay is by the director himself.
Vasudeva Chakyar's son, employed in Bangalore, arrives in the village. He brings along with him one of his friends, Aby, who is based in the U.S. Aby wants to film a documentary on Vasudeva Chakyar. At first, the latter refuses permission, but subsequently allows himself to be persuaded by his family and friends. Gradually, he comes round to the view that it is a good idea if it will help spread the fame of Koodiyattom throughout the world.
When a Japanese woman, who has learnt Koodiyattom, and a German come to visit him, Vasudeva Chakyar wonders, "How people from far-off lands are interested in the art form, while our own people do not pay any attention.''
Aby brings Menon who is willing to sponsor a trip for performing in the U.S. The reluctant Vasudeva Chakyar agrees to the proposal, bowing to the wishes of the other members of the samithi on seeing their eagerness. The contrast is brought out between Vasudeva Chakyar, who wants to preserve the purity of Koodiyattom, and Menon, who sees the art only as a product to be packaged and marketed.
Unni Chakyar's character is portrayed in a touching manner. One day, he arrives late for a performance because of his drinking habit. He is ordered by Vasudeva Chakyar to stay out of the performance. Such is his bonding with Koodiyattom that he is unable to bear the shock and dies heart-broken.M.R. Gopakumar, as Nambisan, the organiser of the samithi; Janardanan, as the U.S. sponsor; and Margi Sathi, as the woman performer; impress.