Profile Dance

Dance like a woman

Haripriya Namboodiripad Photo: S. R. Raghunathan

Haripriya Namboodiripad Photo: S. R. Raghunathan   | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan

Dr. Haripriya Namboodiri is a rarity in the world of Kathakali — a full-time, professional female artiste. Breaching a centuries-old, strictly guarded male bastion, the petite performer has made a mark as a sthree vesham specialist in a gamut of roles that include Kunti, Rukmini, Sita, Damayanti, Poothana and Lalitha.

A post-graduate in chemistry, the multi-talented Haripriya was comfortably ensconced as a chemistry teacher and the owner of a boutique, when, at age 24, she gave it all up to focus on Kathakali abhyasa. What prompted the decision? “Growing up in the Pullur Mana family of Kathakali scholars and exponents, my childhood was lit up by lively discussions and kaliyogams. At a kutumbayogam, an attakatha directed by my uncle, with cousins and relatives comprising the entire cast and crew, left an indelible impression. I realised that Kathakali had to become a way of life for me.”

The late bloomer made up for lost time by training with three successive gurus, from different schools. “At Tripunithura, my first guru, RLV Damodara Pisharody, knowing too well the rigours of traditional training which tax even the strongest male physiques, realised my limitations and was very compassionate. His motivation urged me to focus on female characterisations, for which he was famed. Moving to Coimbatore, I underwent gurukulavasam with Kalmandalam Vasu Pisharody at Palakkad. He encouraged me to tackle challenging roles. FACT Padmanabhan, my third guru, honed my skills to professional standards. I am blessed to have had such wonderful gurus.”

Turning point

How did she enter the performing circuit? “No separate practice exists to make an artiste stage-ready. Purappadu, thodayam and small roles gradually prepare the performer. A turning point was my participation in a 10-day Kathakali camp held by the Vazhengada Kunju Nair Memorial Trust in 2006. Guided by a guru, we participated in cholli attam and demos. I received feedback through constructive comments, opinion-sharing with professionals and seniors. The interaction helped me grow as an artiste.” Haripriya gained valuable experience compering the TV show ‘Kathakali Vettom.’ Her training in editing full-length plays into a series of half-hour segments and her interface with noted Kathakali critic K.B. Raj Anand helped her delve deeper into theory. The research proved useful in her doctoral thesis on ‘The Feminine in Kathakali.’ Haripriya was also the resource person for the ‘Noorarangu’ Kathakali awareness programme initiated by Kerala Kalamandalam. Honours such as the Stree Ratnam and Devdasi National Award soon found their way to her as did a Fellowship from the Central Ministry of Culture.

Haripriya Nambudiri Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty

Haripriya Nambudiri Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty   | Photo Credit: Ashoke Chakrabarty


Is Kathakali financially rewarding? ‘Limited earning potential ’ is the frank reply. ‘Only love for the art can keep you going. Through multiple stagings of a play one can earn a modest amount. Corporates and banks should extend more sponsorship to Kathakali Clubs. In a welcome move, the Cochin Shipyard has begun to sponsor the Edapally Kathakali Aswadaka Sadas. Women have a limited scope in terms of roles. Though a few portray male characters they seldom gain prominence.”

What are the practical difficulties a woman artiste faces? “A few issues regarding privacy in the green room and accommodation may arise while travelling, but male co-artistes are very considerate. At camps too, they extend encouragement and cooperation. Surprisingly, it is from some aswadakas that women artistes find slow acceptance; a mindset that will hopefully change”.

How is her performing schedule structured? ‘I average about 100 performances in a year. I follow a fitness regimen and disciplined diet. Traditionally, performances are not staged during the monsoon . It is reserved for rejuvenation through oil massage, exercise and practice.”

Haripriya emphasises the role of a supportive family . “None of my achievements would have been possible without the encouragement my husband and son,” she says.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 6:30:11 PM |

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