Friday Review

Harichandra, a moving spectacle

A scene from Harichandra at Bhagavatha Mela Natya Nataka festival in Melattur. Photo: Special Arrangement.  

Harichandra, written by Venkatarama Sastri, was staged by Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Jayanti Bhagavata Mela Natya Nataka Sangam, Melattur, as part of their 76th Bhagavata Mela Nataka Utsav 2016. The play performed over two nights was a successful endeavour, the credit going to the crew especially S. Natarajan, artistic director and senior most exponent of the Bhagavata Mela theatre tradition who relentlessly works to preserve the ancient theatre tradition.

Konangi or the first character to appear was played by versatile artiste R. Varadarajan. This was followed by the entry of Ganesa played by Talin Subbaraya, a talented young performer. ) Venkata Subramanian (Vasishta) and S. Neelakantan (Viswamitra) established the striking differences in their characters through their short entries.

Katikamvaadu (Sai Ajay N) announced the arrival of the king. Gopala Krishnan’s portrayal of Lohitaksha was clean and simple. For the audience who had seen S. Kumar play the villainous Hiranyakasipu the previous night, it was wonderful to witness the other side of the actor.

To give opportunities to the next generation, Natarajan had chosen N. Srikanth for the role of Chandramati on the first night. But Srikanth’s flawless geometric Bharatanatyam movements seemed too perfect for the Bhagavata Mela style. The entry of Chandramati did not include the use of tirasila (curtain) as is used in the pravesa daru of a king or a queen; the paucity of male brahmin dancers, an aspect strictly followed by Natarajan, could have been a reason. Pravesa daru seemed to lay accent on nritta but Srikanth’s skill and experience came to the fore in capturing the essence of the character with equal efficiency.

“Can you show me a person who never tells a lie,” asks Devendran (S. Prasanna) of the sages. Vasishta utters the name of Harischandra and Viswamitra promises to make him tell a lie.

Worth mentioning is the wonderful performance of Vijayamadhavan as Maatanga Kanni. His enticing movements looked just perfect for the role and made the midnight audience sit up with renewed interest. Varadarajan, a senior artist also played Nakshatra, the companion who is sent by Viswamitra to extract the sum of money that Harischandra had promised. Incidentally, Varadarajan has been part of the team for 40 years now.

The second day brought the much awaited segment - Natarajan play the role of Chandramati. With his subtle expressions, he lifted the performance to a different level.

On reaching Kasi, Harischandra sells his wife and son to work as servants in the house of the Kala Koushikar or priest (S. Neelakantan). If Kumar made the best use of the moving lyrics, Natarajan mesmerised the audience with “Medapai Sakulato” in Darbari Kannada ragam depicting the bygone days of Chandramati in the palace.

The sancharis depicted by Natarajan were elaborate, natural and stood for finesse. The artist made sure that the audience too shed tears when Chandramati came to know of her son’s death. It was dedication at its peak as 76-year old Natarajan, now transformed into a grief-stricken Chandramati, rolled on the ground sobbing.

The use of lights was aesthetic, again a forte of Natarajan, especially for the scene at the burial ground. His sense of stage décor and sets was simple and meaningful. Four projectors had been pressed into service for the audience seated at the back, but the dialogue sometimes was not audible because the actors moved away from the mike.

On the vocals, the Tiruvaiyaru Brothers — Narasimhan and Venkatesan - along with L. Prabhakaran, N. Manjunath and V. Gopi were outstanding. Madhu on the mridangam rose to the challenge with alacrity. Gokul on the flute, B. Kannan on sudhamadhalam and Rajendran on special effects lent good support. But a member who needs to be specially mentioned is 84 year old Andaan Kovil Durai on the violin who has been with the group for the past 54 years. The experience was evident as he effortlessly responded to every mood and sequence.

Priyamvadha Murali, Natarajan’s daughter and a disciple of Chitra Visweswaran, supports her father in imparting training to the younger generation of artists.

The group follows a tradition after the curtain comes down, a ritual observed after ‘Harichandra’ too. The ‘deity’ of the day, Siva (Vijayamadhavan) and Parvathy (Srikanth) along with the other characters (excluding negative characters) followed by the audience walked to the temple in a procession while the orchestra sung bhajans. Upon reaching the temple, the eldest member of the house performed an arathi and Natarajan broke a coconut. This served as a reminder of the fact - that bhakti or devotion is the essence of Bhagavatamela.


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