Theatre

In the limelight

Actor par excellence: Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar  

Kottakkal Kesavan Kundalayar. The first thing that strikes you about this Kathakali actor is his name. Kundalayar, as he is known in Kathakali circles, is sought after for his kathi veshams (anti-heroes).

“Kundalayar is a title name given to one of the 10 Namboodiri families of Kanhangad. It is believed that the Maharaja of erstwhile Travancore once happened to visit this place and was so happy with the way in which the members of the families performed the religious rites, that he appointed them to some of the famous temples in Travancore. We still perform the rituals at those temples,” says Kesavan.

The Kalladikkoden style of Kathakali was what Kesavan grew up watching. Kesavan had little to boast about as lineage. “My grandfather had a passion for Kathakali. He used to make figures, headgear and all that. My father loved Kathakali. He used to travel afar to watch performances. My interest in Kathakali grew with those occasional chances I got to watch plays along with him and my elder brother.”

Kesavan's love for the art made him “pester his father to allow him to study Kathakali.” Finally, Kesavan was allowed to go to Kottakkal and study Kathakali. “I must have been 12 then. Along with my elder brother, Vasudevan, we reached P.S.V. Natya Sanghom, Kottakkal. It was the turning point in my life.”

Tough and strict training

Put under the tutelage of Kottakkal Krishnankutty Nair, Kesavan showed great promise right from the early stages of his career. “It was typical gurukulam kind of training, tough and strict. We were prohibited from watching other artistes fearing that their styles might influence us. But I used to sneak out to watch the great masters. What I was trying to learn was the manner in which they won over the audience, their knack in using the stage and such aspects.”

Kesavan's arangetram was at the Viswambara Temple in Kottakkal. From then on it has been a rigorous journey, numerous roles, and a long learning process.

“One of the roles that I did for almost five years was that of Bhima in ‘Kalyanasougandikam.' Perhaps the first important kathi vesham I did was Duryodhana. Looking back, I think playing Ravana in ‘Sampoorna Ramayanam,' which is performed every year at Kottakkal, helped give my roles that polish.”

From then on, Kesavan has redefined the ‘kathi vesham.' He has added a new dimension to characters such as Narakasura, Ravana and Duryodhana. His crisp gestures, the ‘kalasams' and the precise leg movements reveal the hard work he has put into each of his roles. “I try not to be typecast. I still do ‘paccha veshams,' roles like Parasurama, Bhima, and even female characters at times. But somehow the demand seems to be for my kathi veshams.”

Professional approach

What makes Kesavan different from the rest of the Kathakali artistes is the ‘professional approach' to his art. He has a detailed chart of his performances where he jots down what he has to do on stage. “Even today I prepare for a performance as diligently as I did for my first one. I carry the ‘attaprakaram' of the play I enact that evening. I go through it while I'm travelling, till the time of my entry. This helps me chart out my depiction of the character.”

Right from 1982, Kesavan has been a teacher at Kottakkal. He has visited China, North Korea, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Dubai... He was invited to perform at the Nritya Sangam: Festival of Dance organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi at Banglore, this year.

At Guruvayur, for the 70th birthday celebration of Kalamandalam Gopi, Kesavan and Kalamandalam Balasubramaniam were playing Lava-Kusa in ‘Lavanasuravadham.' Kottakkal Sivaraman was Sita. “In the green room, after the performance, Sivaraman asan said that he would not play Sita again. When someone asked him the reason for that statement, he said that he would not get such a lovely pair of Lava and Kusa again. It was a valuable compliment.”

Kesavan has been able to establish a place for himself in this art form. And with the limelight now trained on him when he puts on the colours, Kesavan also understands the responsibility on him. “I will do all possible roles to test myself. I know that there is so much to learn, I realise my limitations. There is still so much of work to do,” Kesavan winds off.


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Printable version | Jun 10, 2021 2:32:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/In-the-limelight/article16129170.ece

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