A Kathakali fact about FACT

The first time Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru saw Kathakali, a staging of Nalacharitham kathakali, in 1955, there were times during the performance when he couldn’t resist clapping his hands with joy. Watching the show with him were diplomat- politician VK Krishna Menon and freedom fighter- physician Dr. BC Roy. It was the first time such a show, a Kathakali festival, was put up in New Delhi.

MKK Nayar, whose idea the festival was, writes in his autobiography ‘The Story of An Era Without Ill Will’, “Even eight years after Independence, not a single worthwhile Kathakali performance had been staged in New Delhi. Some Malayali associations did bring an artist or two to perform on a limited scale, but there had been no opportunity for people of Delhi and officers of numerous diplomatic corps to see and appreciate Kathakali. So I wanted very much to present Kathakali, the pride of our Malayali hearts, in a befitting manner in Delhi.”

When Nayar came to FACT(Fertilisers and Chemicals Travancore) he brought a love of traditional performing arts, especially of Kathakali, with him. He had established FACT Lalithakala Kendra, a centre for the performing arts, where Kathakali was also taught. Later, however, the Kathakali School was set up as an independent entity within the Udyogmandal campus.

This was sometime in the mid-1960s, the first batch enrolled for classes in 1965. Initially the course was designed as to not interfere with school timings, this was later modified. Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri describes, in his autobiography, Swararchana, a bucolic Udyogmandal campus, in Eloor, which was home to the Kathakali kalari. On one side was the FACT farm with its large expanse of land including paddy fields, lush coconut palms and banana trees.

A lot has passed since then and now, nothing physical remains of the Kathakali school, except memories and countless mouldy stacks of albums in the Lalithakala Kendra building. The fading memories, facts and stories culled from various sources tell a magnificent story of one man’s, MKK Nayar, vision and passion.

A Kathakali fact about FACT

“We were taught, by our ashans (teachers) like in Kalamandalam there were no compromises or watering down. The chitta was strictly followed,” says FACT Bhaskaran, who was among the first students of the Kathakali school and who later joined the school as teacher. Around three-four batches are said to have learnt Kathakali there; the students were paid a stipend, ₹45-50 according to Bhaskaran.

FACT Padmanabhan, considered one of the FACT Kathakali School’s brightest stars, joined the kalari in 1965 with Bhaskaran, training under Vaikom Karunkaran and Kudamaloor Karunakaran Nair. He is one of the handful of Kathakali actors who prefix their name with FACT, an acknowledgement of their alma mater. The others who taught there include Kalamandalam Kesavan (chenda), Kalamandalam Hyderali (music), Chalakudy Nambisan (maddalam), Kalamandalam Sanakara Warrier (maddalam) and Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri.

The faculty was hired to teach Kathakali, exclusively. Those were times when it wasn’t easy being a Kathakali artist, the job at FACT for most of these teachers/artists was a godsend. Kalamandalam Kesavan writes in, Adeeidaraathey, his autobiography, that MKK Nayar firmly believed, in the absence of royal patronage; organisations such as FACT had to do their bit in preserving art forms such as Kathakali. Kalamandalam Embranthiri states that FACT paid him ₹450, a princely sum, compared to the ₹90 he was earning in his previous job. “I remember the Kathakali performances that were put up. Stalwarts of the time graced the stage at FACT. We looked forward to these performances,” says PS Anirudhan, one of the joint secretaries of the FACT Lalithakala Kendra. Kathakali was staged on a weekly basis (every Thursday) during the tourist season (October-March), where senior artists performed. The six month programme was planned to the minutest detail.

There was, however, the Udyogmandal Troupe/Theatre, that toured Europe and South America (Venezula and Caracas) in the 1970s (until 1978). These trips, some extending to six months, gave the much needed exposure to Kathakali.

“Each programme, at each venue, was wonderfully organised. Every performance was accompanied by a brochure, the attendees came prepared for the show. They knew what was happening on stage,” says TRS Menon, general secretary of the FACT Lalithakala Kendra for more than two decades and later its vice-president. Menon accompanied the troupe as manager on the foreign tours.

The school was an ambitious project, the aim was perhaps to form an institution along the lines of Kerala Kalamandalam since MKK Nayar was also the Kalamandalam chairman. The Kathakali School was one of the first casualties of FACT’s changed circumstances. Its running was brought under the FACT Central UP School, following which the classes were moved to the UP School premises, Kalamandalam Embranthiri writes. The Kathakali school building became the ladies hostel. Since the school was moved, the timings changed which left few full-time Kathakali students. The focus then shifted to preparing students for school youth festivals.

In the absence of interest from the management which had other pressing concerns, the Kathakali School ceased to be.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 1:20:04 PM |

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