Ode to a titan

Madavoor Vasudevan Nair

Madavoor Vasudevan Nair   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.


Kathakali maestro Madavoor Vasudevan Nair, a follower of the Kaplingadan chitta, was renowned for his anti-hero kathi roles

Madavoor Vasudevan Nair was the leading exponent of the southern style of Kathakali. He survived all the three other noted disciples of the legendary Guru Chengannur Raman Pillai, namely Chennithala Chellappan Pillai, Haripad Ramakrishna Pillai and Mankombu Sivasankara Pillai. He was a distinguished successor on account of the dexterity with which he followed the footsteps of his preceptor, his remarkable flexibility and enviable acceptability throughout the length and breadth of Kerala, and for playing key roles for Kerala Kalamandalam and for the Kathakali troupe of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple.

Following the pristine Kaplingadan tradition standardised with meticulous care by Guru Chengannur, gigantic characters in kathi makeup became Madavoor’s forte. Whenever the episode selected involved major kathi characters such as Ravana, Keechaka, Duryodhana, Narakasura, Hiranyakasipu, Jarasandha, Sisupala and Vrishaparvavu, Madavoor was invariably the first choice, especially in south Kerala. He was at home with other characters such as Hanuman in Kalyanasaugandhikam, the hunter in Kiratham and Nalacharitham, the golden swan and the Brahmins in Santhanagopalam, Rugminiswayamvaram and Nalacharitham too.

Thiranokku by Madavoor Vasudevan Nair

Thiranokku by Madavoor Vasudevan Nair   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji.K

Madavoor’s mettle used to be clear even in his Thiranooku (introductory scene). Adopting a majestic posture, he would roar with the half-folded curtain resting above his skirt, as his piercing eyes surveyed the crowd.

Adhering to the conventions associated with the delineation of each character, he would embellish the presentation with imaginative and context-sensitive innovations. He presented an earnest Keechaka sincerely in love with Sairandhri. He begins his conversation with her by calling her Malini, in all tenderness and affection. That is the last word he utters before being strangled by Valala. Madavoor’s presentation used to bring this highly romantic aspect of the episode in full focus.

The ace actor never allowed his presentation to be diluted in quality to cater to the audience. But he left no stone unturned in showcasing his best in whatever role assigned to him. Even at the age of 80 he would do the Kathakali pose of the golden swan to perfection. While donning the role of Hanuman, Madavoor’s enactment of wild animals and of a terror-stricken Bhima had even the children in the audience impressed.

His presentation of the major kathi characters were reminiscent of that of his guru. Ravana tossing Mount Kailas as if it were a ball and Bana drumming the numerous drums with his thousand arms are but a few of the umpteen scenes Madavoor has made memorable with his inimitable histrionic talent.

Madavoor Vasudevan Nair as Keechakan

Madavoor Vasudevan Nair as Keechakan   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji.K

The confusion of Duryodhana and his brothers while navigating the polished floors of the Pandavas’ palace and the 10 faces and 20 arms of Ravana vying with each other to caress Mandodari were some of the scenes he enriched with his skills.

While interacting with his co-actors on stage the veteran always took care to provide them opportunities to bring out their best.

Chengannur Raman Pillai entrusted the running of the Kalabharathi Kathakali School at Pakalkuri to Madavoor and Kurichi Kunjan Panicker.

In 1958, during an interview with Chengannur, the maestro introduced Madavoor to me as Vasudevan. The disciple was then respectfully massaging the guru’s shoulders with oil. Madavoor, who was trained in music was often invited by the All India Radio to present Kathakali padams. His most reputed disciple is Kalamandalam Rajasekaharan, who is quite active in the field, especially in essaying female roles.

The country recognised the thespian’s contribution to Kathakali with a Padma Bhushan. He was the recipient of several accolades including the State Kathakali award. Madavoor asan breathing his last while wearing the facial make-up of Ravana in the episode called Ravana’s Victory is significant as he is known for his fine presentation of the role. His demise at the age of 89 marks the end of an epoch in contemporary history of Kathakali. He held the flag of Kaplingadan chitta high.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 2:01:53 PM |

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