Dance

Of heroism and romance

Kottakkal Rajumohan as Damayanthi (left) and Kalamandalam Rajeevan as golden swan ín 'Nalacharitham Onnaam Divasam' Photo: Jawaharji K.   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.



‘Nalacharitham’, a Kathakali play composed by Unnayi Warrier (1675 – 1716), is often referred to as the ‘Sakunthalam’ or the Taj Mahal in Malayalam literature. The time required for the performance of the whole play was conceived by the author as four nights. But even in the present day, only select scenes are considered obligatory for systematic instruction in training centres, including Kerala Kalamandalam.

Obviously, sublime poetry of Unnayi’s script, replete with spicy expressions, exuberance of images and suggestive meaning at several layers present a series of challenges in choreography and training in visualisation that should strictly adhere to the grammar of Kathakali. In response to the desire of connoisseurs to enjoy performance of specific scenes, gifted artistes started presenting other sections of the text on the basis of their own interpretation of the context and the character in question.

The first half of the ‘first day’ of Nalacharitham, involving mainly Nala, Damayanthi and the golden swan has, thus, come to be a favourite choice for presentation in most venues whenever participation of experienced actors, singers and accompanists can be ensured.

In a recent performance of the episode, Kalamandalam Krishnakumar played the role of Nala. On most occasions his interpretation of the character was in tune with the spirit of the text. His aahaaryam (make up and costume) was all the more graceful, as his skirt ( uduththukettu) followed the dictum. His gestures, postures and movements were all in perfect synchrony with the rhythm. The only drawback in his presentation was that of his brushing aside his assistants who approached him for consultation while he was brooding over Damayanthi; it seemed too harsh, unbecoming of Nala, one of the noblest among characters on the Kathakali stage.

Kottakkal Rajumohan’s Damayanthi seemed to follow in several respects the tradition crystallised through the inimitable presentation of ace actor Sivaraman. He did full justice to the text; his innovations were, in general, appropriate. Although his gestures, postures and aahaaryam were graceful, movements often seemed irritatingly jerky, contrary to what is expected of noble female characters in classical performing arts of Kerala.

In spite of the inappropriately shaped skirt and the unfortunate power failure when the performance was in full swing, Kalamandalam Rajeevan excelled in presenting the golden swan whose crucial role in the play has been immortalised by stalwarts such as Kurichi Kunjan Panicker and Madavoor Vasudevan Nair. Rajeevan’s portrayal vividly brought out all aspects of the swan functioning as the dominant connecting link between heaven and earth excelling even sage Narada and also as the divine ambassador of the hero and the heroine right from the period of their romance.

Kalamandalam Jishnuravi and Kalamandalam Aromal played the roles of Damayanthi’s companions, the former becoming the centre of attraction by means of his distinctively expressive eyes, pleasant demeanour and aaharyam. The role of sage Narada in the opening scene was a walkover for Margi Suresh.

Kottakkal Madhu rendered the beautiful but difficult lyrics mellifluously with the support of Tripunithura Arjun Raj. The array of sangathis they displayed in portions such as ‘Mudirathathi kabarii’ and ‘Saamaradhamavadhuu-mada’ raised the performance to heights of aesthetic enjoyment. Kalamandalam Krishnadas on the chenda and Margi Rathnakaran on the maddalam provided the desired ambience to the performance. The programme was organised under the aegis of Drisyavedi.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 2:22:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/Of-heroism-and-romance/article13999404.ece

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