Dance

The complete ‘Nalacharitham’

Kalamandalam Gopi as Nala and Margi Vijayakumar as Damayanthi. Photo: Jawaharji K.   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji.K

An unabridged version of ‘Nalacharitham’ Kathakali, written by Unnayi Warrier, was the high point of the 26th Natyolsavam in Thiruvananthapuram.

More than 70 artistes, including a number of first class actors, singers and percussionists participated in the first half of the festival (the latter part is set to be staged at the end of December). Each performance was staged to packed audiences.

Nala, Damayanthi and the Golden Swan

Sadanam Balakrishnan’s Nala, Margi Vijayakumar’s Damayanthi and Margi Ratheesan’s Hamsam (Swan), in pleasing harmony with the music and percussion led by Kottakkal Narayanan and Kurur Vasudevan Namboothiri, respectively, were the main attractions of the opening performance. Lovelorn Nala was a delight to watch.

From Damayanthi’s first appearance in the palace garden performing the conventional ‘sari’ dance in the company of her two attendants, to her heartrending lamentation on learning that Nala is lost in the forest, Vijayakumar was superb and at ease in his role. Ratheesan’s Hamsam effused enthusiasm and optimism. His performance was pleasantly reminiscent of the dexterous handling of the same role by his illustrious father, Oyoor Kochugovinda Pillai.

The gods test Nala

Kalamandalam Shanmughan played the arduous role of Nala in disguise. As the messenger deputed by Indra, Agni, Yama and Varuna, he had to woo Damayanthi on their behalf. Just before his eagerly awaited union with Damayanthi through wedlock, Nala had the onerous task of persuading his beloved to choose one or the other of the gods as her groom. After successfully passing the ‘test’ Nala raised himself to the level of the gods and qualified himself to be seated in the wedding hall on a par with them. Shanmughan’s delineation of this episode was exceptionally effective and artistic.

Agony follows bliss

Kathakali doyen Kalamandalam Gopi enacted Nala during the romantic scenes following Nala's marriage with Damayanthi till their separation in the forest.

As always, despite some of his minor age-related inabilities, the maestro maintained the highest level of performance for about four hours, continuing to deserve in consensus the epithet ‘evergreen hero’ on the contemporary Kathakali stage. Every moment of his interaction with his co-actors brimmed with improvisation and brilliant acting as well as gestures, postures and movements in perfect synchrony with the music and percussion.

Both performances were handled by an excellent team consisting of Pathiyoor Sankarankutty and Kalanilayam Rajeev supported by Tripunithura Arjun Raj (vocal), Kalamandalam Krishnadas and RLV Gopikrishnan (chenda) and Margi Ratnakaran and Sreekanteswaram Mohanakrishnan (maddalam).

The infatuated hunter

Octogenarian Madavoor Vasudevan Nair’s brisk movements as the hunter were crowned by his winsome smile, which remained on his face till the tragic end of the character.

The discipline that Madavoor exercised with regards to the advances that the hunter makes towards Damayanthi and, later, in disposing off the python that he had killed, were commendably within the limits demonstrated, unforgettably, to him by his legendary guru Chengannur Raman Pillai.

Damayanthi all alone

Kalamandalam Rajasekharan presented the role of Damayanthi from when she reduces the hunter to ash till she reaches the safety of her father’s palace. The presentation, however, did not rise to the expectations of connoisseurs.

This was on account of the actor's idiosyncrasies in continuously using Damayanthi’s head-cover to shield almost half the face and body, excessive gestures to express disgust or anger, and, above all, inadvertently presenting the heroine’s soliloquy (‘‘He is, no doubt, not a rogue, but a kinsman to the grief-stricken”) as spoken to the itinerant trader (Saarthhavaahan).

Pushkara’s transformation

Kalamandalam Krishnakumar’s presentation of Pushkara reflected the full transformation of the character, as depicted by the playwright, from a self-doubting weakling to a treacherous villain, dependent entirely on the evil spirits Kali and Dvapara.

Dimensions of evil

Kali’s foul acts and understandably reluctant submission to the principles prescribed by Nala, delineated picturesquely by Kalamandalam Hari R. Nair and Kalamandalam Pradeep, helped the audience perceive the multifarious dimensions of the evil spirit, who transgresses all bounds of time and space and is believed to preside over the present age.

The two messengers

The two Brahmin messengers, Sudeva and Parnada, have crucial roles in the development of the plot. The significantly contrasting traits in their personality were brought to light by FACT Padmanabhan and Vellinezhi Haridasan, respectively, both of whom stuck to the golden mean between extremes of stylisation and realism.

Bahuka’s plight

Kalamandalam Balasubramanian played the excruciating role of Nala in the guise of Bahuka, in the third part of the play. He was the cynosure of eyes throughout the recital. Balasubramanian’s presentation was a pleasant shower of impromptu items, appropriately decorating the narration and pregnant with poetic imagination, blended together with caution to retain classicism. One typical example of this was his version of ‘Bahuka’s aattam’ (that narrates the hero’s journey from the forest to the court of King Rithuparna).

Balasubramanian interpolated imagery from Chakyarkoothu in Bahuka’s chat with his co-charioteers Jeevala and Varshneya – “Serving a king is awful like licking the blade of a sword blade or kissing a snake that guards its egg.” Springing up from the sorrowful sitting posture, he pranced the length and breadth of the stage.

Kali, whose jealousy, had brought about all the suffering that the hero and the heroine had to endure, is finally subjugated by Bahuka. Balasubramanian’s trick of winning the audience over by pointing out the deceitful nature of Kali was reminiscent of Guru Mankulam Vishnu Namboothiri’s acting style.

Categorising characters in ‘Nalacharitham’ as major or minor can never be with consensus. Each character, even if he/she is mentioned casually in the narrative, has a specific role to play. Most of the artistes who performed at the fete were committed to the success of the play. Each of them deserves appreciation.

The Natyolsavam was organised by Drisyavedi, one of the capital city’s prominent cultural forums with a standing of more than four decades in propagating the arts of Kerala, particularly Kathakali.

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 8:00:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/the-complete-nalacharitham/article5451612.ece

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