It’s all in the nuances

Kalamandalam Gopi. Photo: M. Moorthy  

When Kathakali artist Kalamandalam Gopi Asan entered the Kalakshetra Foundation’s Rukmini Arangham, the audience stood up at once. Such is the reverence the living legend receives. He is known for his abhinaya and roles as romantic hero, especially Nala in ‘Nala Charitham’ and ‘Rukmaangada’ in Rukmaangada Charitham. He demonstrated padams from ‘Nala Charitham’ along with Margi Vijayakumar, a stree-vesham specialist. It was special to see them acting without the exaggerated make-up. The event was the Kathakali festival, Bhava Bhaavanam Bhavashabalima.

Sringara rasa can be interpreted as the emotion of love between man and woman, as well as beauty and attraction. Here, it has been taken as Rati-induced Sringara rasa. There are two states in erotic love - Sambhoga (meeting) and Vipralambha (separation). In most classical dance styles, Vipralamba sringara is given more importance, but in Kathakali, both are equally relevant. The other difference is in the depiction of Sambhoga. While Natya Sastra disallows embracing and kissing, such actions are common in Kathakali. To its credit, the sheer artistry and discipline involved ensure the exalted status of the art form.

Padams from the most romantic attakatha in Kathakali, Nala Charitham, were taken up. Sambhoga sringara was presented in ‘Kuvalaya Vilochane’ (Thodi), the so-called honeymoon song after marriage in which Nala describes Damayanti’s beauty and her reply in ‘Samyamakannoru’ (Purvikalyani). As per tradition, the heroine describes the beauty of Nature without responding directly to his admiration.

Ayyoga Vipralamba (pain of separation without having met) was presented in ‘Vidhu mukhi,’ in which a besotted Nala feels too disturbed to perform his royal duties. Damayanti mirrors the yearning as she tries to find solace in her father’s palace garden in ‘Chaladali Jangaaram’ (Dwijavanti). This song was full of similes: the sweet call of the cuckoo likened to the piercing of her ear with a spear and the fragrance of a flower likened to bad-smelling buffaloes in the pond.

Abhinaya in Kathakali is straightforward and brings out sensitivity at the micro level; in ‘Kuvalaya,’ Gopi asan took each word and portrayed the direct meaning and its implication-kuvalaya means a lotus, hence beautiful; the lotus implies the delicate blossoming of each petal and hence tender. ‘Vilochane’ refers to eyes. The meaning would be: the beautiful eyes are so delicate and tender. This he would repeat many times using the eyes and hand gestures in isolation or together, along with expressions of appreciation of her entire body.

Next, the tender lips were likened to the new, tender leaves on the trees - the beautiful lips, the tree with tender leaves are shown and repeated until one phrase can take a few minutes. The music is soulfully melodious, the percussion subtle, so the mood of romance builds unconsciously.

Among his masterful performance, one striking moment was in the Vipralamba padam, ‘Vidhu..’ when Gopi asan describes the heroine’s beauty once more. This time, he speaks of her curly, long, black hair, showing it in different, artistic ways; he then shows his hands running through her hair and shudders in ecstasy… It was an intimate and artistic moment, never to be forgotten.

Margi Vijayakumar was graceful and subtle as Damayanti. The expressions were soft and suggestive.

The musicians added lustre with slow nalu-kaala melody and suggestive beats: K.M. Madambi Subramaniam Namboodri and Sadanam Sivadasan (vocal), Sadanam Ramakrishnan (chenda) and Sadanam Devadas (maddalam).

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 1:10:06 AM |

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