Inspired recreation

A scene from 'Balacharitham'   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Among Sanskrit playwrights, Bhasa stands out for his subversive treatment of texts as is evident from his plays ‘Karnabharam' and ‘Oorubhangam.' Against convention that usually empathises with gracious heroes, Bhasa has an indefinable intimacy with anti-heroes. Yet, his ‘Balacharitam' positively zooms in on to the heroism of Krishna.

Sanskrit scholar and critic C. Rajendran considers this play as a grand narrative highlighting Krishna as an invincible warrior rather than as the amorous lover of gopikas. In Koodiyattam, according to tradition, the Chakyar's arangettam is by presenting an excerpt from ‘Balacharitam.' The play, though, has, over the centuries, been reduced to a ritual.

Kalamandalam Girija, a disciple of the late Painkulam Rama Chakyar, came across ‘Bhagavathi Purappad' – the latter part of Act II of the play – as one with a good deal of potential for the stage. Equally well-versed in female roles in Koodiyattam and Nangiarkoothu, Girija neatly choreographed the piece and presented it for the Painkulam Memorial Trust as a tribute to her guru.

Cadences of the mizhavu sets the ambience for the entry of the protagonist, King Kamsa, who is seen as full of remorse for his decision to kill the children of his sister Devaki. But he justifies his decision in the name of “self-protection,” as a prophesy had warned him that he would be killed by Devaki's eighth son. On hearing about the birth of a daughter to Devaki, Kamsa contemplates whether to kill or spare the child. But, later, he decides to take the life of the baby girl.

He commands Devaki's maid Dhatri to bring the child to him. Momentarily, Kamsa is swayed by the beauty of the child. The moment of wonder slowly gives way to arrogance and Kamsa wonders if he would acquire renown as a slayer of women.

As Kamsa is about kill the child, she slips from his hands and rises skyward into the heavens, where she transforms into Karthyayani/Bhagavati and appears before Kamsa.

Fresh perspective

Within the structure of a stylistically tight and well-defined traditional art form, new choreography is not a tough task since its modes of expression are unalterable. But a knowledgeable choreographer can re-allocate the stage-space of the characters and weed out seeds of theatrical excesses to provide a fresh perspective.

Girija's ‘kramadeepika' (stage craft) for the play sticks to a certain discipline viewed from such a perspective. Girija has taken excellent care to see that there is a certain amount of compactness in the use of pakarnattam in the narrative treatment.

The ‘nirvahanam' (reminiscences of events) of Kamsa sustained a contextual logic. The young Charu Agaru as Kamsa was quite remarkable, with his graceful figure, pulsating facial expressions and a commitment that defies his age. Girija as Dhatri was notable for her restrained performance. Kalapeetam Salini as Karthyayani did not go overboard.

Mizhavu by Kalamandalam Ravi Kumar and his assistants played a crucial role in augmenting the emotional impact of the plot and the characters. Slight alterations in the ‘aharya'(costume) of characters such as the Bhagavathi and the guards were in consonance with the thematic conduct.

‘Kaliyankam,' an act in ‘Balacharitam,' was said to be in vogue as a theatre form in medieval Kerala although its stage-adaptation is not yet known. However, ‘Balacharitam,' which had lost its links with the audience, has returned to life after a prolonged interval. Several years ago Mani Madhava Chakyar Gurukulam at Lakkidi, tried to revive ‘Balacharitam.' In no other play does Shaapam (curse) appear on stage in a concrete form to confront Kamsa.

Girija's re-reading of the play at the practical realms might prove to be an inspiration for others to breath life into other such unfamiliar acts.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 12:42:29 AM |

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