All set for a new era

Gayathri Govind in a scene from 'Hidimbi'   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

In 1963 the curtain went up on a new scene in the history of Malayalam mainstream theatre. That was when Krishnan Nair established Kalanilayam, perhaps the first permanent theatre in Kerala, at Putharikandam Maidan in the capital city; the first play was Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s ‘Kurukshetra’. In the years that followed Malayalis got to see some extravagant productions from Kalanilayam – ‘Raktharakshas’, ‘Kayamkulam Kochunni’, ‘Kadamattathu Kathanar’, ‘Naradan Keralathil’, ‘Sree Guruvayoorappan’ and ‘Alavudinum Athbhuthavilakkum’, among others. His pillar of support was Jagathy N. K. Achari, who wrote the plays for him.

Krishnan Nair passed away in 1980. It was left to his son Anandapadmanabhan to take the legacy forward, which he did 23 years later, in 2003, through Kalanilayam Drama Vision. That was at Manappattiparambu in Kochi, the very venue where the group was erecting the stage for the play ‘Ragam Thanam Pallavi’ when Krishnan Nair breathed his last.

Anandapadmanabhan and actor Jagathy Sreekumar, son of Achari, revived Kalanilayam by staging plays such as ‘Raktharakhas’, ‘Kadamattathu Kathanar’, ‘Kayamkulam Kochunni’ and ‘Naradan Keralathil’. In 2014, the drama company went for a change of scene with ‘Hidimbi’, under the banner of Kalanilayam Stage Craft, a new division of Kalanilayam Drama Vision. The play, which will be staged in the capital city on May 8, is a notch above the rest in terms of technical aspects.

“Unless you think differently, it is not easy to attract youngsters to theatre. With numerous other options for entertainment, you can’t expect people to queue up for tickets to watch a play if you can’t dish out something unique. That’s why we formed Kalanilayam Stage Craft and ‘Hidimbi’, our first production, has multimedia projection and 3D effects,” Anandapadmanabhan says. ‘Hidimbi’, scripted and directed by Gireesh C. Palam, zooms in on the life of Hidimbi, a character from the Mahabharata. The demoness, who loses her brother (Hidumba), her love (Bhima), and her son (Ghatotkacha) comes face to face with a kindred soul, Yamini (played by Neethu Das).

“The play deals with women’s empowerment, futility of war, destruction of nature and other issues, with the technical and special effects accentuating the theme,” Anandapadmanabhan explains, adding how his father tried to make plays on a par with movies. Flamboyant sets, visual effects and light and sound effects elevated the plays to a different level. “Things weren’t the same by the time I revived the banner with ‘Raktharakhas’, a play staged 45 years ago. We had competition from umpteen television channels and the Internet and had to come up with something out-of-the-box to attract people of all ages. So, we turned to visual and special effects to make each scene look real.”

He remembers that both he and Jagathy Sreekumar were nervous about whether their efforts would go in vain. Jagathy Sreekumar, still recuperating from a road accident, is conspicuous by his absence at the helm of affairs, says Anandapadmanabhan. “But I keep him updated. I am waiting for his recovery.”

In the meantime, what keeps the company going is the experience Anandapadmanabhan gathered while working with his father. “Kalanilayam was no less than a university. My father got me involved in all aspects of a play and my mother was totally devoted to theatre. If an actor did not turn up, I would often step in. What I enjoyed most were rehearsals for the plays. Moreover, it was like a joint family, where all of us chipped in when the need arose,” he says. He is elated that his daughter, Gayathri Govind, has also found her space in theatre – she is playing the lead role in ‘Hidimbi’. “She has got my mother, Kodungalloor Ammini Amma’s talent,” he says.

“We have amazing talents, but unfortunately we are not getting stages. There are no open grounds left. It is not a lucrative business. With over 150 people working behind the scenes, it is difficult to keep the banner flying unless we get opportunities to perform,” he admits.

Nevertheless, without losing heart, he is working towards setting up a permanent theatre space and also a platform for up-and-coming artists to stage their plays.

‘Hidimbi’ will be staged at Tagore Theatre, Thiruvanathapuram, on May 8, 6 p.m. Contact: 8113806959, 9061125265.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 7:54:20 PM |

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