Theatre

Evergreen hero

Kalamandalam Gopi   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Kalamandalam Gopi is widely recognised as the ‘evergreen hero on the Kathakali stage.’ However, connoisseurs equating Gopi in and out of context with pacha characters have, in a way, confined his limitless histrionic talent to just that kind of roles. As a result, his brilliance in delineating many other types of roles has not got the attention it should have.

Thanks to the divine providence that made Kalamandalam Gopi leave KP Parameswara Menon’s Thullal kalari, he became a student of the Kathakali kalari in Koodallur mana, the preceptor there being Thekkinkattil Ramunni Nair, who was one of the few direct disciples of Pattikkanthoti Ramunni Menon, the doyen of Kalluvazhi chitta of Kathakali. Subsequently, Gopi was fortunate to be admitted to Kerala Kalamandalam. He was blessed to be under the tutelage of luminaries such as Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair, Vazhenkada Kunju Nair and Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair. Systematic and intensive training of seven years in the Kalluvazhi system provided him a solid foundation in the structural aesthetics of Kathakali.

Flexible actor

Gopi adopted appropriateness as the guiding principle of each of his recitals, as was customary with Ramunni Menon, founder-head of the department of Kathakali-acting in Kalamandalam. But he has always been ready to be flexible to a certain extent, in the light of his thorough familiarity with venues not only throughout the length and breadth of Kerala, but also all over the world. Naturally, Gopi is at ease with both convention-bound characters in the standardised Kottayam plays and Subhadraharanam and also with popular characters such as Nala, Rugmamgada, Daksha, Karna and Balabhadra and the hunter in Kiratham, the Brahmin in Santhanagopalam and Krishna in Kuchelavritham. Responding to requests from rasikas, Gopi has occasionally essayed roles such as Ravana in Thoranayudham, Balivijayam and Ravanavijayam, Keechaka, Raudrabheema and even Bali. No wonder he is the most sought after Kathakali thespian today. Fans from far and wide throng to venues and vie with one another to secure front seats to enjoy Gopi Asan’s captivating performance.

Gopi’s favourite co-actor was the late Kottakkal Sivaraman, who played major female roles such as Damayanti, Mohini, Urvasi, Subhadra and Kunthi.

Multi-dimensional glimpses

Connoisseurs often reminisce about the thespian’s memorable presentation of Nala’s soliloquies and interaction with every other actor on the stage irrespective of his status and also of the stature of the character. They provide multi-directional glimpses into various aspects of the hero’s sensual as well as emotional relation with the heroine.

Even while Kalamandalam Krishnan Nair Asan reigned as the unrivalled monarch of Kathakali stages, when an unabridged Nalacharitam with about 60 scenes was slated for staging on four consecutive nights – perhaps for the first time in the history of Kathakali, the organisers, spearheaded by D Appukkuttan Nair, unanimously decided to assign the lead role of Nala to Gopi. There were several reasons to justify that decision: Gopi’s mastery over all aspects of acting in Kathakali was rated as outstanding. His features, especially his face, has a grace and charm that is evident even after makeup and costuming.

The astonishing precision and exquisite elegance of his gestures, postures and kinesics including kalasams, always in tune with the percussion and the music, had already earned him umpteen fans. The quality of his enthralling emotional as well as transformational acting had by that time been recognised by one and all. To top it all, the appropriateness of the imaginative, innovative and context-sensitive improvisations that often brought out the suggestive meaning of the play-text mesmerised the audience. Finally, his presentation mostly adhered to the conventional purity of Kalluvazhi style, every time.

Gopi also served on the faculty of Kathakali in Kalamandalam for more than three decades and retired as the Principal of that internationally reputed institution.

He continues to serve his alma mater as an adjunct professor and a member of academic bodies such as the board of studies.

Many VCDs and DVDs present his select stage performances. He is the recipient of numerous, prestigious awards and recognitions. They include those of the State and Central Sangita Natak Akademis and the Padma Shri from the Government of India.

Reel outing

* Malayalam feature films such as Vanaprastham (directed by Shaji N Karun) and Shantham (by Jayaraj) present Gopi without Kathakali make-up or costumes.

* Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s documentary film Kalamandalam Gopi presents a number of carefully selected scenes that focus on the aesthetics of the virtuoso’s performance.

* The docu-fiction titled Making of a maestro, produced and directed by Meena (Das) Narayan in 2010 indicates how Vadakke Manalath Govindan Nair, born on May 21, 1937, in Kothachira, a village near Thrissur, blossomed through various stages into Kalamandalam Gopi or Gopi Asan.

The author is an academic, critic, composer and former chairperson of Kerala Kalamandalam

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 9:23:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/celebrating-the-journey-of-kathakali-thespian-kalamandalam-gopi-who-turns-80/article18698727.ece

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