Theatre

In defence of Bali

Margi Madhu enacts Bali in 'Balivadham' Koodiyattam. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Bhasa's plays provide ample space for the actor to express himself, to display his acting skills. Another feature of his plays is that they help to fill the blanks often left out in the original text. In that sense they provide an innovative alternative reading of the original. Bhasa also stands out for his characterisation, especially in his depiction of the anti-hero.

This is evident in his ‘Balivadham,' the first act of ‘Abhishekanatakam.' Bhasa gives a different reading of the epic story, which is what makes this Koodiyattam performance challenging for actors and interesting for spectators.

The ‘Balivadham' Koodiyattam staged by Nepathya, Moozhikulam, under the aegis of the International Centre for Koodiyattam and ICCR, at the Government Sanskrit College, Thripunithura, provides an opportunity for a renewed debate on the depiction of the anti-hero.

Bhasa's play is a sort of rebellion against the established version; he gives a new dimension to the character of Bali. The play throws light on the inner struggle of the character. Bali commands respect, while Rama, the ‘hero,' pales in the shadow of the majestic Bali.

A new dimension to Bali

The one sequence that raises Bali's stature to that of a hero is when he questions Rama's propriety, his ‘dharma,' in helping Sugreeva, Bali's brother, by shooting a deadly arrow that proves fatal to Bali. Before he dies, he demands answers from Rama. In the ensuing conversation, we find Rama trying to come up with convincing answers in vain; he fails to justify his action. Bali wins even in death, destroyed not defeated.

Unfortunately, Koodiyattam theatre does not give much importance to this part of the play. And Bali, who is depicted by Bhasa as a towering character, does not really develop fully. Instead the death of Bali becomes the focal point. His death becomes a sort of celebration. And, in fact, the most important sequence in this performance.

Confined to the text

“This is how it has always been. Bhasa's Bali has been confined to the text. It is not usually presented on the stage. It was Ammannur (Madhava Chakyar) who made this death sequence such a high point of the play. This is considered a watermark for subsequent actors and performances. In my humble way, I have tried to present this conversation part on stage. But let me tell you, as an actor, I did not feel that energy. And I could not pass on this energy to the audience. I think the power is in the script alone, it is not theatrical,” explains Margi Madhu who came out with a brilliant portrayal of Bali.

It was Painkulam Rama Chakyar who introduced characters like Rama, Lakshmana, Angadha, Tara, and the like on stage. They, till then, remained only in the text.

A dramatic sequence that spices up the play is the one involving Bali and Tara. The change in Bali's mood when his wife Tara clings to him, trying to prevent him from going to battle against Sugreeva, is a test in ‘abhinaya.' Bali sways from ‘veera' to ‘sringara,' with his face, eyes, body conveying a range of emotions. Both Madhu and Indu G. (as Tara) breathed life into this scene.

The ‘attaprakaram' or acting manual of the play also provides two sub-plots. In one, Bali enacts the ‘palazhimadhanam' or churning the ocean of milk in his effort to convince Tara of his strength. This, along with the second in which Bali compares his strength to Narasimha, has been structured to give space for the actor to emote and improvise.

The ‘death scene' was a bit extended with shades of Ammannur's ‘swara vayu' techniques. When Madhu's Bali pulls out the fatal arrow, he looks at Rama with his eyes conveying myriad emotions. His expressions evoke sympathy but they also convey Bali's demand for justification from Rama. It is, in fact, a subtle reference to that significant conversation scene, which, sadly, is not performed these days. The beauty of Bhasa's ‘death scenes' is that he conveys a philosophical truth that all enmity dies with death. This happens in the case of Bali-Sugreeva and many of his other characters.

The play narrates the story of Bali, King of Kishkinda, and his brother Sugreeva. Intense sibling rivalry forces Sugreeva to take refuge in Rishyamukha Mountains, where Bali cannot enter because of a curse. With the help of Rama and Lakshmana, Sugreeva challenges Bali to a battle, and in the ensuing struggle Rama kills Bali.

Madhu's seasoned acting right through and a spirited performance by Nepathya Saneesh (Sugreeva) backed up by Kalamandalam Ratheesh Das, Anoop, Manikantan, Nepathya Jinesh P. Chakyar, and Aswin on the mizhavu, and Kalanilayam Rajan on the edakka turned the performance into a memorable experience.


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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 8:18:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/in-defence-of-bali/article2321864.ece

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