Margi Vijayakumar is as graceful as Princess Damayanti

Margi Vijayakumar in ‘Poothanamoksham’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Margi Vijayakumar’s Damayanti is an ever-evolving character. Initially, she is a teenage princess enjoying the company of her friends. When she hears about Nala, the handsome, noble and valiant king of Nishadha, Damayanti is drawn to him even though she has never seen him. A golden swan acts as the messenger in their love story. Then, she becomes Nala’s wife, and evolves into a diligent, practical and intelligent queen, who sends her children to the safety of her father’s palace when Nala begins to lose a game of dice. When Nala is divested of his kingdom and fortune, Damayanti does not lose heart. Finally, it is her determination and wisdom that helps her find Nala and be reunited with him.

Vijayakumar takes audiences to the depths of each of these facets of Damayanti’s character on the four days of the staging of Nalacharitham. This, according to Bharata, the author of Natya Shastra, is the essence of acting or abhinaya, which literally means ‘to bring the character to the forefront’.

Vijayakumar, who recently retired as principal of the reputed Margi theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, was born 60 years ago, the seventh of eight children, to Velayudhan Nair and Lalithamma, in Thonnakkal, near Thiruvananthapuram. His father was the headmaster of a primary school, and ensured a good education for all his children. Vijayakumar had a brief exposure to Kathakali acting at a training centre founded by the then up-and-coming Peethambaran, but from 1975 he trained under thespians Mankulam Vishnu Namboothiri and Enchakkaattu Ramachandran at the Margi.

Maiden performance

For his maiden performance at Vivekananda Cultural Institute in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijayakumar was to play Rugmini but chose to play Rugmi, the heroine’s brother. Due to the physical strain, he fell unconscious during the performance, and Guru Mankulam consoled him, saying he would shine in female roles. He went on to become the favourite disciple of the legendary Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair, then a visiting professor at Margi, who trained him in all the major female roles in Kathakali.

Over the years, Vijayakumar has excelled in all of them, but he counts Urvashi’s role next only to that of Damayanti. When Urvashi describes Arjuna’s charms in great detail to her friend, the actor has to visualise his physique and demeanour in all its grandeur.

Vijayakumar delights in meeting the challenges of playing several moods simultaneously, as in the case of Mohini in Rugmangadacharitham. On one hand, at Brahma’s behest, she has to see that King Rugmangada allows his Ekadasi ritual to be interrupted. On the other, she is immensely disturbed about conveying to the king the terrible alternative of having to behead his beloved son.

Realistic portrayals

In presenting Poothana in Poothanamoksham, Vijayan does not employ the usual practice of holding a doll to represent the infant Krishna; he creates the impression that Lalitha is holding the child and feeding him by placing the cloth covering her head over her left elbow to give the impression of Poothana holding a baby.

In Kalyanasaugandhikam, where Bhima and Draupadi are in a romantic mood, a fragrant flower falls from the sky that Draupadi picks up and shows to Bhima. Vijayan presents the whole sequence without the need for a real flower to be thrown on the stage.

Whether Sairandhri, Sati, Kirathasthri, Sita, Rugmini, Subhadra, Lakshmi, Draupadi or Kunthi, Vijayakumar is able to lend an edge to the performance. And recently, he has begun to expand his repertoire with strong male roles such as that of Sudeva in Santhanagopalam.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 12:42:32 PM |

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