Walking in the steps of Kalyanikuttty Amma

Smitha Rajan with Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma

Smitha Rajan with Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma

​Vinod Mankara is among a handful of filmmakers who have been trying to document and promote Mohiniyattam through his works. His documentary Nithya Kalayani Oru Mohiniyatta Padham and Lasyam are quintessential of his interest in the lyrical dance form. Nithya Kalayani Oru Mohiniyatta Padham fetched him two national awards and one State award in addition to an award from Kerala Kalamandalam.

His latest documentary, Mohinyattathinte Amma, on the legendary Guru Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma is perhaps the first on a pioneer researcher and practitioner of Mohiniyattam. Produced by Smitha Rajan, renowned dancer and grand-daughter of Kalyanikutty Amma, as her tribute to her grandmother, the script and direction of the 50-minute film is by Vinod himself.

In addition to documenting Kalyanikutty Amma’s contributions in shaping and enlarging the repertoire of Mohiniyatttam as a practitioner, teacher and poet, the film highlights her compositions and choreography. By throwing light on her compositions, the filmmaker introduces them to a new generation of dancers for whom the documentary provides enough grist for research.

The film is of historical significance as the dance form was hampered by teething troubles since its introduction in Kalamandalam in 1932 by Mahakavi Vallathol, the founder of Kalamandalam. Kalyanikutty Amma belonged to the second batch: 1937 to 1940, after the first batch had to be wound up in 1935. Even as she had the privilege of being trained under Nattuvan Appattu Krishna Panicker, Mohiniyattam was yet to evolve into a well-structured form in Kalamandalam. It was Kalyanikutty Amma’s unquenchable passion for dance and, later, a conversation with Vallathol on his death-bed that compelled her to embark on a challenging journey for moulding the dance form.

The documentary begins with this conversation that serves as a prelude to what is going to unfold. Vallathol says, “Kalyani, I could uplift Kathakali to a satisfactory level but couldn’t do much about Mohiniyattam. I am entrusting Mohiniyattam to you and I am confident that you can do it”.

Depiction of Kallu’s (Kallu was Kalyanikutty Amma’s monicker) childhood, especially her physically demanding exploits that were on a par with the boys, has been well-portrayed.

Her deep interest in literature finds elucidation in the film. Vinod covers almost all her poems through stills, most of which were published in Mathrubhumi . They include ‘Atmarodanam’, ‘Atmabali’, ‘Dagdahrudayam’, ‘Poovadiyilvachu’ and also Vanamala, a collection of her poetic works with a preface by poet-litterateur O N V Kurup.

Even her marriage with Kathakali legend Krishnan Nair, braving the resistance from her own family, her agony and solitude post-marriage, find expression through her poem, ‘Parithrupta’. Perhaps, the only omission is Thryambakam, a collection of three dance dramas that she scripted later in her life. She was given the title of Kavayitry (poetess) by Vallathol himself for her poem felicitating him on his shashtipoorthy (60th birthday).

Her days in Kalamandalam are vividly narrated by her daughter Sreedevi. Kalyanikutty Amma’s Kathakali classes under Pattikkamthodi Ravunny Menon, as suggested by Vallathol, comes as a surprise. She essayed commendably Lalitha in Kirmiravadham and Kunthi in Bakavadham . Her multi-faceted talents arer revealed when the film talks about her training in Manipuri dance and music and also on the mridangam and in Kalarippayattu and yoga in Kalamandalam. Sreedevi also gives vignettes of her mother’s services as a consummate teacher in various institutions.

Shots of Smitha’s interaction with her grandmother highlight how her the latter’s dream was focussed only on Mohiniyattam and serves as a prologue to her future progress.

Apart from Kalyanikutty Amma’s daughters, Sreedevi Rajan and Kala Vijayan, who were trained by her, Mohiniyattam exponents Nirmala Panicker, Bharathi Shivaji and Kanak Rele appear on different occasions to talk about their guru. Vinod was able to throw some light on Kalyanikutty Amma’s compositions through their conversation. Nirmala’s mention of the composition ‘Enthoru mohana chandrika bhoovithil’ is followed by a scintillating delineation of the same by Smitha, shot at the picturesque temple at Badami in Karnataka. Kala explains how her mother’s foray into new compositions encompassed the navarasas. She cites ‘Varika varika sakhi’ as an example.

While Bharathi, who also had learnt from Kalayanikutty Amma, avers that her own style was anchored on her teaching, Kanak Rele, who had filmed Kalyanikutty Amma’s performance during 1972-73, describes her as a doyenne of Mohiniyattam.

Smitha Rajan

Smitha Rajan

A major portion of the film is devoted towards depicting Smitha’s expedition to revisit the places her grandmother had gone to during her innumerable sorties for collecting information about the roots of the dance form. The visuals, along with the narration, bring to us the scenic beauty of Kanyakumari, Suchindram, Padmanabhapuram et al . Lost in the world of the temple dancers of yore, Smitha performs the composition ‘Muzhumathi pongi thalirukal minni’. At the Sree Rama Temple, Chokkur, Smitha is moved while touching the stone inscriptions that bear references to temple dancers there. “This stone inscription of AD 932, which my grandmother tried to locate in vain in 1980, I could visit in 2019,” she points out. And, as a tribute to that, she presents a Sree Rama Saptham there.

Kala’s explanation, enhanced with demonstration, shows how her mother enriched the adavus by adopting a few from Thruvathirakkali and improvising on them. In this connection, Nirmala recalls her guru’s classification of the adavus into various groups such as ‘Thaganam’, ‘Jaganam’ and so on and how the introduction of Saptham expanded the repertoire of Mohiniyattam. That the credit for including Mohiniyattam in the competitions of the State Youth Festival since 1970 goes to Kalayanikutty Amma finds mention in the documentary.

The style of the coiffure, nagabandham and kakapaksham , about which much controversy had erupted in the past, is logically explained by Kalyanikutty Amma. Her advice to dancers to dump controversies regarding the origin of Mohiniyattam and work for the betterment of the dance form appears meaningful.

Vinod has included snippets of Kalyanikutty Amma’s roles in films like Rarichan Enna Pouran, Asuravith and Gandharva Kshetram and also touches upon her role in the play Chavitty Kuzhacha Mannu.

Kala’s grouse that due honour commensurate with her mother’s contributions was not accorded to her is thought-provoking even as she recalls how a police team that was supposed to give a gun salute for her funeral came after the cremation.

The denouement is touching as Smitha, after praying before the portraits of her parents, dances to the lines ‘Kandu njaan devane’, also a composition of her grandmother’s.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2022 12:08:50 am |