This Kathakali festival was a dedication to veteran Kottakkal Sivaraman

Kalamandalam Manoj as Daksha (left) and Kalamandalam Praveen as Vedavalli

Kalamandalam Manoj as Daksha (left) and Kalamandalam Praveen as Vedavalli   | Photo Credit: Achuthan T K

Orma 2019 celebrated Irayimman Thampi’s plays in a three-day Kathakali fête in Palakkad, which was dedicated to the memory of thespian Kottakkal Sivaraman

Orma, an annual festival that pays homage to the late Kathakali actor Kottakkal Sivaraman, had an expanded scope and mission this year. The three-day workshop, from July 19 to 21, was a comprehensive look into the works of the celebrated 19th century poet Irayimman Thampi, who had a big influence on the Kathakali literature that came after him. Thampi set an example for future playwrights in the treatment of the plot and construction of verses that suit Kathakali’s grammar.

The event featured lectures and discussions on the theatrical devices used by Thampi, rhythmic patterns in his plays, the playwright’s contributions to Mohiniyattam and his prolific output in various genres. However, the focus was on Kathakali performances, with a full day devoted to each of Thampi’s three popular plays — Keechakavadham, Utharaswayamvaram and Dakshayagam. The plays were performed almost in their entirety, featuring many scenes not usually staged nowadays.

Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar (left) as Duryodhana and Kottakkal Pradeep as Bhanumathi

Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar (left) as Duryodhana and Kottakkal Pradeep as Bhanumathi   | Photo Credit: Achuthan T K

Perhaps, the key takeaway of the festival, which witnessed the participation of 100-odd artistes, was the importance of padinja padam, or romantic opening scenes in slow tempo, that showcases the aesthetic beauty of Kathakali. The slow and elaborate kalasams, or pure dance movements, that punctuate these padams exemplify the body language of Kathakali.

Kalamandalam Balasubramanian’s cholliyattam (performance without costumes) of the padam ‘Kalyani kanka’, Kesavan Kundalayar’s performance of the same padam in Utharaswayamvaram and Kalamandalam Manoj’s ‘Poonthenvani’ in Dakshayagam all underlined why such scenes should not be sacrificed for the sake of expediency. This overview of the workshop will look at the scenes not commonly seen in the current performance arena.

Kottakkal Devadas as Mallan and Kalamandalam Pradeep as Valalan

Kottakkal Devadas as Mallan and Kalamandalam Pradeep as Valalan   | Photo Credit: Achuthan T K

The first day saw the recital of Keechakavadham, set during the Pandavas’ stay in disguise in the Virata kingdom. Keechaka, the kingdom’s military chief, is bewitched by the beauty of Sairandhri. He eventually pays with his life for his infatuation when Valala, Bheema in disguise, strangles him to death.

The opening scene — that shows the Pandavas in disguise visiting King Virata seeking employment — was a rare one on stage. However, a crowded stage with three characters wearing similar costume of a doothan (messenger) didn’t turn out to be impressive. The Mallayudham scene in Keechakavadham has made a comeback of late. Kottakkal Devadas has made a mark as Mallan, the wrestler itching for a fight, who gets killed by Valalan. Kalamandalam Pradeep as Valalan was a good match for Devadas. It is a pure lokadharmi act that can be enjoyed even by the uninitiated, which may explain its popularity.

Devadas has a natural gift for the burlesque, which he tapped into to the hilt. It is interesting to notice that the mannerisms he employs to define his character are never the same. But one felt that the actual bout, after a display of chest-thumping swagger, should have ended sooner.

Kalamandalam Krishnakumar as Keechaka combined with Margi Vijayakumar as Sairandhri to present a mature performance. After his thiranokku, Krishnakumar introduced a short attam on Keechaka seeing Sairandhri and speculating about the identity of this celestial beauty. This attam, not performed nowadays, seemed appropriate, even essential, in setting out the context of the story. Kottakkal Madhu and Kalamandalam Ajesh Prabhakar did full justice to Thampi’s beautiful lyrics.

Utharaswayamvaram, performed on the second day, also takes place during the Pandavas’ stay in the Virata kingdom. The plot revolves around Duryodhana launching an attack on the kingdom in a bid to force the Pandavas to come out of their disguise.

Kalamandalam Hari R Nair during the Thrigarthavattam

Kalamandalam Hari R Nair during the Thrigarthavattam   | Photo Credit: Achuthan T K

Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar, who appeared as Duryodhana, and Kottakkal Pradeep as Bhanumathi showcased the classical beauty of Kathakali in performing ‘Kalyani kanka’, the romantic opening padam in slow tempo. It was a textbook display of stances, mudras, grammar and structure of Kathakali. Kundalayar essayed with ease the famous ‘ekalochanam’, where fleeting expressions of anger and sadness alternatively flashed through his eyes.

Kundalayar maintained great energy levels till his last scene where Duryodhana gets ready for war. But this brisk descriptive attam appeared repetitive since it came soon after an almost similar Thrigarthavattam in the previous scene.

Moderation is Kalamandalam Hari R Nair’s signature. His attam after the thiranokku and the stylised act of getting ready for battle were brisk and efficient. The scene was all the more memorable thanks to excellent support from the percussion team led by Kalamandalam Venumohan on the chenda and Kottakkal Radhakrishnan on the maddalam. Dakshayagam, Thampi’s final play staged at the festival, centred on Lord Siva’s marriage to King Daksha’s daughter, Sathi, and the tragedy of Daksha blinded by hubris.

Kalamandalam Manoj as Daksha and Kalamandalam Praveen as Vedavalli made the first two scenes outstanding. The slow sringara padam ‘Poonthenvani’, similar in structure but different in mood to ‘Bale kel nee’ of Kirmeeravadham, was done with finesse. The second scene, ‘Kanninakkanandam’, stood out for its expressive abhinaya.

Orma 2019 was organised by Vazhenkada Kunchu Nair Smaraka Trust, Karalmanna, Palakkad, and supported by Kerala Sahitya Akademi and Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi.

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2020 12:40:18 PM |

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