Venu’s Navarasa Sadhana workshop goes online

Venu teaching students at the workshop   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When a drunken brawl erupted between two young men on the roof of a house at Irinjalakuda, a crowd soon gathered. As it threatened to get worse, the lady next door picked up the phone to call the police. The duo’s friends rushed to stop her, explaining that they were only students of Natanakairali, practising abhinaya.

G. Venu, the director of Natanakairali and the man behind Navarasa Sadhana, has devised an ingenious technique of evoking the nine rasas during a 15-day course that is attended by performing artistes .

Venu has a long history — six decades as a Kathakali artiste, researcher, author of many books, and consummate Koodiyattam performer — but it was his tryst with Koodiyattam maestro Ammannur Madhava Chakyar four decades ago that served as a catalyst to explore the extreme heights of abhinaya that the Chakyar community is famous for from the days of the Silappathikaram. Venu followed Ammannur Madhava Chakyar like a shadow until the latter’s death in 2008, closely studying the training methodology of Chakyars.

From the best

He organised a series of workshops for three years, in which practitioners of Koodiyattam, Kathakali and other classical dances, of Tantric vidya, Theyyam and Mudiyettu were roped in for discussions and demonstrations. Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair, Kidangur Rama Chakyar, Lakshmana Peruvannan, KPC Narayanan Bhattathiripad and Padma Subramaniam were some of the pivotal people involved. Navarasa Sadhana is the culmination of all this.

Venu also dipped deeply into the Natyasastra, which states that rasa is produced by the skilful combination of vibhava (determinents), anubhava (consequents) and vyabhichari bhavas (transitory states). Said Venu, “My enquiries convinced me that though these have been prescribed in Natyasastra, the vyabhichari bhavas have not been fully explored by academicians and practitioners in the past”.

Old to new

It speaks of Venu’s ingenuity that he has been able to evolve a methodology that is anchored in tradition but is still applicable for training in contemporary methods of abhinaya. It consists of stylisation exercises that are based on bringing together every bhava related to the sensory and physical realms culled from everyday experiences.

Students are encouraged to concentrate on vibhavas such as worry, poverty, humiliation, loss, etc. to kindle their emotions. During the process, they shed their inhibitions. Interestingly, they are allowed to use the entire campus to experience each vyabhichari bhava.

This writer saw students sitting frozen, breaking into convulsions or spells of shouting. Some collapsed on the ground. Finally, one after another, they enacted roles of their choice, to depict different emotions. Venu pointed out that these are experiences of vyabhichari bhavas and not abhinaya. It is this experience that enables students to transform from the individual to the actor and then to the character.

The transformation is easier because they have total freedom — Venu’s role consists in simply giving them some suggestions and narrating stories about the stalwarts of yore.

Venu introduced this method in the National School of Drama in 2010 where he had been teaching Koodiyattam since 2007. It was found to be very fruitful and it was after this that he conceptualised the 15-day course in 2016. As of March this year, until the lockdown, some 400 students have completed the course. The course has since gone online.

Most students are acclaimed performers in theatre, cinema and classical dance from across the country and abroad. One theatre artist compared her body to a string instrument that was not properly tuned, and said, “Now, I know how to tune my body myself.”

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 6:50:11 AM |

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