‘I preferred Kathi vesham’

Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair   | Photo Credit: K.K. Najeeb

It is a great privilege for a performer to have undergone training in two reputed institutions and that too under great masters and also in two different disciplines. Kottakkal Nandakumaran Nair is one among the very few who has had that privilege. of of this genre. While he came out with flying colours from Kalamandalam in Ottanthullal, the Kathakali artiste in him was fashioned at Kottakkal. He was Having fully moulded by the doyen Kottakkal Krishnankutty Nair for quite a long time. Nandakumaran has developed a quest for perfection and also for being selective as regards his roles on the Kathakali stage. He was selected recently by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi for the Kathakali award for 2009. Excerpts from an interview with him...

Exposure to Kathakali

My first exposure to Kathakali was during my childhood in Desamangalam near Kalamandalam where Kathakali shows were a regular feature at the mana. But as a child, I mistook it for folk performances like Poothan and Thira, which were common in our village. My father had aspired to be trained in the kalari at the mana but was dissuaded by his friends saying that the rigorous massages were painful and the physical exercises, really operose. So I chose the relatively easy art form of Ottanthullal and joined Kalamandalam at the age of 10.

At Kalamandalam

Four years of intensive training under Divakaran Nair turned me into a well-trained performer of Ottanthullal. During those days I was a frequent visitor to the Kathakali kalari of Kunchu Nair asan. His classes invariably extended beyond the stipulated time and this enabled me to watch the cholliyattam after my classes. I remember how Kunchu asan also used to visit the Ottanthullal kalari occasionally. I developed a fascination for Kathakali and aspired to learn it. Meanwhile, I passed the Ottanthullal course and was the best student in my batch. That was the time when maestro Malabar Raman Nair had formed a Thullal troupe at Vaikom. My guru wanted me to join that troupe after graduation but my mind was on Kathakali.

Kottakkal days

I procured a recommendation letter from Kunchu Nair asan and reached Kottakkal. Krishnankutty Nair asan received me wholeheartedly. It was a turning point in my life. Krishnankutty asan was a great teacher and today what I am in Kathakali, I owe it to him. A strict disciplinarian, he never followed a time frame for the course.

Although the usual duration was eight years, under him it extended to the day when he said: “Now you can discontinue cholliyattam.” And this was true in my case as well. If male characters were the lessons in the morning, it was female veshams in the evening. This was particularly beneficial as the technique of body control could be mastered well by students. In my case, he could spot some influence of Ottanthullal and he took special care to rectify the same. An added advantage at Kottakkal was ‘eka sasanam.' Unlike in other institutions, we were trained only by one guru. I joined the institution as an instructor in 1963.

Overseas performances

I left Kottakkal after a stint of 35 years. My first foreign tour was in 1971, of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Though I was trained in all the veshams, I preferred Kathi vesham for which the Ramayanam play was instrumental. Even now, I am invited to don the role of Ravana mostly.

Training sessions

Numerous performances in the country apart, I was regularly invited by theatre groups abroad for training. This included countries like Brazil, Italy, Russia, Poland and Sweden. The sessions were mainly in the universities where theatre activists had a fascination for the basic lessons of Kathakali. Thespians in the West found our training methods useful for body kinetics. Moreover, they were astounded by the percussion background of Kathakali and its efficacy in creating the right mood of the characters. Renowned French choreographer Annette Leday had selected me for her play ‘King Lear' in Kathakali. The success of this production motivated me to present the same at S.N. College, Shornur later for a national seminar under the auspices of the English department of the college.

Enthralled by the role of mizhavu in Koodiyattam, I had employed the same percussion for portraying Ravana in ‘Ravanothbhavam' Kathakali. I had also choreographed the rarely staged play ‘Vamanavatharam' authored by Kakkad Karanavar.

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 5:49:23 PM |

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