Theatre

Experimenting with the classical repertoire

Pothiyil Renjith Chakyar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Avimarakam holds a unique place among the 13 classic Sanskrit plays believed to have been composed by the ancient poet Bhasa. The significance of the play lies in its source. Bhasa had chosen mainly four sources for the 13 plays – Mahabharatham, Ramayanam, Bhagavatham and Brihadkatha, the now-lost epic narrative of stories composed by sixth century author Gunadhya. Avimarakam draws inspiration from Brihadkatha, which could be broadly described as a fable.

Although the 13plays were discovered as part of the traditional repertoire of Koodiyattam performances, no concrete evidence could be traced regarding the performance of Avimarakam in the format of Koodiyattam in ancient days. Only some vague references to the play being performed in the temples at certain places such as Velloor or Vellimala exist in some old texts. The references point to the staging of five among the six acts of the play and contain the Malayalam names of these acts, rather than the original Sanskrit names.

However, so far, no Attaprakaram (acting manual) or Kramadeepika (production manual) of Avimarakam has been found. In the recent past, Kavalam Narayana Paniker had produced the play.

Novel venture

In this context, the performance of the first two acts of Avimarakam, directed by young Koodiyattam artiste Pothiyil Renjith Chakyar at Ammannur Gurukulam was quite a commendable effort, especially because he had to start from scratch in the absence of the Kramadeepika or Attaprakaram.

Produced with the support of the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi, the recital, which lasted for three days at the Madhava Natya Bhoomi of Ammannur Gurukulam at Irinjalakuda, came up with a play that was performed by experienced artistes of Ammannur Gurukulam.

Avimarakam is the story of Prince Avimaraka, son of King Saveera. A curse forces the king and his family to live in exile for a year. During that period, Avimaraka saves a princess from a raging elephant. The princess falls in love with the handsome stranger and her Dhathri, her senior-most attendant, steps in to help her. After a series of complications and intrigues the two are united and all is well that ends well.

Adapting to the stage

The new choreography posed many challenges for the performers and the team as the text had called for a number of novel portions of abhinaya that are not found in the traditional repertory of Koodiyattam.

Ammannur Rajaneesh Chakyar as King Kunthibhoja came up with a detailed portrayal of the birth of his daughter and her growing up into a beautiful maiden; Renjith Chakyar as Bhoothika, the court attendant, portrayed the scene of the raging elephant and Sooraj Nambiar, as Kounjayanan, another court attendant, depicted how Avimaraka pacified the elephants.

Sooraj Nambiar, Kapila Venu, Aparna Nangiar in Avimarakam

Sooraj Nambiar, Kapila Venu, Aparna Nangiar in Avimarakam   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Kapila Venu in the role of Dhathri, essayed a delightful portrayal of the love-lorn princess’ torment. Aparna Nangiar performed as Nalinika on the last day, and as Chedi on the second day, accompanying the Vidushaka. Saritha Krishnakumar portrayed the queen.

The Vidushaka, another major challenge for all new choreographies, was enacted by Ammannur Kuttan Chakyar, the senior-most performer of the Ammannur clan.

In contrast to the usual portrayal of the Vidushaka as an intelligent and somewhat comical companion to the hero, in Avimarakam, the Vidushaka is more or less a dim-witted guy who is teased by the female consort, the Chedi. The Vidushaka’s slokas were composed by scholar and teacher E.N. Narayanan.

Creating the Aaharya – the costumes and the make-up – for the new characters must have been equally challenging. Kalanilayam Haridas, who did the chutti (make-up), said he had made some slight variations to suit the characters, like adding a tinge of black to the green of Avimaraka’s ‘Pacha Vesham,’ to symbolise his state after he was cursed. A dash of black was added to Avimaraka’s costume also.

While Kalamandalam Rajeev, Kalamandalam A.N. Hariharan and Kalamandalam K.P. Narayanan Nambiar accompanied on the mizhavu, edakka was played by Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan.

Thalam was provided by Gayathri Unnikrishnan, Archana Nandakumar and Keerthi Sagar.


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Printable version | Dec 4, 2021 10:22:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/avimarakam-by-bhasa-staged-in-koodiyattam-format/article19635078.ece

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