Of romance and filial bonds

Kalamandalam Pradeep as Bhima and Ranjini Suresh as Hanuman Photo: Jawaharji K.   | Photo Credit: Jawaharji.K

A performance of ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam’ in Thiruvananthapuram explored the bonds between Hanuman and Bhima, sons of the Wind God, Vayu.

Kathakali consists of four strong pillars – the formative or standardising plays popularly referred to as ‘Kottayam Stories’ by Kottayathu Thampuran (1645 – 1716). He pressed into service his exceptional expertise in histrionics while giving the shape of visual poetry ( drisya-kaavya) to his narratives. He chose their theme from the Mahabharatha, in contrast to Kottarakkara Thampuran (1625 – 1685), the first playwright in the field, who based his Raamanaattam stories entirely on the Ramayana. All the Kottayam stories are obligatory teaching materials in most kalaris (places for practical training) such as those in Kerala Kalamandalam, which follows the so-called ‘Kalluvazhi’ tradition inherited from great masters of yesteryear such as Itti Raricha Menon and stabilised by Guru Pattikkaamthoti Ramunni Menon, founder of the Kathakali Department in the institution.

That said, even the title ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam’ stands out since all other Kottayam stories culminate in slaying of some wicked character. ‘Kalyanasaugandhikam’ narrates the happy meeting of two brothers, brought about by their father, the Wind God. For temple festivals the story used to be enacted as a full-night event. But in performances held under the auspices of cultural organisations, mostly select scenes featuring Bhima, Draupadi and Hanuman are staged. The first scene, usually referred to as ‘sauryagunam’, delineating an impatient Bhima seeking Dharmaputra’s permission to challenge and annihilate the Kauravas and the latter pacifying him, is presented rarely.

A recent performance under the aegis of Drisyavedi, Thiruvananthapuram, commenced with an exquisite romantic scene of Bhima and Draupadi, essayed by Kalamandalam Pradeep Kumar and Kalamandalam Sukumaran, respectively. Both of them did justice to the superb text. The slowest conceivable tempo expected to be maintained in the pallavi and anupallavi, amply befitting the erotic mood, doubling of the tempo and maintenance of three successively higher levels reflecting Bhima’s enthusiasm to commence the intended amorous game, and finally his articulate posture – holding the deer-gesture – exuded at every stage the emotion relevant to the context. Sukumaran effectively visualised the content of Draupadi’s padam and its introductory quatrain.

The ilakiyaattam (acting that moves away from the written text) where Bhima takes leave of Draupadi and his description of the forest, which presented several awe-inspiring scenes, including the one borrowed, with appropriate modifications, from the Koodiyattam stage and involving a wild elephant simultaneously caught by a python and attacked by a lion were all in strict adherence to the conventions. They bore clear testimony to the quality of the training the actors received in their alma mater, but revealed the absence of improvisation or innovation as envisaged in treatises such as Vyamgyavyaakhyaa, which advocates enhancing the aesthetic enjoyment by the actors interpreting the suggestive meaning that emanates from the text. The crucial role of the character-in-absentia, the Wind God was thereby lost sight of in full, in spite of the playwright’s repeated references to it.

Ranjini Suresh’s presentation of Hanuman was impressive. The reduction in duration of the Thiranottam (a kind of tantalising ‘peekaboo’ from behind the curtain with which the actor enhances the anticipation of the audience even while introducing the character) to the minimum, the self-confidence in entering into meditation with minimal orchestra; the far-sightedness in identifying Bhima’s goal even before his revealing the same, strict restriction on monkey-gestures; which are usually resorted to by less-careful artistes; establishing the seniority of the character at every stage; the profuse affection he showers on his younger stepbrother – all helped in delineating the various aspects of the valorous and wise Hanuman. The role is usually assigned to veteran actors only. Ranjini and Pradeep made the scene between the brothers unforgettable.

Kalamandalam Rajendran’s musical rendition of the play text was flawless. He was ably supported by Kalanilayam Hari. Kalanilayam Krishnakumar on the chenda and Kalamandalam Ravindran on the maddalam provided adequate orchestral support.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 10:24:03 AM |

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