Theatre

Karna’s momentous oaths

Staging of Karnasapatham

Staging of Karnasapatham   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.

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Lead actors performing the main characters of Mali’s Karnasapatham did justice to the depth and emotional quotient of the play

Composed by V. Madhavan Nair (1915-1996), better known as ‘Mali’, Karnasapatham is perhaps the most successful Kathakali play written in the 20th century. Reportedly exceeding 5,000 stage performances during the playwright’s lifetime itself, the play, a modern classic, still continues to be a ready choice of connoisseurs and organisers.

The play’s text, in simple Malayalam, is designed for a short performance of about two and a half hours.

The play avoids relying on quatrains and use of the curtian once Duryodhana makes his entry on stage. Even the quatrain sung prior to it is ascribed to the late chenda player and Kathakali playwright Kalamandalam Kesavan.

Emotional conflicts enhancing the dramatic feel and sweet padams make Karnasapatham enjoyable for all kinds of rasikas.

A recent performance of the play earned the appreciation of connoisseurs in the capital city.

Kalamandalam Balasubrahmanyan and Margi Vijayakumar essayed the roles of Karna and Kunti respectively. Balasubrahmanyan’s Karna occupied centre stage from his very entry. Noting King Duryodhana and Queen Bhanumathi, essayed respectively by Mayyanadu Rajeevan Namboodiri and Induja Cherooliyil, were visibly disturbed, Karna promptly launched into his act with all the apt expressions. Karna’s first vow is to console Bhanumathi by proclaiming his unflinching support to Duryodhana.

Karna’s emotional conflicts about his birth and his trauma after Kunti reveals the truth about his mother were evocatively portrayed on stage. The respect Balasubrahmanyan’s Karna showed to Kunti, whom he knew for certain as the mother of his arch-enemies, was entirely becoming of the noblest among warriors.

Karna’s second vow was in response to Kunti’s begging him the favour of joining her other children.

While his father, the Sun god, was anxiously watching, he vowed that he would spare all the four of her sons other than the vainglorious Arjuna, so that five of her sons would survive the battle.

Dushasana was enacted by Kalamandalam Parthasarthi. The performance was interspersed with instances that sparkled with imagination and innovation. Vijayakumar, as always, proved the worthy co-actor to Balasubrahmanyan.

The mother taking leave of her son and his seeing her off for the first and the last time brimmed with emotions. Although a novice, Induja rose to the occasion. The paucity of dance interludes (kalasams) in Karnasapatham was adequately compensated by the ‘naalaaratti’ built into the final benedictory ritual collectively performed by the three actors who essayed the male roles.

Veteran singer Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan, ably supported by his disciple Kalamandalam Ajesh, rendered the play-text mellifluously.

The context-sensitive sweetness and grandeur of Unnikrishnan’s rendition were reminiscent of the styles of his preceptors such as Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri and Kalamandalam Gangadharan and of his long-time lead singer Vaikom Purushothaman Pillai. Sodari, maharajni (Sreeraga), Vaalsalyavaaridhe (Kanada), Entiha manmaanase (Hindolam), and Ennute ponnomane (Sahana) will linger in the minds of rasikas.

The orchestra, handled by Kalabharati Unnikrishnan on the chenda and Rathnakaran and Krishnaprasad of Margi on the maddalam, provided a congenial ambiance for the performance. The recital was held under the aegis of Drisyavedi.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 8:06:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/karnas-momentous-oaths/article22877135.ece

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