Theatre

When Keechaka met his match

Kalamandalam Shanmughan as Malini

Kalamandalam Shanmughan as Malini   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji.K

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Keechakavadham was ably performed by a superb team of actors who were able to delve into the nuances of the play

Keechakavadham, the episode depicting the fall of the titan Keechaka, penned by Irayimman Thampi (1783-1856) in the form of a Kathakali play, like his two other plays Utharasvayamvaram and Dakshayagam, conform excellently to the framework of the genre.

Thespian Kalamandalam Ramankutti Nair had once commented that in Thampi’s plays there is scarcely any syllable sans intrinsic quality germane to Kathakali (Kathakalitham). Right from the beginning, they hold the ground, enthralling rasikas and artistes alike.

Being assigned the role of Keechaka, like that of any other major character created by Thampi, is considered a significant recognition among Kathakali artistes.

A recent performance of Keechakavadham in Thiruvananthapuram presented an array of gifted artistes.

Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair as Keechaka and Kalamandalam Shanmughan as Malini

Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair as Keechaka and Kalamandalam Shanmughan as Malini   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K

As usual, it was an abridged version of the play showcasing most of the action-packed scenes favoured by rasikas.

Keechaka is a gigantic character immortalised by the legendary Kavunkal Senior Sankarankutti Panicker and several other top-ranking actors including Guru Chengannur Raman Pillai, Pallippuram Gopalan Nair, Kalamandalam Krishanan Nair and Madavur Vasudevan Nair.

Veteran actor Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair’s enacting of the character was flawless from almost all viewpoints. His appearance in general, emotional-cum-gestural acting, dance-interludes and postures were pleasant in every respect. Never did he traverse territories exuding obscenity or indecency although there are umpteen situations in the episode for miserable pitfalls in this regard.

Just before falling into the death-trap of the clasp of Bhima, while the stage attendants were raising the curtain to partially cover Valala’s body, Nandakumaran Nair’s Keechaka raised it slightly so as to reveal on his face, for a fraction of a second, a smile expressive of the bliss he thought he would experience shortly on being able to hug Malini. That was indeed a wonderfully context-sensitive and aesthetically pleasant flight of imaginative innovation that earned him applause from all discerning connoisseurs.

In the famous padam ‘Malini, ruchiragunasalini’, the crucial words clarifying the hero’s intention of taking the bewitchingly beautiful Malini for his duly wedded wife and making her, in effect, the most powerful woman in the kingdom (‘Mama vallabhayaayvaazhka’), was, deplorably omitted, as is customary with the northern style of presenting the episode.

Nandakumaran Nair’s delineation of the character, however, did not, unlike that of many others, present him as a scoundrel deserving absolutely little or no respect.

Kalamandalam Shanmughan’s Malini laudably brought out all the distinctive traits of the character who is none other than Draupadi in disguise, the embodiment of self-confidence and will-power.

Shanmughan, as always, proved beyond any doubt, his exceptional dexterity in matching up to co-actors of any level of standing in the field and on the stage.

Kalamandalam Arun Raju’s depiction of the character Sudeshna, the queen, left nothing to be desired.

Guruvayur Haridas, donning the character of Valala (Bhima in disguise), made his role impeccable within the short span of time he received. Incidentally, the task of the artiste presenting the character Valala in Keechakavadham is stupendous: he has to appear simultaneously as a cook as well as the mighty Bhima, capable of overpowering Keechaka, who is said to be endowed with the strength of 10,000 elephants. Valala, devoid of any impressive aspect of make-up and costume, strangling Keechaka to death is the height of drama in the episode. Haridas was commendable in the role.

Kottakkal Narayanan, ably assisted by Kottakkal Santhosh, semiotically translated every meaningful unit of the play text, noted for excellence in musical qualities, to pristine stage-music, strictly adhering to classical perfection. The percussion, handled by Kottakkal Prasad on the chenda and Margi Rathnakaran duly assisted by Margi Ananthu, provided the apt ambience for the play.

The programme was held under the aegis of Drisyavedi.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 5:17:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/keechakavadham-was-ably-performed-by-a-superb-team-of-actors-who-were-able-to-delve-into-the-nuances-of-the-play/article26076832.ece

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