Interpreting Don Quixote in Kathakali

Margi Vijayakumar, Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboodiri, Kalamandalam Balasubramaniam and Kalamandalam Sudeep. Photö: Jawaharji K.   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji K.

‘Quixote’, meaning idealistic, impracticable, dreamy, romantic and the like, originates from the dominant traits of the character Don Quixote in the Spanish novel written by Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 1547-1616), who is often compared to Shakespeare in being a ‘national treasure’ of the golden ages of literature. Cervantes’ presentation of Don Quixote is essentially ironic and gives room to varying interpretations as a comic or as a tragic character driven mad by over exposure to contemporary literature, resplendent with idealistic romantic heroism.

Without realising that the days of chivalry were extinct, Don Quixote roams the country in search of adventures and idealises a plain country wench as his sweet heart. The character reveals a touch of the author, whose journeys and marriage were not at all happy.

In connection with the 400th anniversary of the novel, Margi in Thiruvananthapuram produced its Kathakali version called ‘Kihothe’, echoing the Spanish pronunciation of ‘Quixote’.

Thespian Nelliyodu Vasudevan Namboodiri essayed the role of Kishano, a middle class peasant in the village La Mancha. Being a little eccentric on account of an overdose of literature extolling impracticable heroism, he procured from his attic a knight’s garments, head gear, lance, sword and shield. Designating himself as Don Kihothe (Knight Quixote) of La Mancha, he mounted his aged and weak horse, christened impressively as Rosinante, and set out for adventures. Kishano transformed as Don Kihothe appeared on the Kathakali stage as a character with the kathi (knife) make-up, donned by Kalamandalam Pradeep. Then followed the adventures of Don Kihothe, most of which were misadventures for the poor knight.

During his successive ventures Kihothe managed to get a companion as his squire, Sancho Panca, by name. He was a poor villager who expected significant rewards like a governorship from the knight. The role was enacted by veteran actor Margi Vijayakumar, who appeared in the costume and make up mostly resembling those of the vidushaka or royal clown in Koodiyattam.

Kihote’s attempt to secure justice for a poor boy, his ‘battle’ with windmills and his meetings and duels with Kannadi Matampi (Mirror Knight, since his costume was profusely decorated with mirrors) and Velutha Chandran Matampi (White Moon Knight) were performed with dexterity. The windmills appeared on stage as two red beard characters.

In the last scene Don Kihothe, re-transformed as Kishano, was on his death bed surrounded by persons close to him such as Sancho Panca. He sincerely regretted his causing inconvenience and mental agony to his relatives and friends and his avoiding all worthy books that would have led him to self realisation. Apologising to all of them he attained salvation.

Presenting such stories on the Kathakali stage involves intercultural and semiotic translation in which the playwright and the artistes have succeeded to a commendable extent. The play text composed by P. Venugopalan brings to the attention of rasikas lots of instances of inter-textuality by way of words, phrases and even sentences reproduced from well-known plays in Kathakali. This, however, contributes, significantly to its ‘Kathakaliththam’ (‘Kathakali-ness’).

Presentation of not only Nelliyodu, Vijayakumar and Pradeep, but also that of others who were assigned relatively minor roles, left nothing to be desired and showcased the quality of cholliyattam (singing-cum-acting) they had in the kalari, reportedly extending to about one month. Margi Suresh appeared as a chief of peasants and cart-man; Kalamandalam Sudeep as the boy and Dolcenia; Kalamandalam Balakrishnan as one of the windmill-demons and the lion; Kalamandalam Parthasarathi as the other windmill-demon and Margi Balasubrahmanyan as the two knights meeting Kihothe in a duel.

Pathiyoor Sankarankutty and Kalamandalam Vishnu rendered flawlessly pleasant music. The orchestra by Kalamandalam Krishnadas (chenda) and Margi Rathnakaran (maddalam) added an ethereal dimension to the performance.

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 11:30:44 PM |

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