Kathakali playwrights often take the freedom to modify stories and/or revise characters in an attempt to make it convenient for a Kathakali play. In ‘Sapamochanam’, Sadanam Harikumar retells the episode from the Mahabharata in which Arjuna visits heaven and ends up being cursed by Urvashi to become a eunuch. Kottayam Thampuran’s ‘Kalakeyavadham’ already narrates the story and is well-known for the highly stylised presentation of Arjuna and Urvashi. But, this play is different, as Harikumar attempts to present these characters in a different perspective.
‘Sapamochanam’ starts with a Sari dance and at the end of it, the maids perceive that Urvashi is lovelorn. If Kottayam Thampuran’s Urvashi is proud and confident about her abilities, here we see a woman who is doubtful about her chances of winning a Pandava’s heart. Her maids help her in building her confidence and she finally approaches Arjuna. In the original version of the story, Arjuna immediately recognises the damsel as Urvashi and turns down her proposal. Here, Arjuna assumes that she is one of the heavenly damsels and roams around with her. When Arjuna realises that the damsel is Urvashi, he hides his dilemma and tries to drive her away by using harsh words. Urvashi gets annoyed, curses Arjuna and disappears.
Later, upon hearing Arjuna’s prayers, Urvashi returns in a maternal mood. She consoles Arjuna by saying that a mother’s curse would eventually turn into a boon for her son and limits her curse to take effect only during the last year of the Pandavas’ exile.
It was not an easy task for Sadanam Balakrishnan and Sadanam Vijayan, as they presented Arjuna and Urvashi in a different light. They did their best considering the fact that the play by itself provides minimal chances for the actors to excel. Sadanam Sreenath and Sadanam Krishnadas, as the maids of Urvashi, played their roles comfortably.
An actor and musician himself, Harikumar has tried out innovative experiments in the presentation.
The introductory Sari dance set in Thodi raga and Chempa tala, Arjuna and Urvashi taking a few steps holding their hands together, which resembles the third segment of Purappadu, the maids acting the Kummi stanzas, and the use of ragalaap in a few places to enrich the mood are a few things to be listed here. More than the changes in the storyline or the difference in the characterisation, it was these experiments that created interest among the viewers.
Also, the words used in the sahithya were not very hard to comprehend and the simple style of rendering in popular ragas made it easy for even the novice to follow. As the playwright himself led the stage as ponnani, there were no hiccups that are common while staging new or rare plays.
Most of the female characters in Kathakali belong to the Minukku-Sthree category and only a few of them, because of the peculiar nature of those characters, move away from the prescribed aharya or costumes. In ‘Sapamochanam’, Urvashi has a different attire in the form of a transparent head scarf and a decorated Konda with white garlands on the sides. In usual practice, the Konda is not visible as it is hidden under the opaque cloth. New characters in new plays might need a different aharya; but whether it is required for a well-established character like Urvashi is debatable.
The programme was organised by Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Thiruvananthapuram and presented by Sadanam Kathakali Academy, Palakkad.