Theatre

Stickler for tradition

Kalanilayam Rajeevan Photo: K. K. Najeeb  

Any classical art form of Indian origin is bequeathed from generation to generation through guru-sishya parampara. For the same reason, to be groomed by maestros is a privilege that any young artiste would long for. Kalanilayam Rajeevan, one of the most sought-after among Kathakali musicians, is perhaps a living testimony to this kind of a training. Twenty-five years into the profession, he has captivated the imagination of Kathakali rasikas, thanks to his distincitve style that has been lauded by veteran performers of Kathakali.

Incidentally, Kathakali sangeetham is essentially ‘abhinaya sangeetham’. But it has attained the status of a separate branch of music over the years. So much so that Kathakali pada kutcheris are today reckoned on a par with classical music concerts. In this connection, one cannot ignore the contributions of celebrities of yesteryear and also of those amongst us today.

Watching Kathakali was a fascination for Rajeevan born into a traditional Namboodiri family in Vazhakkulam, Aluva. But more than the veshams, what caught his fancy was the musical support given to the actors by talented musicians and percussionists. He felt it was unique and naturally aspired to be a playback singer. But on the home front, his father Sankaran Namboodiri’s ambition was to see his son as a graduate. “I was very poor in my studies and my mind was totally inclined towards Kathakali music,” Rajeevan says. Fortunately for him, he had to stay with his uncle at Muvattupuzha for his studies and that was where he met Kalamandalam Balachandran who initiated him into Kathakali music. However, only thodayam and vandana slokam could be learnt from him. Soon he appeared for an interview at Unnai Warrier Smaraka Kalanilayam and was selected. “This was really a realisation of my ambition,” Rajeevan adds.

He reminisces that what moulded him as an accomplished musician was the strict training under Kalamandalam Rajendran, Kalamandalam Narayanan Embranthiri and Kalanilayam Ramakrishnan, all his gurus at Kalanilayam. He could comprehend that the music he pursued belonged to the category of ‘applied music’, the purpose of which was to enable the actor on the stage to delineate the emotions the character portrayed. The music was therefore ‘bhava sangeetham’. The padams have to be rendered strictly within the structure of prescribed rhythms according to which the actor performed through mudras, movements and kalasams. Ragas served only as a guide to the musician and one was not expected to delve into its intricacies. He could discern that music was not a separate identity by itself in Kathakali but was supplementary to the performance of the actor.

Ever eager to learn the nuances of the art, Rajeevan had the rare privilege of accompanying great masters such as Thakazhi Kuttan Pillai, Pallam Madhavan, Kalamandalam Gangadharan, Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri, Kalamandalam Hyderali, Venmani Haridas, and Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan as ‘sankidi’ (supporting musician). This was a rewarding experience that enabled him to hone his talents further.

Post studies at Kalanilayam, Hyderali took him under his wings for four years for higher training. Soon he was catapulted to the centre-stage and became the popular choice of actors and organisers of Kathakali shows. His debut as ‘ponnani’ (main musician) was for ‘Thoranayudham’ at Aluva in which Kalamandalam Ramankutty Nair had donned the main role. ‘Kachadevayani’ followed in which Kalamandalam P.G. Radhakrishnan was the singer. “When he asked me to sing for the next play, I had the shock of my life since a maestro like Ramankutty Asan was taking part,” Rajeevan says. “I remember how Asan looked back once during the course of the play. I thought it was because my rendition was not up to the mark. But, later, when Asan recommended my name for a few plays, I was convinced that he was happy with my performance,” he adds.

He has accompanied stalwarts like Madavur Vasudevan Nair, Kalamandalam Padmanabhan Nair and Kalamandalam Gopi. Thespian Gopi described him as the personification of ‘Arangu paattu’, indeed a rare encomium from the legendary artiste. Over 260 stages on an average in a year is perhaps a record for a young musician like Rajeevan and an index of his popularity.

What endears him to the fraternity of Kathakali artistes is his adherence to the same pattern of singing to all, irrespective of their status.

Rajeevan’s role as a ‘director’ of the Kathakali stage has been appreciated. He ensures that all stage props, including thiraseela and peedhom are provided at the right time. Rajeevan has also proved to be a resourceful choreographer for which ‘Jayandracharitham’, ‘Mookambika Mahatmyam’ and ‘Dundubhi Mayavi’ are ample proof.

He has turned a globe-trotting musician these days. Among the long list of awards he has received so far, Rajeevan considers most dear, those given to him in the memory of his gurus Hyderali and Haridas.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 8:32:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/Stickler-for-tradition/article16083259.ece

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