Many years ago, the great Asan Chandu Panikkar found two young lads, who he moulded to be the perfect artists. They were Dhananjayan and Balagopal.
One day, Rukmini Devi, the founder of Kalakshetra, sprung a surprise. She wanted the diminutive Balagopal, who was a student of the institution, to play the role of the mighty Hanuman. Everyone was taken aback, as it was crucial for the actor playing Hanuman to exude an aura and sense of power. They wondered whether Balagopal could pull it off. Anyway, rehearsals began.
Soon, the day of the show arrived. Every one waited anxiouslyfor the famous scene. On a high pedestal stood a small monkey god. But suddenly, Balagopal created an unforgettable magical moment. He must have invoked Hanuman, for everyone saw the diminutive lad transform into a magnificent monkey god. The audience never forgot the mighty leap that Hanuman took that day — he leapt into the hearts of every member of the audience. From then on, Balagopal became synonymous with Hanuman. !
Balagopal, recently feted by Kala Sagar, an institution founded in memory of Kalamandalam Krishnan Kutty Poduval, acknowledges that it was Hanuman who guided his every move during that performance. “I followed certain purification rituals and abstinence every December, when the Ramayana series was performed. I also remember the guidance given by Periya Sarada teacher, who helped me grasp the physical and philosophical nuances of this role.”
Like many who considered Kalakshetra their second home, Balagopal too had undying love for the institution and deep affection for his mentor, Rukmini Devi. He recalls the brief time he spent abroad, and how both Rukmini Devi and he felt a void, which brought him back home.
After imbibing all that Kalakshetra had to offer, Balagopal served the institution as a faculty member, and has passed on his love for the art to his students and his daughter, Prithvija.
But it is not Hanuman alone that Balagopal is known for. The innumerable ways in which the evil Shakuni threw his dice also stands testimony to his innate artistry, and the ability to slip into any role with ease. He recalls with gratitude the role his asan Chandu Panikkar played in channelling his artistic journey, for it was asan who taught him that his art had to rise above all physical constraints — a piece of advice he followed sincerely, and which impacted every character he played.
He has been part of all the dance dramas produced by Rukmini Devi. His versatility in portraying varied emotions, and in enacting diverse roles has won him much acclaim. For this, he credits the genes he inherited from his father Koman Nair, known as the ‘Charlie Chaplin of Malabar’, and the training he received from his teachers at Kalakshetra.
Balagopal has travelled widely in India and abroad and won many awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Natya Kala Mani award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. The little master today leads a quiet life, happy sharing his knowledge with young artists.